Nepali Times Asian Paints
Review
Zakaria’s Newspeak


CK LAL


During the Anglo-American war for Iraq, all independent journalists not embedded with the coalition forces were identified as "unilateralist"-a term coined by Centcom to eliminate objective and fair reporting by freelancers. This was information warfare and propaganda was a part of the arsenal.

The message that went out was of a benevolent hyperpower on a civilising mission. The reality was that America supported anyone as long as he served American geopolitical and economic interest. Thinktank strategists justified propping tinpot dictators in banana republics where, in the words of political scientist Myron Weiner, "no sense of community exists, where proclivities towards violence are extreme-where, in short, only coercive authority seems capable of sustaining order".

By the Nixon administration, American puppet regimes came in all stripes: Ayub Khan in Pakistan, Shah of Iran, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in Philippines. With the sole exception of post-Shah fatwa fascism in Iran, American establishment has been complicit in the rise of almost all rightist dictatorships in the world. Yes, even Saddam Hussain, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden were originally American creations.

Therefore, it is a little odd that even Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria pretends in his new book, The Future of Freedom, to believe that the "United States is so often the advocate of unrestrained democracy abroad". Once that fictitious premise is dispensed with, its contents acquire an intellectual tone worthy of contemplation and debate.
The fundamental thesis of this book is that most of us would do rather well with less democracy and more liberalism. The author uses the term "liberal" in its classic sense, without encompassing welfare state, affirmative action, or any other concerns of social justice. Indeed, there isn't much here to disagree with-democracy without the rule of law is the rule of the mob that made Socrates drink poison.

The doctrine of check and balance has certainly gone awry when unrepresentative wise men in conservative attire 'elect' a head of state by a contentious decision of the court. Such a concentration of power can only breed the born-again fervour of the current incumbent in the White House who now sees pre-emptive strike as a divine mission.

It's difficult to swallow that there is a correlation between the level of income and the longevity of democracy. Does that imply that poor countries must learn to live with the Hamid Karzais of the world forever? Democracy, as Amartya Sen says, has instrumental as well as intrinsic value.

Democracy is desirable for the right of the ruled to periodically appoint its ruling elite through free, fair and competitive elections. Democratic regimes may not be too good at managing economic growth, but they are better at handling human catastrophes. Sen has the famous example of the famine in China to prove the utility of democracy, and Zakaraia cites Tiananmen Square to conclude that political freedom is bound to follow in the footsteps of economic liberty. To each his own, but try telling that to the victims of state repression anywhere.

Zakaria's ominous warning at the end of his book is unsettling. He argues that just as Americans faced the challenge of making the world safe for democracy, now it must make democracy safe for the world. Has it been this 'liberalism' that led to the invention of Musharrafship in Pakistan in October 1999 and the rise of Asojtantra in Nepal three years later?

It's not just the journalists, most American intellectuals are even more deeply "embedded" with the military-industrial power elite. Fareed Zakaria, the poster-boy Muslim of the neocons manning the barricades of international capitalism, has written a book that will ensure his status in the American dream.

The flawless prose of the book is its most remarkable feature, it almost sounds journalistic. Such clarity can be dangerous in such a persuasive promoter of Newspeak.

Fareed Zakaria's fundamental thesis, that we need less democracy and more liberty, is fundamentally flawed. What we really need is to build a better democracy, tempered with the concerns of social justice, which will lead to the institutionalisation of liberty, as Larry Diamond of Stanford University argues in his call for universality of democratic principals (http://repositories.cdlib.org/csd/03-05). We don't need any American guns to goad us down the path of either economic liberalisation or political freedom. Nevertheless, Zakaria's and this book should be required reading to those who want to understand the ideological underpinings of Bushism.

The Future of Freedom
by Fareed Zakaria
W W Norton
price $17.47



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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