FAREED Zakaria is not a name that rings a bell for Indians. He is an Indian-born journalist, son of an Indian politician (Rafiq Zakaria) confined mainly to Mumbai, who has made a name for himself in the United States as a thinking man’s writer. He now works for Time news magazine and was once an editor of a quarterly called Foreign Affairs, a prestigious magazine that is almost a house magazine of the US state department. As such, he is both an outsider in America, as well as an insider, and therefore, quite an influential individual.
Why am I writing about him? He was in trouble recently for plagiarizing, that is, pinching bits of other people’s writings for his own column. In India, this is par for the course, for Indian journalists are always pinching stuff from other people’s writings, often without acknowledgment, sometimes even ideas which they pass on as their own. However, in America, and probably in other western countries, this is apparently a crime worse than adultery, and though the man or woman who does so is not actually stoned to death, he or she is often made to suffer in other ways. Zakaria, poor fellow, was suspended by Time “until further enquiries”, and though he has now been reinstated, most people believe that his career is over, which is really very sad.
I must confess that though I read his stuff, or used to, I am not one of his admirers. In fact, I am not an admirer of what I would call the American style of journalism, though I really cannot say why. Zakaria is what I call a formula writer, meaning, such writers stick to a formula, which they use for their analysis and which may impress some people, as it does impress Americans and maybe others, but it does not impress me. The world is not a monochrome affair that can be fitted into a single formula. The writings become therefore very predictable and boring.
In the case of Zakaria and others, you can describe that formula as scaremongering. Americans are a naïve lot and easily frightened. See how quickly George W. Bush sent his armies into Afghanistan when Osama bin Laden’s boys brought down two towers in the very heart of New York. Nobody else could have acted that quickly. Americans have been at the top of the world for so long, nearly a century, that anybody who comes and tells them they are about to lose the top slot, can scare them out of their wits, and pose as a great savant. Dozens of so-called intellectuals have done this before, including some slimy little men like Henry Kissinger who rose to the top doing so. Zakaria is an Indian, though he may be a US citizen now, and he is certainly not a slimy little man like others, but his strategy is not all that different.
Americans like to think of themselves as No.1, and anybody who comes along and tells them they are not No.1 anymore, and are going to lose their spot to someone else very soon, makes them very uncomfortable. Kissinger carved out a nice little career for himself, and also a nice little fortune, by doing just that. He told Nixon that the Soviet Union would soon be No. 1 unless he did something about it. He did the same in regard to the Middle East where he spent so much time going to and for between Israel and Arab states that he became an Arab himself, though he was a Jew.