Nov 4 • 1HR 28M

Fareed Zakaria On Colonialism And Liberalism

He reflects on his family's history and world history, just in time for PM Sunak.

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Appears in this episode

Andrew Sullivan
Unafraid conversations about anything

Fareed is the host of the CNN show “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” which has been on the air since 2008. He’s also a columnist for the Washington Post and the author of several bestsellers, including In Defense of a Liberal Education, The Post-American World, and his latest, Ten Lessons For a Post-Pandemic World. He’s also been a friend since 1983.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on the silver linings of British colonialism, and how the war in Ukraine could end — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: the remarkable immigrant story of Fareed’s family, colonial racism in India, Churchill, David Cameron, the rise of Rishi Sunak, falling in love with America, Burke, the rapid pace of migration and free trade, the threat from China, the Cold War, and Fareed’s mentor Sam Huntington and the “Clash of Civilizations.”

A reader writes:

I absolutely adored your latest article, the one on Sunak. I owe you and the English people an apology for commenting elsewhere that they seemed pretty anti-Hindu. I based that on the dreadful reporting by the BBC on all things Hindu. But I’m beginning to realize that that is part of the BBC being too woke. It has nothing to do with their being anti-Hindu in the old colonial way. Hindus are considered white-adjacent by the BBC because diaspora Hindus make a high median income compared to other ethnic immigrant groups.

I found your article reassuring and uplifting — not because I especially like Sunak, but because I think the world is a better place than it was a few decades ago and you don’t continue to beat up people for mistakes they’ve repented and moved past. Sadly, I dare not share your article or my response with many people, because it is such a politically incorrect position.  

That reader follows up:

I ended up sending your essay to some Indian-American friends and they loved it. So I underestimated them as well. Maybe your view is more mainstream than I realize.  

Another reader insists that racial progress among political elites isn’t enough:

The point of racial progress is not to pat ourselves on the back when barriers are broken. It’s to keep at it because the benefits run broad and deep. Obama and Sunak are, indeed, significant because their rise indicates broad but hardly universal societal acceptance that the most qualified person in a political campaign should represent us and lead us, regardless of race, color or creed. This is fantastic news.

However, their success does not necessarily mean that all barriers to racial progress have been torn down. We “good liberals,” as you derisively like to call us, continue to support affirmative action because representation matters, and free labor markets alone — for all their virtue in bringing immigrants and their ambitious children to our shores — have not been able to get the job done.

If you look at the success of Indian immigrants in the UK and US, you’ll find they have no need of affirmative action. And they do not live with the shadow it casts over every non-white’s success in woke America.

Another dissenter elaborates on the view of the previous reader:

I found your Sunak piece interesting and agree that his appointment as PM is a profound moment. I think you are correct that Gandhi would not only be proud of the appointment, but also that Sunak did not have to suffer the way Gandhi did to achieve this status. To those who demand that he must genuflect or self-flagellate to prove his bona fides, fine. He can skip lunch tomorrow. 

My dissent is how you presented this, and Obama’s election, as proof that systemic racism no longer exists in these countries, particularly the US. Vestiges of a fight already won. Now we move on, nothing more to see here. 

The line that really sent me over the top was, “the countries with the most opportunity for racial minorities in the world.” Who is saying that the United States is NOT a country with more opportunities for racial minorities in the world? 

I’m not talking about the people who insist that being white is an inherent evil and how the system should be rebuilt from scratch. I know those people exist. I am talking about, as you called it, “the broad American left.” I would argue that I am a part of the “broad American left,” and by that I mean the majority of Dem voters. I believe that there is still systemic racism because it takes time to purge this from systems largely built around it. There is still work to do. We should celebrate the progress thus far, and strive for more. 

That doesn’t mean white people are inherently evil, or that the United States is inherently evil. The big debate between the “everything is fine they should stop complaining” crowd and the “no progress has been made and can’t be made until we rebuild the whole thing from scratch” crowd is happening among a very, very, very small percentage of people. 

I don’t think “everything is fine.” I do think most minorities, especially non-white immigrants, are prospering — but many working-class African-American men aren’t. My view is that this problem is indeed in part due to lingering prejudice and the legacy of brutal discrimination — a history we cannot undo. But it is also related to current problems we can do more to engage: the broken family structure, massively disproportionate criminality, unsafe neighborhoods, the drug war, and a culture that too often equates being successful with “acting white.” I think tackling these discrete problems is the way forward — not erecting a permanent “equity” system where these issues are denied, and where systemic race discrimination in favor of African Americans is both window dressing and a distraction.

Another reader has “a question tangential to Sunak”:

It’s about Obama. It has always been portrayed that there was a huge white backlash after electing the first Black president. But wasn’t there an even bigger Black Double-Down about it? It was after Obama’s election that we get Black Lives Matter (with no real stats to back murderous claims), Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and ME's personal grievances, The 1619 Project’s ahistorical nonsense, Ibram Kendi’s equity of outcomes, Robin DiAngelo’s bestsellers, etc.

After the first Black man was elected, why the 1860s-level of victimhood, when clearly it’s never been better for Black people in the US? What makes Blacks (and us gays) want to cling to the victim politics rather than simply admit we already have a place at the table? How do BLM and HRC go from the oppression fundraising and toward a more clear-eyed citizenship?

I suspect the race-leftists were panicked by Obama’s success because it threatened their worldview of America as an unending KKK state. So they had to amp up their rhetoric and generate a moral panic. That’s also why they are obsessed with relitigating the Civil War and Reconstruction. They are not comfortable in the more complicated multi-racial present. To achieve the revolution they want — ending liberal democracy and replacing it with a top-down racially-engineered state — they have to keep dialing the hysteria to 11 and furiously denying any other factors in resilient racial inequality. They also have to censor and suppress any contrary views. Hence Jon Stewart’s fanaticism. Hence multi-millionaire Ta-Nehisi Coates’ despair at the impossibility of black success in America. Hence the NYT running a special issue claiming that the US sought independence to preserve slavery. Hence the abandonment of standards in education; and the indifference to violent crime.

Next up, a reader continues the debate over law enforcement:

The dissenter whose opinion you aired last week on “defund the police” is completely full of it — they’re in damage-control mode. You can cite all the stats you want about which cities defunded, then refunded. And mainstream reports that “defund the police” didn’t lead to a spike in crime are penned by the very same outlets — often the very same people — who cheered defunding the police in the first place.

Let’s review: George Floyd is killed. America descends into complete moral panic, and in many cities, burning chaos. The left — and this was exclusively from the left — begins demanding we “defund the police,” and any claim now that they didn’t is simply a flat-out lie. So some of the progressive cities defund the police. And suddenly crime appears to be rising. Who’da thunk!

But it’s more than that, of course. “Defund the police” put police back on their heels. Why conduct aggressive policing — why conduct policing at all — when the assumption is automatically that it’s being done in an inequitable way? While your budget is being cut. Of course police stepped back. And it was that stepping back — the sense that police were on the defensive and would no longer police as aggressively — that flashed the green light for criminals.

Throw in a few progressive DAs who declined to prosecute all but the most heinous crime, and suddenly we’re seeing urban crime go up and up. The left attempts to deflect that by saying, “Hey, things are nowhere near as bad as they were in the '70s and '80s!”

The left can try to convince itself that the backlash against police has nothing to do with what we’ve seen since. Common sense dictates otherwise, and Americans on the whole have now had a taste of what “progressive” law enforcement entails. Don’t be surprised if they vote against it Nov. 8.

I won’t be. If San Francisco turned right, what of the Midwest? Here’s another reader along the same lines:

I’m fed up with the left’s denial about “Defund the Police” and their shock at how liberals are perceived as soft on crime. Your dissenter misses the point by a mile. Yes, many Democrat-led big cities did add more to their police budgets, but only after first voting to dramatically reduce them.  

Los Angeles, my hometown, is a perfect example.  As “social justice” vandals were still committing mayhem downtown on a nightly basis, the gutless city council voted to remove $150 million from the LAPD budget in the next fiscal year. Not to put that money towards non-armed officers, but to strip it from the public safety budget entirely. Six months later, after a spike in crime and public outrage, they added that money back — and more.

If the “Defund the Police” crowd really meant redistributing police money to other service providers — neither a new or particularly controversial idea — why not just say it clearly? Because they, in fact, wanted to defund police departments so that they could not function. “Defund the Police!” was yelled in the same breath as “All Cops Are Bastards!” and “Fuck the Police!” “Defund!” was a conscious, anti-police notion promoted by idiotic anarchists. Hollywood celebrities proudly bailed-out arsonists and looters who committed mayhem in the name of black lives. 

Blue-city district attorneys are the ones who refused to prosecute thefts of goods under $1,000 in value, car break-ins, random vandalism and quality of life crimes. They are the ones who have allowed people accused of violent crimes to continue to walk the street pending trial. And the mentality persists today: many have read the story of woke Brooklynites wringing their hands over whether to call the cops on the homeless man who killed a woman’s dog, merely because the man is black.

It’s that bone-headedness that accrues to all liberals. Rather than shout it down, normal liberals ignore it, gaslight, or point to graphs that say “Well, crime isn’t as bad as it was in the '90s!” And Democrats wonder why they have a messaging problem.

Where is Biden’s outrage? When is he going to have the guts to do a Sister Souljah Moment on lefty cities allowing crime — or cancel culture, or the illiberalism which has taken over academia, etc? He has a target-rich environment to show Americans that he’s not being pushed around by the hard left on social issues. It’s too late now most likely, but showing a bit of spine in this area might possibly save the Democrats in the midterms.

I agree with all of this. Biden shows no passion when talking about inflation or crime or immigration. The Dems’ response to much of it is to deny anything is going on. Biden tried to tell us this summer that inflation was zero for a month. Harris tells us “the border is secure.” Just this week, instead of talking about how to reduce crime, NPR, a woke propaganda outfit, runs a piece by a social justice activist “reporter” telling us there is, in fact, no crime wave, and if there is, it’s because of a racism. Money quote: “Worry about crime is often a code for white racial anxiety.” The piece quotes not a single dissenter to this far-left position and presents it as news.

Lastly, on the trans debate, another liberal who’s had enough:

Your reader wrote:

Sure, maybe that is the case for some very large percentage of those kids who report feelings of dysphoria, but even at the high end of 90%, that’s still 10% who have legitimate dysphoria who will be told to just wait indefinitely. What is the care being offered to those kids in a world where gender-affirming care is only accessible upon reaching the age of majority? Or will it be determined that no one should transition, as some of the loudest voices desire?

The issue is that there is NO DIAGNOSTIC for distinguishing the 90% from the 10%. Absolutely no one knows how to do this. Not only is there no diagnostic vetted by any sort of controlled studies, there is not even a proposed diagnostic.

Given that fact, mutilation and sterilization of children absolutely should and must be banned (as the NHS in England is now proposing, along with banning puberty blockers unless it’s in a medical trial). Mutilation and sterilization of children under these conditions is a crime against humanity, full stop.

I have been completely radicalized by this issue, and I’m now voting straight Republican after a lifetime of liberal Democrat activism (I’m 67). The Republican Party is the only organized opposition to this total insanity in the US.

And on this issue, again, we have a similar Democratic response: 1. There is nothing going on here. 2. Okay, it does happen but it’s no big deal. 3. It’s a wonderful thing and only bigots oppose it. 4. Why do you hate trans kids and want to exterminate them from the face of the earth? It’s enough to turn any sane Democrat into a Republican.

Grateful as always for your dissents and other comments: dish@andrewsullivan.com.