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Fareed Zakaria GPS
The World Reacts to Historic Brexit; Interview with Philip Gordon; In the Wake of Brexit; ISIS versus the West's Most Influential Islamic Scholar; Interview with Andrew Solomon. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired June 26, 2016 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:04] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.
We'll start today's show with Brexit, of course. Britain's decisive, stunning, and deeply consequential vote to leave the European Union.
Markets have tumbled, the political fallout has just begun --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: So what does it mean for the world and for America?
I've assembled an all-star panel to discuss the economic and political impact. And then a former top State Department official on why he publicly urged Britain not to leave and where do we go from here.
And imagine being on an ISIS hit list. This man doesn't have to imagine it. The terror group has made clear it wants to kill him.
The inside story from one of America's top Muslim leaders.
And from the collapse of the Soviet Union to post-9/11 Afghanistan, one of the country's finest writers, Andrew Solomon, has seen it all, and he tells us what he learned.
But first, here's my take. I can't remember a more event-filled 24 hours since the end of the Cold War. On Friday morning, Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union, ending a decades' old deeply intertwined economic and political association. Then Scotland's first minister proposed a vote to break away from Britain, ending the 300- year union between them. The leaders in Northern Ireland floated a similar idea.
Meanwhile, the British prime minister announced that he would resign. The head of the opposition Labor Party might well be forced out as well, oh, and global markets lost $2 trillion of value all in one day.
The economic and political consequences of Brexit will become clearer in the weeks and months ahead. It seems to me there is going to be considerable remorse and regret among those who voted for Brexit without really understanding what it meant. But however that plays out, there is one lesson that I think we can take from the Brexit referendum regardless that applies across the English channel to other European countries and across the Atlantic to the United States.
We are now watching the emergence of a new political divide that is likely to shape the politics of the Western world for the next 50 years.
Who voted for Brexit? 68 percent of Britons who did not finish high school, according to "The Wall Street Journal." And who voted against it, in other words who voted to stay in Europe? 70 percent of college graduates. Those who voted for Brexit were disproportionately older, white, working class, less educated, and poorer. Those who voted to remain in Europe were younger, ethnically diverse, better educated and better off.
These divisions will sound familiar to Americans because for the most part they mirror the divide we are seeing in this presidential election. The single factor that best predicts a Trump voter is a college degree. If you have it, you say you will vote against him. If you don't, you're for him.
The economists recently did a survey of Europe's little Trumps, the series of populists who are gaining ground across the continent. Looking at the data, it concluded that, quote, "support for xenophobic populism is strongest among those who are older, non-university educated, working class, white, and male. Those against, again, tended to be younger, educated, working in service and professional jobs, and comfortable with diversity."
This divide is rooted in the central reality of our times, a world that is being reshaped by globalization and technology. These forces produce enormous advances but also enormous disruptions rendering obsolete companies, indeed entire industries, within just years. But it's not just about economics. The most disruptive element of all has turned out to be not the free and fast movement of goods, services, and information but people.
The migration of people in and out of countries has produced an emotional backlash against immigration, refugees, and indeed the entire idea of globalization. Economic issues affect the head. Identity issues hit the heart.
This is the new divide in the Western world. On the one hand, there will be those who view an open world, globalization and technological change, as broadly beneficial.
[10:05:09] And there are others who regard these same forces as threatening and destructive. The latter want to have protections of various kinds. Increased sovereignty, tariffs, border controls to make their countries great again. Parties that now contain elements of both will have internal conflicts, as is happening with Britain's stories and the Republican Party in the United States. Donald Trump, for example, would like to remake the Republicans into a
populist, protectionist nationalist, and xenophobic party. Whether or not he succeeds, his compatriots in Britain won a big battle on Friday. But the largest struggle will go on and the new politics of our age will not be left versus right but open versus closed.
And let's get started.
Let's get right to it with our all-star panel. Joining us from London, Anne Applebaum is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and a columnist for "The Washington Post." Zanny Minton Beddoes is the editor-in-chief of the "Economist," and from Abingdon Green Opposite Parliament, we have the great British historian and journalist, Andrew Roberts.
Thank you all for being here.
Zanny, let me begin with you. The economic fallout is something everyone is trying to understand. At some level, the markets have actually not collapsed quite as much as one might have thought. There has not been the kind of financial crisis type panic.
What do you see going forward?
ZANY MINTON BEDDOES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: Well, I think it's partly a case of not yet, perhaps. I think that has a lot to do with the very calming influence on Friday of the central banks, particularly Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England. But I think you're right that this is unlikely to be a cataclysmic market event unless we have much greater political uncertainty in Britain. And we seem to be getting that very fast right now.
I think the question that's going to be a long and grinding impact, you've got huge uncertainty about what Britain's relationship with the European Union is going to be. No one is going to invest in the UK. As a result, there has to be a re-pricing of UK assets. The UK is almost certainly going to go into recession and in the long run, it's going to be much poorer. So that could have very big consequences for the global economy, too.
ZAKARIA: Anne Applebaum, you follow this from two -- with two hats on. You spend a lot of time in London, but you also have a house in Poland. You're married to the former foreign minister of Poland. What does this look like from the continent?
ANNE APPLEBAUM, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: First of all, it's important to know that the continent didn't expect it at all. It was led to believe by Cameron and by the people around him that everything was under control. And one of the interesting things you see both in Britain and Europe in the last 24 hours is that really nobody is prepared. There's no blueprint. There's no EU blueprint. The government is not prepared.
A civil servant told me yesterday, a senior Foreign Office civil servant told me that there is no plan, nobody knows exactly how this is going to be carried out. You know, the only person who seems to have a plan in Britain is Nicola Sturgeon, who referred to in your introduction, the Scottish first minister, who's already said, who seems to know where she's going. She wants to take Scotland out of the UK. And she knows what's going forward. Everything else is up in the air.
The continent, just so that you understand, is divided. There's a group who want to make this as easy as possible for Britain, maybe even try and convince Britain to stay in, do a good deal. And then there's another part -- there's another mood that says, no, you know, they left, they want to leave, they've been a problem for 20 years, let's kick them out and make sure that they don't inspire anybody else.
And that -- there's no resolution yet to that conversation, which is going on inside Europe but also even inside Germany, inside the largest European country.
ZAKARIA: Andrew Roberts, you were in favor of leaving. And I'm wondering, watching all this -- all these consequences, are you having any second thoughts? You think Boris Johnson is having any second thoughts?
ANDREW ROBERTS, AUTHOR AND HISTORIAN: No, not at all. And it's not true that we haven't got a plan. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have got a plan. The drawback is that neither of them are prime minister. With any luck, one of them will be prime minister by the time that Tory Party conference meets in October. And then they're going to get down to implementing their plan.
You can't start negotiations until you actually know who's going to be in charge of those negotiations. They're going to be very difficult negotiations. There's going to be a lot of brinksmanship. So you have to have somebody who, A, was in favor of leaving the European Union, and, B, is -- has, as I said, fully up to a plan.
ZAKARIA: But what is the plan, Andrew, if I may ask? Because as I understand it, you know, these association agreements, I mean, they run into thousands and thousands of pages.
[10:10:07] Britain is still going to want to sell goods to the European Union, which means it will have to comply with most EU directives and regulations anyway, or it has to have separate association agreements with 27 different countries. I mean, what is it going to be?
ROBERTS: Well, it's not going to be part of the single market. I think that's pretty clear. Some people say that it's going to take part of the single market provisions, but actually if you do that, you also have to have free movement of peoples. And one of the really serious things that this vote showed was that majority of the British people actually want to have controlled immigration. We want to be able to choose who comes to this country. And so as a result, you're not going to be able to have both.
This is why it's going to be such a tough negotiation. And why, as I say, you need to have a prime minister who's committed to the ultimate will of the British people as expressed on Thursday.
ZAKARIA: Zanny, quickly, before we take a break, do you think, to Anne's point, will the Europeans end up being tough or will they be practical and conciliatory? Merkel, who seems to be of course the most powerful figure here, signaled that she was not going to be very tough.
BEDDOES: I think in the end they're going to be practical. But the problem is that the people who wanted to leave, the leave campaign promised the British people a trifecta of things that they can't have. They promised basically that nothing would change very much economically and Britain would be better off, that there would be control over immigration and that Britain would no longer have to pay into the EU budget.
And the reality is that if we are not in the single market as Andrew seems to be suggesting as the direction we're going to go the economic damage to this country is going to be very considerable. So if we want to control borders and control immigration, we're not going to be in the single market. And that will mean a Britain that is much poorer than it otherwise would have been.
ZAKARIA: We're going to do much more. Stay with me. My all-star panel will continue when we return.
[10:16:33] ZAKARIA: And we are back with Anne Applebaum, Zanny Minton Beddoes and Andrew Roberts joining us from London, talking from London, talking about Brexit.
Anne, the issue that seems to have rarely won the Brexit -- won for the Brexit forces was migration. It seemed as though the economic issues, people understood that maybe Britain would suffer, but immigrants, migration turned out to be the big issue. And it's the issue that's reshaping the politics of Europe. Is it not? This is not just an English or British phenomenon.
APPLEBAUM: Yes -- no, what was really interesting about the election campaign was not just that immigration became the main issue, but that immigration became an issue that was more important than the economy. So there were some of the leading Brexit campaigners who would say, well, the stock market will crash, prices will go down, we'll be out of the single market, the economy will suffer, and they would say, so what?
I think we're at a point where our traditional idea of how politics is conducted in the West, you know, that it's all an argument about how to make people more prosperous, how to make the economy work better, I think we're coming to the end of that period, and we're coming to a period where people want to argue over something more existential, about national identity, about who they are, about what kind of country they live in.
And you're right, this is not just Britain. This is taking place in almost every country in Europe. You can certainly find people or parties who want to have that conversation, who want to -- who want to stop the old economic conversation about, you know, how do we make people more prosperous, which is the conversation that led us to globalization, and switch it to something else, which is how do we keep our country the way we want it to be or the way we think it used to be.
ZAKARIA: Zanny, is there a solution to that issue? Because at the heart of the common market, as you point out, is the free movement of people. There are hundreds of thousands of east Europeans living and working in London and paying taxes. Is there a way to get the benefits of economic globalization without this free movement of people?
BEDDOES: Well, I think there's certainly going to be a conversation certainly in this country and within Europe about what limits you might put on the free movement of people or how you can have the principle but perhaps sort of prevent really extreme surges. But I think it's important to think about this is -- this is people -- a lot of the people, as you said in your introduction, who were voting against this, it's not that they don't care about economics, they just don't feel that they benefitted from the economic boom.
They've had a very, very tough time in the past few years since the financial crisis. Their living standards have gone down. And I think in many ways this is much as it is in America. A protest of anger against stagnant living standards and a feeling that those metropolitan elites in London, you know, the establishment, don't understand what life is like for people in the rest of Britain. And I think this begs the question of what, for those of us who believe in globalization, believe in the benefit of liberal internationalism, what can we do to shore up support for that?
And I think it demands a kind of progressive agenda that ensures that enough of those people see gains that they are willing to retain some openness. And I think it's incumbent on everybody who wants to get those gains to come up with a much better response.
In this country, remember, we've had years of austerity. And the -- the reason people were cross, it's not that some people are xenophobic, but a lot of people who voted to leave are not at all xenophobic. They're worried about, can they get a doctor's appointment, overcrowded school rooms, rising house prices. Very real problems, challenges they face, which frankly are the result of insufficient public investment in the UK and then some said the result of austerity politics.
[10:20:02] ZAKARIA: Andrew, let me ask you about the personal -- the personality issues involved here. Here you have David Cameron, a moderate --
ROBERTS: Just before you do. Just before you do. Sorry.
ROBERTS: Just before you do, I wonder whether I could just pick up a point of Zanny's.
ROBERTS: Of course, and I agree with everything she said about schools and hospitals. But one of the points about the schools and hospitals is that if you don't know how many people are coming in, you can't plan. If you know it's going to be 170,000 because you've got controlled or managed immigration, then you can actually plan. But if you suddenly just promise the people that it's going to be fewer than 100,000 and it turns out to be 330,000, as it was last year, of course all planning just goes out of the window.
ZAKARIA: So, Andrew, let me ask you about the personalities. David Cameron, moderate conservative, I think hoped that he would be remembered as the man who brought the Conservative Party to the center on many issues, some various kinds of social reforms. It seems as though he will be remembered as the man who took Britain out of Europe and perhaps who broke Britain up if Scotland and Northern Ireland do, in fact, leave.
Do you think he now wishes he had never made this decision of bringing this to a referendum?
ROBERTS: Oh, of course, he must feel that. He must feel that, and understandably so. He did it in order to try and stop UKIP, the UK Independence Party in its tracks in the 2015 election. And to an extent, he succeeded in that. They've got no MPs that were elected at least. And so in that sense, it was successful. But the price he had to pay, of course, has now turned out to be the price of his political career. He was a one-nation conservative, a moderate conservative.
I think, by the way, he'll be followed by another one, if it is Boris Johnson. But nonetheless, I think it ends -- his political career ends in tragedy in a way that it didn't need to.
ZAKARIA: Anne, when you look at this, I'm wondering, is there some scenario in which Boris Johnson becomes the new prime minister, recognizes the costs involved here, and tries, as have other countries when they've had referendums to renegotiate a new treaty with Germany, with the Europeans, and come up with some face-saving compromise so that Britain doesn't leave after all, or is this final?
APPLEBAUM: There are two problems with that. One is the nature of the campaign, which by the end was very aggressive and which promised people a good deal. It promised them not only a halt to immigration, it also promised them money that would come back from the EU by the way of using false statistics, promising money that doesn't exist. It promised them improvements. It actually became a political campaign about things that were going to be done for Britain.
And if that isn't delivered or if he isn't seen to be delivering it, I think there may be a huge outcry. The other problem is Europe. As I said, the continent is divided. Some people want to do a deal with Britain, as you suggested, and there will be some people who are bitterly against it. And that argument hasn't even been had yet. It hasn't been won. And we don't know -- we don't even know who's going to lead it.
I think if it's Merkel, and it's a moderate Tory, then yes, something could be done. But you may quickly get, you know, an acceleration of the problem and a clash of personalities that would make it difficult.
ZAKARIA: Zanny, very quickly, last thought, could this possibly be good for New York in the sense that will London collapse as an alternative financial capital to New York?
BEDDOES: You know, I don't think this is good for anybody, frankly. And I think that London will be dented as a financial capital, if we leave the European -- depending on how we leave it. But European weakness, British weakness, is in at some broad sense not good for anybody. So maybe a few people gain in New York, but frankly they would be far better off with a vibrant Britain and a vibrant Europe. So I don't think this is good for anyone.
ZAKARIA: On that somber note, thank you all. Fascinating panel.
Next on GPS, a former top state department official on how Brexit extends well beyond Britain in Europe. And of course what it means for the United States.
[10:28:09] ZAKARIA: President Obama has warned of the consequences of a British withdrawal from the EU but he also assured the UK that the special relationship would endure. My next guest once advised Obama on this issue, and he can tell us what Brexit means for us across the Atlantic.
Philip Gordon, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, joins us now from Berlin. Gordon is currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Thanks for joining us, Phil. Let me ask you specifically what it means because -- and let me take a specific issue. So Russia annexes Crimea. The United States urges the EU to enact tough sanctions against Russia. In those kinds of situations, is it that Britain was always shared America's mind set, had the same kinds of ideas and goals, and that we will miss that Atlantic orientation that Britain provided to the European Union on issues like dealing with Russia, dealing with China, Iraq, Afghanistan.
PHILIP GORDON, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Fareed. That's a really good specific example to take. We always want a European Union that is outward looking, strong, activist, Atlanticist, like minded. And we counted on Britain to be our voice within that European Union. We counted on a Britain that had the political capital and focus and time to spend on being a global like- minded power like us. And Ukraine sanctions is a good example. It's a heated debate.
We have an interest in maintaining them to keep pressure on Russia, to improve the situation in Ukraine, and once Britain formally leaves the European Union, their voice will absent in that debate so, you know, a lot of this is amorphous, general, vague, about partnerships, solidarity, but that is indeed a specific example where once Britain leaves, it will be a setback to U.S. interests.
ZAKARIA: And do you think the United States would then be dealing with a German-dominated Europe?
GORDON: Well, you know, you put it in terms of German-dominated Europe, that evokes all sorts of fears and apprehensions, which indeed exist. And that's one of the reasons why Germans -- and I'm sitting here in Berlin and have heard their reactions to this -- are uncomfortable. And they deeply wanted Britain to stay in because they are not entirely comfortable with the responsibility that goes with that leadership and the reactions to it that are very real in other European countries.
All of that said, yes, inevitably, this means that the United States, which has already been working very significantly with Berlin on global challenges as Germany plays an increasing role -- and Ukraine sanctions, by the way, is a good example where essentially Germany has led and designed the policy that we're working with them on -- inevitably, we will turn more to Germany because, as I say, Britain won't be at the table anymore.
And the European Union -- you know, we still have NATO and we still have bilateral partnerships and always will, but the E.U. has been playing an increasing role. Ukraine sanctions is one example. Iran sanctions was another. Whatever you think of the Iranian nuclear deal, I don't think anyone thinks they would have been at the table had there not been an E.U. oil embargo. Well, that E.U. oil embargo resulted from a lot of debates and discussions at the E.U. table. It was nice to have Britain at that table. It looks like we won't have Britain at that table anymore.
ZAKARIA: Phil, let me ask you about the question I asked earlier. Is it conceivable that Britain will stay in?
In other words, you know the way these things work. After a while, the new prime minister approaches the Europeans and says, "Well, what about if my -- these three criteria are satisfied and we negotiate a new treaty and I do a second referendum?"
How likely is that to happen?
GORDON: It is unlikely, but it's also not crazy. And you can see a path. I mean, that's the thing about this is the answer to most of these questions is "We just don't know."
This referendum clearly is the start of a process and not the end of a process. And it starts a process that will begin with trying to figure out the terms of the withdrawal, which will already be incredibly complicated, as they pick apart exactly what it means to withdraw.
And then there will inevitably be some new relationship between Britain and the European Union. We just don't know what it is, how much of a single market, how much free movement of labor, what sort of other arrangements. I don't think it's completely crazy to imagine a scenario whereby,
once they start down that road and they realize that all of the other options are bad -- I mean, that's one of the things I think the Brits will realize, that the Norway option is bad. The Switzerland option is bad. The Canada option, free trade union, is bad. They might start to say, well, can we rebuild something? And pretty soon it starts to look like European Union membership.
I think it's unlikely still because that would mean, you know, whatever, 17 million people very specifically said they didn't want to be members of the E.U. But that's how it feels today, two days after the vote. If instability in Britain really starts to rise, markets don't recover, Scotland starts to begin the process of withdrawing from the E.U., and in Northern Ireland there's movement as well because they don't want a border, and then the Europeans respond by putting things on the table, new leaders come to power -- you have elections in France and Germany next year, and then a new leadership in Britain, you know, this is going to go on for a year or two or more.
At that point, is it impossible to say, "You know what? We would rather have a different membership of the European Union rather than not be members?" I don't think it's completely impossible.
And, remember, when Boris Johnson first came out -- you know, nobody knew which way he would lean. When he first came out against -- you know, when he first came out for leaving, what he said was "We need a better deal."
So already there's the notion that there is going to be some relationship between Britain and the E.U., and you could imagine getting to a point where that relationship actually is membership. It's not crazy, but it's unlikely.
ZAKARIA: Phil Gordon, fascinating. Thank you so much.
Stay with us. We will be back with more GPS.
ZAKARIA: What is it like to know that ISIS has targeted you personally for death?
My next guest knows that feeling. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has been called the West's most influential Islamic scholar and one of the world's most influential Muslims. Born Christian in the state of Washington, he converted to Islam when he was 18. His withering criticism of ISIS, viewed online by millions, drew the group's attention, and he was marked for death in an issue of its magazine Dabiq.
Hamza Yusuf, pleasure to have you on.
SHEIKH HAMZA YUSUF, ISLAMIC SCHOLAR: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Tell me first, how did you find out that ISIS was targeting you? YUSUF: The FBI came to my house. It was actually pretty late at
night. And I guess they had seen the reference to calling for my death in their magazine, their English magazine Dabiq. And so they came. I guess the desk officer said that they wanted me notified so that I could take precautions. They said call 911 if anything seems suspicious.
ZAKARIA: How did you react?
YUSUF: You know, initially -- I mean, it's obviously a strange thing. It's not the first time in my life.
So it's obviously a strange thing. You know, a Zen master told me once, "Big ideas, big opposition. Little ideas, little opposition. No ideas, no opposition," so...
ZAKARIA: Why do you think ISIS targeted you?
YUSUF: I had a -- a -- I put something out on the Web called "The Crises of ISIS." And it went viral in the Middle East. I think a lot of people saw it. It was translated into Arabic. And I think it just bothered them. It was a little swat to the hornet's nest.
ZAKARIA: And you -- you really took them on. You argued that they have a flimsy ideology.
YUSUF: My argument was that they don't really have legitimacy in terms of Islamic tradition. Every religion creates sects. It's a natural outcome of any revelation. Christianity has plenty of sects. The -- the KKK see themselves -- they swear an oath on the Bible. Then men who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin doesn't represent Judaism, although he was a rabbinical student justifying his actions through Torah and Talmudic tradition.
So I think you -- religion goes wrong, and it's very important for voices out there to -- to direct people to the normative tradition, in other words, the mainstream...
ZAKARIA: Explain what you mean by...
YUSUF: The mainstream tradition, what the religion and those who understand it best have articulated about it. I mean, for instance, Catholicism is not pedophilia. Catholicism is St. Augustine; it's St. Thomas Aquinas. It's the magisterium. That's Catholicism.
ZAKARIA: And it's what the majority of the mainstream...
YUSUF: Exactly. And you're looking -- in Islam, you're looking at 1.3 billion people that the vast majority, the overwhelming majority, have nothing to do with violence. There was a -- a book called "Are Muslims Distinctive" by a social scientist from U.C. Berkeley, not Muslim, who wrote this book arguing that in fact stable Muslim societies were less violent than stable Western societies. And that's been my experience living -- I lived over 10 years in the Muslim world. And I found that Muslims, by and large, are not violent at all. Quite the opposite, hospitality is one of the centerpieces of the Islamic religion.
ZAKARIA: How do you think we're doing at battling ISIS ideologically?
YUSUF: I think we're not doing well at all. Because you've got two issues. You have a security issue, undeniable. Governments have to keep their people safe. But you also have an ideological war, and these are ideas. So if you -- if you want to just get a weed-hacker and hack the weeds without pulling up the roots, the weeds are going to grow back. And, essentially, I think, after 9/11, we had an incredible opportunity, and it was a squandered opportunity. We have bred far more terrorists than there were before 9/11.
ZAKARIA: A lot of people say that Islam is not compatible with democracy or liberalism -- that's small L -- or human rights. And you say entirely the opposite.
YUSUF: I think, obviously, terms need to be defined, but I do believe that Islam, right now -- the places where Muslims are flourishing tend to be in secular democracies. I mean, that's simply a fact.
ZAKARIA: Such as?
YUSUF: Well, such as the United States of America.
Our community -- despite the unfortunate backlash of some of the less informed people in the United States, most American Muslims are doing very well here. They're allowed to speak freely in their mosques. You can't do that in a lot of Muslim countries. We have, in the first amendment, not only the freedom of religion but also the free exercise of the religion. And that was embedded in our Constitution. And so I think Muslims have found that to be true. When Jesus said "Love your neighbor," he wasn't talking about the neighbors you like, right?
ZAKARIA: If you were to meet Donald Trump, what would you say to him?
YUSUF: To drop out of the race, maybe.
ZAKARIA: Pleasure to have you on, Hamzi Yusuf.
YUSUF: OK. Well, thank you very much.
ZAKARIA: Coming up, one of the most eloquent voices of our time lends us his insights on seismic changes he has witnessed in the world, the demise of the Soviet Union, post-9/11 Afghanistan, and more. Andrew Solomon is with me, next.
ZAKARIA: Andrew Solomon is one of the most acute observers of our time. He's traveled the world, writing beautifully for the New York Times magazine, the New Yorker, and many other places; won the National Book Award for his penetrating look at depression; and won a National Book Critic Circle award for his look at the challenges facing the disabled and other disadvantaged groups.
His latest offering, "Far and Away," is a collection of essays from his decades of witnessing historic change -- the twilight of the Soviet Union, the turmoil of post-9/11 Afghanistan, the tyranny of Gadhafi in Libya.
Andrew Solomon, pleasure to have you on.
ANDREW SOLOMON, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: What a pleasure to be here.
ZAKARIA: You've been reporting for 25 years, traveling for 25 years. You talk about travel as a kind of moral imperative.
SOLOMON: It's really drawn from the uprise of xenophobia in the country at large right now. I think that people have a very difficult time making sense of countries they've never visited. People have a very difficult time conceptualizing places that they don't know.
I feel like, if every young person in the world were required to spend two weeks in a foreign country before they reached full adulthood -- doesn't matter what country; doesn't matter what they did there -- half the world's diplomatic problems would be gone. So many of them arise out of the fact that people don't understand what is specific to my culture, what is universal.
ZAKARIA: You've traveled to places that we think of as very scary, like the Middle East, and you approach it really as an author and an intellectual, not as an expert in the Middle East. So what I'm interested in is how do you react to, you know, the general feeling, "Oh, my god, that place is just full of chaos and violence, bloodshed and despair?"
SOLOMON: I think that, in every one of these societies, there is a large body of people, who are probably the people who watch this program, who are intelligent, thinking people, interested in and engaged with the situation of their own country and the world, and that those people are often neglected.
I started off writing about artists and going to various countries and meeting artists. Partly, I was writing about art, but more I was writing about these engaged people. And it's been my mission ever since then to go to places we find scary and to find the human stories of people, articulate people, with a point of view, and say, this is what it is. Afghanistan is not, contrary to what people had heard, a country of corrupt bureaucrats and war-like peasants. There are a lot of other people there.
ZAKARIA: For you, Libya was in some ways the -- heartbreaking, to watch that country descend? Explain why. SOLOMON: I was in Libya in the late Gadhafi period. And life under
Gadhafi was worse than you can possibly imagine. It was a ridiculous place. It was unbelievably stressful. There was nothing to be said for the system that existed. But I made the mistake of thinking that, if they got rid of that system, which was so awful, that something better would have to rise in its place.
And what happened instead is that it went into a state of complete chaos, so that even the patriotic Libyans I met when I was there have mostly tried to flee if they possibly can.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that democracy and justice are the natural default state, and if you remove all of the impediments to those qualities, that is what will rise up. And what I learned, sort of, as a personal lesson in dealing with Libya, having argued that we should support the attacks against Gadhafi, is that the natural state to which people default is not democracy and is not order but is a terrifying, violent, brutal chaos.
ZAKARIA: It's a very difficult thing for Americans to understand because America has always had order, inheriting it from, I think, the British colonies, you know. You look at Brazil. Brazil is a country that was, when you were looking at it, struggling to create a functioning democracy. In fact, even now the struggle continues with these recent proceedings, the impeachment of the president.
What did you learn from that experience?
SOLOMON: I was fascinated in Brazil by the relationships between the classes. You know, in many places, in most places really, the wealthy live in an enclosed area, and the poor live in outlying areas. And the points of contact are relatively minimal.
Rio de Janeiro has a physical structure in which the wealthy live in the flat areas, and the poor have accumulated in the favelas, in the hills that rise above those areas. I was interested in what happens when everyone is put together. I was interested that so many of the Brazilians I met, of privilege, wanted to take on characteristics they associated with the favelas, the intensity, the music, the relationship to football that so many models have come out of there.
And I loved what Regina Case, who is, sort of, the Oprah Winfrey of Brazil, said to me. She said, "I've been in North America. You have a pine grove here; you have oak trees there." She said, "In Brazil" -- she said, "Have you been to our tropical rainforest? Everything is growing on top of everything else; the sunlight is being choked out, and there's still more happening than anywhere else. And just as our rainforest is making the oxygen the world needs to breathe, so this social structure creates a social oxygen of intimacy from which the rest of the world could profit."
ZAKARIA: What are the places that -- that haunt you, that remain in your memory now?
SOLOMON: I'm certainly haunted by Afghanistan. I went there thinking it would be a punishing assignment, and when I got there, I fell in love with the place. I'll always remember walking with my translator one day. I had bought one of those little fur hats like the ones Karzai always wore. And we were walking back through a crowded market at a time when most foreigners were either U.N. or military and weren't allowed to walk in those areas.
And Faruk (ph), my translator, said, "Why don't you put on your hat?"
And I said, "Oh, I think, you know, going native always looks a little bit silly."
And he said, "No, come on. Put on your hat."
So, I said, "All right."
And I put on the hat and suddenly everyone around us burst into applause. And I didn't know what was happening. And one of the people stepped forward and he said, "You're an American; you're a foreigner, but you're in the market with us. You are wearing a true Afghan hat. We all want you to know that you're welcome here." It was difficult not to fall in love with that.
ZAKARIA: What do you think of Putin's Russia? Or is it even fair, from the way you look at a country, to call it Putin's Russia?
SOLOMON: Oh, I think it is fair to call it Putin's Russia. I wish it weren't fair. I think that it's been a terrible tragedy to see Russia revert to the kind of autocracy that it was in its much darker days. There are some freedoms that exist now that didn't exist when I first went there at the end of the Soviet Union, but there was a kind of blissful idealistic notion of where everyone was headed, and none of it has come to pass.
ZAKARIA: Do you look at America differently? Have these travels made you look at your own country differently?
SOLOMON: Travel is always both a window and a mirror. So part of what you do is to discover the other place and part of what you do is to see yourself and your own country differently.
I've come to understand that, while we have a great many freedoms in the United States, there are freedoms that exist elsewhere that don't exist here. And I've come to understand that we take for granted many things that give people much greater joy when they've had to fight for them. And I've come to understand that American policy around the world has an enormous effect on the minutia of people's day-to-day lives and that what we think of as sweeping decisions that are made on a broad scale in economic or military or even citizen-to-citizen terms have much more grave consequences than we often realize.
ZAKARIA: Andrew Solomon, pleasure to have you on.
SOLOMON: Pleasure to be here. Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.