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Fareed Zakaria GPS

The Threat To Democracy In America; Slavery In America; Christianity In Bethlehem; Ludwig Van Beethoven's 10th Symphony. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 26, 2021 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.


ZAKARIA: Today on the program.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we're at an inflection point in this country.

ZAKARIA: Making sense of this moment in history. Inflation, volatile gas prices, a global virus that has plagued the world for almost two years.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): If you want to build America up and not burn her to the ground, then welcome my fellow patriots.

ZAKARIA: Then add in America's cavernous political divide.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTES (D-CA): Issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong.

ZAKARIA: The January 6th riots which still echoes loudly. How to put this all into context? Well, we have joining us the Pulitzer Prize winning historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, HISTORIAN: And if you don't have trust in government, government is us. It's who we are.

ZAKARIA: Also on this Christmas weekend, I will tell you about another biblical exodus. This time by Christians who have been leaving the Middle East in droves.

You've likely heard Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and others right up to number nine but you've never heard the tenth, because he never finished it. Well, thanks to the magic of artificial intelligence and its human handlers, you now can on GPS. Stay tuned to hear what it sounds like.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAKARIA: First, here's "My Take." As the year draws to a close, I've asked myself what books that I have read have had a real impact on me. There's nothing like reading a good book to engage deeply with a topic. So here are three that impressed me greatly this year. The "Narrow Corridor: States Societies in the Fate of Liberty" by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. I took the time to savor every chapter because the book is packed with information and ideas.

The authors, both distinguished in the fields of economics and political science, try to explain why so few countries are successful at creating strong liberal democracies. We're living through what Larry Diamond has called a Democratic recession in which many seemingly stable democracies have actually slid backwards and others have become authoritarian in all but name.

Even the United States is facing one of the gravest challenges to its political framework of laws, rules and norms in its long history. The authors help you understand that the balancing act of liberal democracy is rare. As James Madison explained it in advocating for the American Constitution, first you must create a government that can control the governed and then one that can control itself.

That latter challenge, a strong state that is still bound by constraints, rules and norms, turns out to be very hard and it takes continued effort to maintain the balance. A wave of populous nationalism has unsettled the balance and it will take a great deal of effort to restore it.

Adrian Woolridge's "The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World," defends classical liberalism from another series of attacks. He points out that for most of human history, people were selected for jobs and honors and riches because of their membership in a family or a court or a religion or ethnic group.

The American revolution was actually extraordinary because it argued against monarchs, nobles and clerics, and instead set up a nation based on what Jefferson called a natural aristocracy based on virtue and talents. Modern societies have moved well along that path, abolishing landed privileges and making hiring based more on tests and skills rather than family and connections.

Today meritocracy faces attacks both from the left and the right, which argue that it's a rigged system that doesn't achieve good outcomes. Some of these criticisms are fair but Woolridge asks the essential question -- what would you replace it with? Do we want to go back to using soft, fuzzy criteria like character, which were often a code for social class?

Do we want a racial spoil system where jobs are distributed to achieve quotas? The answer for Woolridge is more meritocracy, eliminating remaining forms of special treatment based on money, connections or identity, to truly make sure the talented people who work hard are recognized and moved up the ladder.

[10:05:18] One can argue in the spirit of Winston Churchill that meritocracy is probably the worst of all selection systems, except for all the others.

And finally, "Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East." This is a book with a seemingly narrow subject matter but it's really a broad book about America's engagement with the world. The author, Philip Gordon, currently working in the White House, points out that throughout the Middle East the U.S. has responded to periods of transition in complex societies, sometimes by intervening forcefully as in Iraq, sometimes in limited ways as in Libya and sometimes virtually not at all, as in Syria.

All approaches failed and what ensued in almost all the cases was chaos, civil war, the rise of militias and humanitarian catastrophe. So maybe we should fundamentally rethink the whole idea of foreign intervention in these kinds of situations. Perhaps the U.S. could play a better role by pushing for broad social, economic and political reforms from the outside and supporting locals when they choose to move down the right path.

Perhaps Washington needs to recognize far more than it does even now the real limits of its power and influence.

Now, I should add that if you are looking for a book to read or gift to somebody, my own "Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World" is out in paperback. As we emerge from the pandemic, it makes for good reading, even if I say so myself, it has a new afterward, which is really an 11th lesson. What is it? Well, I think you should pick up a copy to find out.

And that is my take for this holiday season. Now let us get started with the program.

The end of the year tends to prompt reflection so let's take a moment to pause and consider this moment in time and how perhaps future historians will view it. So who better to help us with that than two of the finest historians of the day, both Pulitzer Prize winners.

Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest book is "Leadership in Turbulent Times" and Jon Meacham's is "His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope." He occasionally advises Joe Biden on the president's major speeches and on historical matters.

So let me start by asking you, folks. You were friends -- some of us, friends of mine, were having a conversation, and one of them, I should credit Josh Steiner, said to me, so the question is, is this 1858 or is it 1968? In other words, let me explain for people.

1858 being a point where the tensions and turmoil in the country broke the entire political and even the constitutional system. 1968, being a period of enormous turmoil but somehow the country came through and it was resilient and 10 years later, frankly, you know, 15 years later, things looked fine.

So Jon, 1858 or 1968? JON MEACHAM, PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Fantastic question. I

prayed that it's 1968 and there's a sentence you never thought you'd say, a year that began with Tet, Dr. King's assassination, Lyndon Johnson gets out of the race.

ZAKARIA: Robert Kennedy's assassination.

MEACHAM: Kennedy is assassinated, Chicago disintegrates into chaos, the Democratic convention. And on election day 1968 George Wallace wins 13.5 percent of the vote in five states. 1968 is also the first year America ever had an integrated electorate. Think about that. The first presidential year after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was the first time a multiracial democracy was actually recognized fully by the Constitution by legislation.

So we're really only about 56 years old. What happened in 1858 was these two clashing views of slavery and freedom, of power, identity, faith, and what worries me most is that what happened in 1858 was the power of passion and pride to overcome reason and a genuine devotion to the Declaration.

ZAKARIA: What do you think of, Doris?

GOODWIN: Well, you know, what I think of when I think of the 1850s is that in some ways it does remind me of where we are today in a scary sense of ways. They had a partisan press, just as we do now. If you are listening to one of the debates between Steven Douglas and Abraham Lincoln or you're reading the Republican newspaper, it's going to say he was triumphant, he was carried out in the arms of his followers.


You read the Democratic newspapers and they say he fell on the floor and you have to carry him out that way. So that was part of it. And you had a series of events that led to the ever-deepening split between the north and the south. And one of those events it just always haunted me when we saw January 6th was the caning of Charles Sumner.

You get a southern congressman Preston Brooks who comes into the Senate chamber against the anti-slavery senator of Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, hits him over the head with a cane with such force that he's out of the Senate for three years.

But that event was so shocking to the country because it happened inside of the Capitol that it expanded the Republican Party base that had mostly been anti-slavery people but now more moderate people got involved in it. I thought January 6th was going to be a similar event. I thought when you looked at history that that was a moment when a line would be drawn. And it seemed to be drawn at that time.

You had McConnell say that the president, Trump was practically and morally responsible for what happened and that the attackers were inspired by his feeling that the election, his claiming the election was stolen, and that somehow you had to have some retribution for that, that there would be something happening. You even have Kevin McCarthy saying this was an un-democratic attack on the electoral system and maybe there's going to have to be some sort of -- I think he said censure, some kind of censure.

And then what's happened since then? I think we have to learn from the 1850s. If you don't start figuring out how to deal with those deepening divisions you're going to end up with something like that Civil War. But what happened in the '60s, I mean, I lived through that. You guys are too young. It seemed, I mean, it seemed like the old were against the young. The people in the country were against the people in the city, blacks against whites, riots in the city, anti-war violence, and then assassinations. I mean, two, three assassinations in that decade.

And it felt when I was a young girl like what's going to happen? And yet the story ends with finally you get peace, finally you get the first black president elected and you look back at the '60s and extraordinary things happened. I mean, that's the thing, we end that decade with the thought of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and the Vietnam War at its height, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, but in the middle you had civil rights and voting rights and Medicare and aid to education, and NPR and PBS, and aid to the cities, and the most extraordinary social legislation since the New Deal.

So when we look back at a time, we have to remember -- this is what I think about history now too, we have to remember all the difficult things that happened and how we were never at the ideal that we wanted to be. But we have to remember that great things happened as well. And great things happened in that crazy decade.

MEACHAM: To me the test is democracy is really counterintuitive. You know, you've written about this brilliantly. It's not the natural state of things. The natural state is find a strong guy, ally yourself with him so he will beat off the predators so you can get more food. Right? I mean, that's it. This notion that we're neighbors and we're going to concede a little bit in the morning because we might need something in the afternoon, you know, the give and take.

ZAKARIA: So that brings me to the thing you said which was fascinating to me which was that you thought January 6th would be this moment of restitution, and that when you heard Republicans initially, this seemed like that. And then they all went back to Trump, presumably because they noticed that they -- you know, that that's where the base was. In history, is there any person who has had this kind of Svengali-like hold over a major political party that Donald Trump now has over the Republican Party?

GOODWIN: Well, I think what you're seeing now that wouldn't have been true before is the media that follows in a certain way that it wouldn't have been able to before. I mean, you had Huey Long. You've had outsiders on the system who've had a hold on people. But I think for a president to have a hold in this way as we've seen, I'm not sure I fully understand it. I mean, I try to think -- I'm an historian, and you can probably bring up some characters from the past but it's not going to be like this hold we see today.

MEACHAM: I think interests have held parties. I think this white Democratic interest held the Democratic Party in the Antebellum period. There was horrible anxiety that, you know, the Taney Supreme Court, the Dred Scott decision, there were seven Democrats on that court that made that decision.

Taney had been the chief justice since the 1830s, from Maryland. So -- and part of what led to the civil war was this anxiety -- and historian James Oakes talks about this -- the fear about the scorpion sting, that slavery, if you contained it, it would end up killing itself.

And that's what the Democrats of that era were so terrified of, and the election of Lincoln was the trigger of succession because they thought, all right, we are in fact going to be -- have this wall erected around us.

ZAKARIA: In an odd way, we're going to have to break here, but they accepted the election result. Right? They didn't contest, they said --

GOODWIN: No. No, no, no.

ZAKARIA: But when they said Lincoln did get elected so we will leave -- right? Which is different from now.



MEACHAM: So they --

GOODWIN: No. Can I just say, this is the really important thing --

MEACHAM: If this is the important thing, you can say it.

GOODWIN: Lincoln said that the central idea behind the struggle, he says this in April of 1861, was that if the minority, and he meant losing the election can just as you say break from the union then the whole experiment of democracy is impossible. It'll show that people cannot govern themselves and that's exactly what's happening now.

ZAKARIA: All right. We have to take a break. When we come back, we're going to talk about the constitutional crisis that lies awaiting us in 2022.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham.

So I want to lay out what seems to me a reasonable scenario, which is that Donald Trump seems to be trying to control the Republican Party for a purpose -- this is not just a hobby -- he would like to run again. If he runs again, so this is assumption number one, he wants to run. Assumption number two, he will get the nomination because the party seemed enthralled with him. He will run and in 2024, whatever happens, he will claim he won. Doesn't that present us with a constitutional crisis? MEACHAM: I think it's an unfolding one. It's an interesting use of the

word crisis because, you know, it comes from Hippocrates. It's the moment in a disease where the patient lives or dies. And I think we're certainly there, which I didn't think before January 6th, honestly.


I think we came as close to losing the Constitution, and when we say democracy, America is not a democracy, America is a republic. So let's call it American democracy. We came as close that day as we had since Fort Sumpter.

GOODWIN: Yes. I think when you think about the problem is the fight of our life right now in this generation has to be to secure voting rights and secure a peaceful transition of power. That should not be a partisan issue that the state legislatures are now being given the chance to overturn an election. That means that every election can be contested. Where will it be from the old days of George Washington when you had a peaceful transition of power?

And I think -- I don't understand exactly why this country is not making voting rights the central issue of the time. It's not a partisan issue. Everybody -- and one of the things that old Lyndon Johnson said was the fundamental right on which all the others depend.

And in a certain sense when he was arguing at Selma after -- to get that voting rights bill through, he said voting rights, it's not a northern problem, it's not a southern problem, it's not a black problem, it's not a white problem. It's not a state's rights problem, it's not a national problem, it's not a moral problem.

It's absolutely wrong to deny your fellow Americans the right to vote. It's the center of democracy. What is democracy? A system whereby people can choose their leaders. And if we make possibly harder and harder as we're doing now to get the right to vote and if we make the chance that state legislatures can overturn what the popular vote is, then I think democracy is really in trouble. But we can fight it. We still have the chance right now.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about the, you know, the other side here, which is, you know, the most difficult part of all this is not Donald Trump, it's that 70 million or let's say 50 million or 60 million still agree that the election was a fraud, that he actually won. I was looking at these polls where they asked which of the following phrases best describes the United States. And the one that wins out is a democracy in trouble.

Only seven percent, for example, of young people call it a healthy democracy but to -- the most interesting thing is it is the moment -- Republicans are most pessimistic than Democrats. 47 percent of Republicans say this country is a democracy in trouble, whereas only 37 percent of Democrats do. When you asked what do you see the chances that we will have a second civil war in America during your lifetime, 46 percent of Republicans say we will have a second civil war. Only 32 percent Democrats. So what I'm trying to get at is angry in exercises you might be, you

know, what do you think explains this sort of Republican rage about where America is right now?

MEACHAM: I think it's about the Republican establishment from Eisenhower through George W. Bush not fundamentally delivering to the base. Who created the Warren Court? Eisenhower. Who appointed the justice who wrote Roe v. Wade? Richard Nixon. Who would campaign on anti-abortion amendments and school prayer and --

ZAKARIA: And on repealing the New Deal and on repealing Medicare, and on, you know, even Ted Cruz's campaign, we're going to abolish the IRS. What you're saying is they kind of make these crazy promises to the base to fire them up and then don't deliver.

MEACHAM: And that creates a trust deficit. And so think about -- I think one of the things that's happened to the Republican Party, the party of Eisenhower and Reagan and the Bushes and the party that nominated John McCain and Mitt Romney 20 minutes before they nominated Donald Trump, right, what happened? It's the will of the power. And I think that's part of what's in the polling numbers you're talking about.

Democracy again is not the natural state of things. We are emotional creatures. The inside of a founding for all of its failings was that if we had a chance to do something, most people would do the wrong thing.

ZAKARIA: If men were angels, no government is necessary, says James Madison.

MEACHAM: And to go back to say, oh, I don't know, Genesis, you know, human beings have been messing up since then. And so the point of the Constitution is to erect guardrails, so that it would be hard to do wrong things. The tragic implication of that is that it's therefore also hard as Doris was saying to do good things.

GOODWIN: You know, I'd just like to make a larger point if I may --

MEACHAM: Larger than Genesis? Larger than Genesis. OK, this is good.

GOODWIN: No way larger than genesis.

MEACHAM: Larger than Genesis. Right.

GOODWIN: No. You're right about the tendencies of people to be concerned about themselves and we see that and maybe they don't do the right thing but we've also seen time and again in our country's history where people have put ambitions for something larger over themselves. They fought in that civil war. I mean, when Lincoln was called a liberator, he said don't call me a liberator. It was the anti-slavery movement and the union soldiers that did it all.


What about the civil rights movement in the '60s? What about the courage and bravery that that took? What about the people who are out in the settlement houses in the progressive era?

There had been eras where the people were willing to put something larger and so that wars against a time like ours where you have the feeling, where is the ambition? Where are the people in the parties, you know, in both parties who are willing to sacrifice something for what they believe in and let themselves not get elected the next time around?

ZAKARIA: So but -- let me ask you, Doris, when you look at periods like the civil rights period, which you lived through. Your husband wrote some of the -- late husband wrote some of the most extraordinary speeches that Johnson gave. It now looks, you know, through the warm lens of nostalgia, it all looks much easier. It was -- there were deep divisions then. There were people who thought Johnson was destroying the America they knew.

They thought Medicare was, you know, the worst idea. Ronald Reagan said it was, you know, the last straw, that America was going to go down a dark path. How do we come back, you know, from those kinds of divisions? Do you have to kind of beat the other side? Do you extend a hand?

GOODWIN: Well, I think one of the important things is that you're right, we remember how the story ended and we forget how difficult it was to live through it. And that's where we are now. We live with the anxiety now. We don't know the next chapters that are going to be written in our story. But I think the most important thing, when you think about young people, I think young people have to realize how tough the battle is going to be but they have to be out there.

Right now we have to have some faith that there is an activism, they voted in greater numbers than ever before, there's a lot of passions that they have for the environment and for different kinds of issues. And I guess they have to have a rendezvous with destiny. But unless they believe that they can make a difference -- and there are things to do -- they should be out there organizing for voting rights, they should be out there organizing for environmental change.

And they do it at a local level, and maybe that's what we have to hope on, maybe for a while, when you're going to look for change, that's what happened in the progressive era, it happened in the cities and the states before the federal government so maybe we've got to hope that in the local area people have more trust in government in the local area than they do in the state. They have more trust in the state than the federal government.

Right now three-quarters of the people don't believe the government is going to do the right thing much of the time.


GOODWIN: It used to. No, no, three-quarters of the people used to believe the government would do the right thing almost all the time.

MEACHAM: In 1965. It was the high point.

GOODWIN: That's exactly right.

ZAKARIA: Now it's the opposite.

GOODWIN: And now it's one quarter.

MEACHAM: Yes. You can't find anybody who does.

GOODWIN: And if you don't have trust in government, government is us, it's who we are. We are the government. If we get active, you can't think of somebody that's out there. So I think that's what we got to hope, that the young people are feeling a sense of motivation. I think we're seeing some of that. We saw it in Black Lives Movement, which was a large part of all different peoples coming together to argue for something that matters.

And we've got to just have hope that that's a new generation that's occurring just as it did at the turn of the 20th century. Just as it did in the '30s, just as it did in the '60s. Arthur Schlesinger used to say would come in 30-year cycles, we haven't quite seen it.

MEACHAM: Yes, we're down to 30 seconds now. But yes.

ZAKARIA: On that note of hope, I'm going to stop us so that we can stay hopeful. Thank you both very much.

Next on GPS America's racial reckoning. We'll look at just why the country is so divided on race yet again. That story in a moment.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN, New Year's Eve live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Keller coverage starts today.

ZAKARIA: It's been 156 years since the abolition of slavery, more than 57 years since the Civil Rights Act passed. But debates about race are as fiery as ever I'm America. And they've been kicked into overdrive by the New York Times says 1619 project and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The hottest issue seems to be what our children are being taught about race and the history of racism in schools. This issue which became described as critical race theory played a role in Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, losing his bid for Governor of Virginia. Will it toward other Democrats political ambitions, joining me now Noah Feldman and Randall Kennedy, both professors at Harvard law school.

Feldman is the author of a new book, "The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America." And Kennedy's latest is, "Say It Loud! On Race, Law, History, and Culture." Noah, let me start with you by asking what is it about this conversation about race that triggered what appears to be a kind of political backlash in Virginia? Why is this happening, I guess is the simple question?

NOAH FELDMAN, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Republicans are exploiting a problem that the democratic party in particular and that liberals in general face right now. And the problem is that there's been a really important and, you know, much awaited reconsideration by progressives and liberals about the history of race in our country.

But liberals still don't have a clear narrative to replace the old narrative, according to which nothing was really so terrible in anyway we overcame it. Now that liberals acknowledge that there was slavery in the constitution, that even after the end of slavery, there was still segregation and black people were still barred from voting.

Now that liberals acknowledge those things, they need a way of talking about race that reassures the general public that it remains possible still to make. And I think what Republicans are doing rather cleverly is exploiting a moment where liberals don't have a clear narrative to scare their base and to scare potential swing voters into thinking that the Democrats are saying something that they're not saying, namely, that there's no hope for us in this country.

ZAKARIA: So Randy, so how would you address that issue? It does seem that what the Republicans are trying to do is appeal to the person, the Glenn Youngkin voter or the potential voter in Virginia who voted for Biden. So therefore, you know, clearly didn't want Donald Trump and his racism, but feels that being told, you know, white kids being told in classrooms that everybody in America is racist, that things haven't progressed much since 1965, that that's wrong, that that's producing a backlash. What do you say to those people?


RANDALL KENNEDY, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: I say that the best way to address this issue is to address it forthrightly, and straightforwardly, and embrace the complicated history and the complicated presence of America. On the one hand, that's right, slavery, and segregation, and racism, and white supremacy is deeply entrenched in America. At the same time, there has been a tremendous alternative tradition, a tradition against slavery, a tradition against segregation, a tradition against racism.

I mean, after all in the past 25 years, the United States of America has seen an African-American presence. As we speak, there is an African-American vice president. As we speak, there's an African- American who is in charge of the Department of Defense. So we have a complicated situation. And I think the best way of addressing our race question is to just be straightforward, and be clear, and embrace the tensions, the contradictions, the complexity of race and American life. I think we need to actually a new vocabulary.

So many of the terms we use, we use these terms over and over, starting with racism, structural racism, critical race theory. These words actually have been weaponized. They are vehicles for propaganda. I think we would be better off if we were more concrete, we talked about real problems, and we actually used a language that got us away from these overused terms that actually don't mean that much.

ZAKARIA: Noah, one of the things that people, you know, again, people like Trump have been able to weaponized is this idea of American history being irredeemably racist. Are we not allowed to honor people like Thomas Jefferson or even George Washington because they owned slaves and were, in a sense, actively proslavery? What is your narrative answer to that problem?

FELDMAN: Well here, I'm very influenced by another colleague of Randy's and mine, Professor Annette Gordon-Reed who wrote the most important book written in many years about Jefferson. And her view broadly is that it's fine to acknowledge and honor those aspects of somebody like Jefferson that we do consider to be laudable.

He's committed to democratic principles, to liberty, a whole range of good things, while simultaneously being honest and acknowledging that, yes, he held slaves. And yes, if you read his notes on Virginia, there's material in there that makes an argument for white supremacy. And it's a material argument that's a terrible one. But we have to be grownups and acknowledge that.

ZAKARIA: Randy, does all this leave you sad and disappointed that you can still weaponized race in such a powerful way?

KENNEDY: Yes, it does. And in fact, you know, for most of my life, I've been a very confident racial optimist. I have believed very confidently that we shall overcome what has happened in the past few years. And the ascendancy of Donald Trump was the worst aspect of this. What has happened in the past few years has been an emergence of an unapologetic and open appeal to racial resentments that has really taken me aback and has really chased them to me. And so though I still an optimistic, my confidence has definitely been shaken.

ZAKARIA: Well, on that sobering note, we've got to end it. Thank you gentlemen for fascinating conversation about an important topic.

FELDMAN: Thanks, Fareed.

KENNEDY: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, Bethlehem once had a population that was about 80 percent Christian. It is now less than a quarter of that. Why have Christians fled from the birthplace of Jesus? We answer when we come back.




ZAKARIA: The eyes of the Christian world have been on Bethlehem this weekend as the faithful celebrate Jesus's birth in a manger there. More than 2000 years later, that city now in the West Bank has lost most of its followers of the cross. As recently as 1950, some 80 percent of Bethlehem's residents were Christian. Today, it's less than 20 percent. And it's not just Bethlehem or just the West Bank.

From Egypt to Syria, to Iraq, and beyond, the population of Christians in the Middle East is dwindling fast. Janine di Giovanni is a longtime war correspondent who turned her reporter's eye in year to this issue for a new book, "The Vanishing: Faith, Loss, and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets." Janine, this is such an interesting important book. What drew you to it? When did you sort of realize to yourself, this extraordinary big trend that not many people have written about?

JANINE DI GIOVANNI, WAR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly. Well, I started working on it really 30 years ago when I started working in the Middle East exclusively. And what I found, especially around the time of the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 in Iraq was that so many of the Christians were leaving. They were either fearful of Change a change of hand, of what would happen when Saddam left. And then much later in 2014, of course, when the Islamic state rolled through. And now, there's even greater challenges for them.

ZAKARIA: So when people think about the Middle East, you do think about the expulsion of Jews --


ZAKARIA: -- which is actually -- No, not often talked about, but in the late '40s and '50s, after the foundation of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Jews were pushed out of places like Iraq where they had lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. At that point, the Christians were so (INAUDIBLE), right? So you see the big shift really as recent as the rise of Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic state, and this brand of Arab radicalism?


DI GIOVANNI: Well, what's really interesting, and it was actually kind of shocking to me when I first started working on it is that most of the Christians felt protective by dictators. So the Egyptian cops under Mubarak, the Christians in Syria under Bashar al-Assad, and the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein.

And what they feared more than anything was a breakdown in the rule of law. So they thought, this is the devil we know. It's better than what can come next. Especially in Syria where people feared the rise of (INAUDIBLE), Al-Qaeda, or whoever --

ZAKARIA: And they turned out to be right, one has to say. I mean, Saddam Hussein and al-Assad, and Mubarak did protect the Christians.

DI GIOVANNI: Like Hido in Yugoslavia. I mean, there's always this argument -- or Gaddafi in Libya that strong men can hold minorities together and protect them. But the fact is, I mean, there's other factors now at work, which are driving them out.

The rate at which they are leaving is absolutely shocking. There's not many census has done, but let's take a rock. There were something, like, 1.5 million Christians at the last census, which was in the time of Saddam. Now, the numbers are somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000. We don't know, but more towards the 150,000.

ZAKARIA: Do you think part of this is that people in the west particularly have a conception of Christianity and Christians, which is entirely Western and white, if I miss it, so, I mean, the truth is the original Christians, Jesus, was a Middle Eastern Jew --

DI GIOVANNI: Jew, yes.

ZAKARIA: -- who would then -- And people don't realize that these were all Middle Eastern guys. They were probably brown skin.

DI GIOVANNI: Yes, they are obviously. And, you know, when you are in this ancient, I mean, I am so -- I cannot tell you how moved I have been by being in some of the masses in, let's say, Mosel where they speak Aramaic, the language of Christ. And to hear them -- I will never forget a mass I went to in 2003 right before the invasion.

And the people were praying. They were terrified. They were terrified for what was coming next. And they were crying and they were praying for protection. And to see that, witnessing that was something, for me, historical and vital. And then in the aftermath of the ISIS Islamic state, when I returned back to these communities to try to see how they were -- if they were going back, if they were rebuilding the churches. To see them still there was remarkable. And I said to them, like, "Why did you stay? What kept you here?" And they looked at me and said, "But this is our land. We've been here for 2000 years."

ZAKARIA: Janine di Giovanni, pleasure, really fascinating, fascinating book. Thank you.

DI GIOVANNI: Thank you so much.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, when Beethoven died, he left behind nine symphonies, as you probably know. But did you know, he'd started at 10th, the fascinating story of the humans and machines that completed it when we come back.




ZAKARIA: And now, for the next big idea. Most of us know the four notes that come next. This is of course, Ludwig van Beethoven's fifth symphony, first performed in Vienna in 1808. In his lifetime, the prolific German composer produced more than 700 works including his famous nine symphonies.

Beethoven was actually working on his 10th symphony when he died in 1827 at the age of 56. But he had only scratched out sparse musical sketches, leaving future musicians to wonder what would have come next. Well, nearly two centuries after his death, that 10th symphony has received new life in a very unusual way.

A group of composers, musicologists, music historians, and computer scientists teamed up with artificial intelligence to complete the 10th symphony. The group set out to expand Beethoven's original notes into a full blown symphony. They taught the AI about his creative process using the composer's entire body of work.


ZAKARIA: We talked to the computer scientist in charge of the process, Professor Ahmed Elgammal of Rutgers University to find out how they train the computer to write music as Beethoven might have. It wasn't just a simple algorithm. The team had to teach the AI to build on themes, stitch notes together, and decide which instruments should play which parts.

A symphony, after all, has several movements, melodies, and tempos. That tune you recognize as the Ode to Joy, just one Beethoven's ninth. The AI even listened to music Beethoven would have listened to at the time to help understand what he was exposed to. That helped the computer to understand what made Beethoven Beethoven, versus what made Mozart Mozart.

The AI would generate several possibilities for a symphony section. But the human musicians ultimately chose what made sense. As Elgammal explain to GPS, AI can predict the text of your email, but only you can decide what you mean to say. So AI does not replace an artist, it is merely a tool to enhance the work of artists.

It took the team about three years to finish the project, expanding Beethoven's 200 or so original notes to a 40,000 notes symphony entirely composed with the help of AI. They played it for Beethoven experts who struggled to tell where his original music ended and where the AI music began. The 10th symphony debuted this fall in Bonn, Germany, the city where Beethoven was born and raised.

Take a listen. We will never know how close this extraordinary piece actually is to the work Beethoven would have composed. But professor Elgammal believes the 19th century composer would have been happy to know that musicians of the future tried to understand his genius using 21st century tools. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. A very happy new year to all. And I will see you next week and next year.