Correspondent Fareed Zakaria Gives a Global Voice

UPDATED: May 10, 2011
PUBLISHED: May 10, 2011

Colored circles swirl and race across a full-screen TV graphic. The graphic, shown during the CNN prime-time special Restoring the American Dream: Getting Back to #1, illustrates how countries like China and Japan have caught up with U.S. economic growth during the past few decades. “It’s not that we’re behind,” observes show host Fareed Zakaria.

“It’s that the whole rest of the world has begun to catch up. And what it suggests is that it’s not so much that people are overtaking us; it’s that everybody is moving into the same space.”

The changing-world moment is vintage Zakaria, the 47-year-old historian, writer and news show host. By the next day, video of the dancing dots—the work of statistician Hans Rosling of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute—goes viral, reaching out to an even broader audience. The process is part of the evolving world, both professionally and literally, for the Bombay-born Zakaria.

In His Words

On Navigating the New Global Economy

Twin pressures of globalization and technology are transforming the world. Try to think about what these two forces do to your company, your industry, to the space you are in. In some cases, they will be a powerful accelerator, and in others they will be a threat.

It’s easy when you are in a business to be a little myopic, to look at your ROI and make certain assumptions about your micro market, but you really need is no micro market anymore. The world is the market, which means enormous opportunities but also enormous competitive challenges.

Because the financial crisis has caused the U.S. economy to slow, date that China will surpass the United States as the world’s largest probably moved forward 10 years. Instead of catching us in 20 years, that China’s economy should overtake us in 10.

I think America really needs to come to grips with this new world in more profound way than we’ve done. We like to think of ourselves as globalized but that’s not really true. Our economy is largely domestic; only 10 percent of it is exports, compared to a country like Germany, which is 50 percent exports. We don’t know foreign languages; only about a quarter of Americans own passports. Even companies that sell abroad don’t have foreign employees.

To know the world, you’ve got to travel. You have to go to these countries and realize these places are real and not just think of them in cartoonish terms. Read about what’s going on and what’s happened in the past.

Probably one of the greatest dangers to American democracy is a narrowcasting of political opinion and the cherry-picking of what facts and opinions someone chooses to hear. If you are a business executive or entrepreneur needing to make a decision and someone gives you only one side of the story, you would be committing a serious professional mistake if you didn’t hear the other side. You have to ask, “OK, what’s the case against going in this direction?” But in fact, as citizens, that is what we are often doing in this country; we never want to hear the case against. We only want to hear the things that reinforce our prejudices and beliefs. It’s terrible for citizenship.

Read more writings from Zakaria on

“I hope I infect my audience with a passionate interest in the world and the recognition that what goes on in other places in the world engages us geopolitically, politically and economically,” Zakaria tells SUCCESS a few days later. “This is not spinach; it’s fun—it’s fascinating to see what other people in the world are doing.”

Painting with a Broad Stroke

The canvas that the New York-based Zakaria uses to share these fascinations is large. The week of his prime-time special, Zakaria, as Time magazine’s editor-at-large, has a cover story titled, “Are America’s Best Days Behind Us?” that explores many of the same challenges the United States is facing.

“I am an American, not by accident of birth but by choice,” Zakaria writes. “I voted with my feet and became an American because I love this country and think it is exceptional. But when I look at the world today and the strong winds of technological change and global competition, it makes me nervous.”

The naturalized American’s GPS (Global Public Square) is a weekly CNN program that is part international classroom and part news analysis, sharing reading material suggestions and encouraging thoughtful evaluation of the world. It provides a forum for global leaders and newsmakers, U.S. politicians, CEOs, and thought-leading authors and journalists to analyze what is happening in the world. With it, Zakaria is “making a bet that there is an underserved market for intelligence on television,” he says.

“I believe there are a lot of people like me who turn on the TV and feel as though they are just getting pablum and that they are really interested in something dynamic and engaging,” he explains. “My hope is that people leave the show thinking about things in a different way. I have no desire to force-feed my worldview on people. I think it is far more important that people come to their own conclusions in life—I think those are much more sturdy and more interesting.”

In addition to his weekend program, Zakaria contributes analysis to, CNN’s political specials and other programming across CNN Worldwide.

Named to Foreign Policy magazine’s list of 100 most global thinkers and Newsweek’s “Power 50” list of the most influential political figures of 2010, Zakaria also has three highly regarded books to his credit, including the best-selling The Post-American World, as well as a “2.0” updated version released in May.

A World of Possibilities

Zakaria says his intellectual development was fostered by a family environment “where everything seemed possible.”

His father, an Islamic scholar and politician with more than 25 years in public service, and his mother, who was for a time the editor of the Sunday Times of India, exposed Fareed and his elder brother to “a very fascinating world,” he says. “From a time when I was very young, I met interesting people engaged in all kinds of activities. I was exposed to a very broad cross-section of professions. Most importantly, it made me aware that the world offered a very large canvas.”

Zakaria’s father was a self-made man who had been orphaned at age 6. “He had this incredible energy and determination to both succeed and have an impact on the world, particularly on crucial issues he dedicated his life to—such as the idea of India as a secular democracy,” he says. “His drive inspired me. He earned scholarships from elementary school onward. I look at the distance he traveled in his life and am amazed—it’s much, much greater than the distance I’ve traveled.”

His mother’s profession provided Zakaria’s most influential mentors, both of them editors. “The first was a great novelist turned journalist, and more than anything else he taught me how to enjoy the power and beauty of the English language. The other was a very cerebral, intellectual academic who had gone into journalism. From him I learned how to think. He was very vigorously analytic, willing to take positions against the conventional wisdom.”

Carving Out a Niche

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Yale and his doctorate in political science from Harvard, Zakaria began building an impressive résumé. At 28, he became the youngest managing editor in the history of the journal Foreign Affairs. Then came regular appearances on The Charlie Rose Show, New York Times op-ed pieces and his first book, From Wealth to Power. Hired as editor of Newsweek International and a Newsweek columnist in 2000, he became a regular member of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos and began hosting Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria, a weekly PBS program.

In October 2001, Zakaria attracted profound attention with a Newsweek cover story titled, “Why They Hate Us” in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The widely distributed article reasoned that Islamic extremism had its roots in the stagnation and dysfunctions of the Arab world and was not fundamentally rooted in Islam, nor a reaction to American foreign policy. Rear admirals at the Pentagon reportedly made the article recommended reading for the troops.

“I’m a fairly sunny guy, an optimist by temperament,” Zakaria says. “I study a lot of complicated and often grim stuff. The attacks made me see an element of human evil that I had studied and knew theoretically. To see somebody willing to engage in that kind of genuinely nihilistic violence was sobering and made me recognize that one should not forget that there is this element of real evil in the world. It didn’t change my ideas on what produced it, but being confronted by that kind of brutality focused my mind on the nature of human evil.”

The acclaimed Newsweek story put Zakaria squarely in the national spotlight. “That was the moment Fareed became a rock star,” Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker told New York Magazine in 2003. His second book, The Future of Freedom, was an international best-seller, translated into about 30 languages.

Today, Zakaria shares his views on several different types of stages, from print to cable to the Internet.

You have to recognize we live in a multi-platformed world, and you have to get your message out in different ways,” he says. “The story I might write for Time magazine will be tailored differently than a CNN television special on the same subject, or even a posting on my new CNN/Time website.”

The Will to Succeed

Zakaria says his determination to succeed pales in comparison to his father’s. Unlike his father, he grew up in a comfortable upper-middle-class environment. He and wife Paula, a Harvard-educated entrepreneur, have a son and two daughters who live comfortably, two generations removed from the poverty his father endured. But he says his immigrant experience honed his own will.

“I came to this country on scholarship, with no money of my own, and I didn’t know anyone,” he says. “I was an outsider and marginal in that sense. It probably gave me an extra spur to succeed.”

Zakaria notes that an immigrant has a different kind of attachment to the United States—although not necessarily stronger. “You have made a choice to live here,” he says. “You’ve had some pain in the process, the pain of losing your old country and culture. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge this is not being honest. There is a losing as well as a gaining. You feel that you’ve worked for your American citizenship.”

He is reminded of that every time he hails a cab in his hometown. “I’m stunned that I am most recognized in New York taxi cabs, that the drivers tell me that they watch my show and read my work passionately,” he says. “The reason is that they are all immigrants. So they are interested in not just their country but the world.”