Five Best Friday Columns

Fareed Zakaria on the Middle East, Philip Stephens on globalization, Nisid Hajari on Islamic extremism in India, Michael Selmi on the Justice Department, and Charlotte Alter on Joan Rivers. 

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Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post on why the Middle East has continued to devolve in the past decade. Zakaria describes how authoritarian leaders led to the rise of Islamic extremism in the region. "The one aspect of life that Arab dictators could not ban was religion, so Islam had become the language of political opposition. As the Westernized, secular dictatorships of the Arab world failed — politically, economically and socially — the fundamentalists told the people, 'Islam is the solution.'" Zakaria contends that he underestimated the underlying fragility of the region in his previous analysis of the Middle East over a decade ago. "What did I miss in that essay 13 years ago? The fragility of these countries. I didn’t recognize that if the dictatorships faltered, the state could collapse, and that beneath the state there was no civil society — nor, in fact, a real nation. Once chaos reigned across the Middle East, people reached not for their national identities — Iraqi, Syrian — but for much older ones: Shiite, Sunni, Kurd and Arab."

Philip Stephens in The Financial Times​ why the United States is resisting globalization. Stephens writes that Western sanctions against Russia reinforce a creeping trend both politically and publicly that is in opposition to globalization. "The architect of the present era of globalisation is no longer willing to be its guarantor. The US does not see a vital national interest in upholding an order that redistributes power to rivals. Much as they might cavil at this, China, India and the rest are unwilling to step up as guardians of multilateralism. Without a champion, globalisation cannot but fall into disrepair." Stephens goes on the suggest that the financial crisis in 2008 only reinforced the publics view that globalization was increasingly consolidating power at the top. "Globalisation was sold in the US and Europe as an exercise in enlightened self-interest – everyone would be a winner in a world that pulled down national frontiers. It scarcely seems like that to the squeezed middle classes, as the top 1 per cent scoop up the gains of economic integration."

Nisid Hajari in Bloomberg View on why Al-Qaeda's success in India ultimately rests with Narendra Modi. Hajari writes that as Al-Qaeda tries to bring its fight to India, it is important that the new Prime Minister doesn't overreact to the threat. "The success or failure of Zawahiri’s new initiative may rest on one man: India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The fastest way to increase Al Qaeda’s limited appeal in India would be for the authorities to overreact, as China has done with Uighurs in its restive Xinjiang province. This would not only alienate the best source of intelligence on homegrown radicals -- the local Muslim community -- it would rapidly burnish the appeal of radicals over more moderate voices." Hajari warns that Modi must be inclusive and progressive, not simply try to appeal to his conservative base. "Modi’s association with the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh make him a lightning rod for many Muslims. He bears a special responsibility to endorse the loyalty of Indian Muslims and assure them they will not be targeted unfairly."

Michael Selmi in Politico on why the Justice Department has lost much of its power in recent years. Selmi contends that the Obama administration's record on prosecuting civil rights abuses hasn't been much different from President Bush's. "... even under a historic black president and attorney general—two long-awaited firsts—the record of Obama administration’s civil rights division is mixed and modest, at best." Selmi suggests that the reason for the continuing status quo is that the Justice Department has become reactionary in the last few decades. "Justice Department actions haven't changed as drastically as some might hope is due to the nature of the department. In many ways, the civil rights division now operates like a local United States attorney’s office, where most of the docket arises as a result of complaints they receive rather than as result of the division’s own investigations. Where the division differs is in matters of policy, and here the Obama administration has clearly made a difference, particularly when measured against the Bush administration."

Because where male comedians were 'funny,' Rivers was 'offensive.' She was the Queen of Mean. When she joked that Heidi Klum’s Oscar dress was so stunning that 'the last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens,' she was slammed as 'vulgar.' A joke about Miley Cyrus’ virginity in her most recent book drew criticism because people thought she was actually accusing her of incest. She was always being asked to apologize for one thing or another, and she almost never did." She continues, "Where most women struggle to be taken more seriously, we needed to take Joan Rivers less seriously. In a comedic career that spanned over 50 years, there was always someone who didn’t get the joke. But she wasn’t a 'bitch' — she was a comedian."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.