Sunday, November 06, 2005

Want to understand the world? Listen to Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed Zakaria's tv show, Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria, on many PBS stations including KQED, brings a refreshing depth to television coverage of world news. Today's program was outstanding — except that outstanding is par for the course for this show.

How much do you know about the complex machinations of Syrian politics? If you're above average for America, you might have heard of Hafez al-Assad, and you might know that there has been some interference by Syria in Lebanon. Did you know that the Assad family (Hafez's son Bashar al-Assad is now dictator) is Alawite? Had you ever heard of Alawites? It turns out that Alawites comprise only about 12% of Syria's population, and the Sunni fundamentalists consider the Alawites to be heretics to Islam, even more so than the Shi'ites. Syria is right next to Iraq and Israel.

Azerbaijan is considered one of the most corrupt countries on earth. Its corruption makes the worst behavior of Tom DeLay and Karl Rove look like tiddlywinks by comparison. However, it is also rich with oil and gas, and it borders Russia and Iran. Want to know more?

Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, is "one of the most articulate and progressive voices in the world of Islam." That alone should grab your attention.

Finally, Fareed Zakaria makes the point that America's humanitarian impulses align with our self-interest in providing dramatically greater assistance to the victims of the recent earthquake in Kashmir. Pakistan is a vital ally in the global struggle against extremist terrorism, but the support by the government for the United States is not popular on the streets of Pakistan, because only 23% of the people view America favorably. Just as our assistance to the victims of last year's tsunami boosted our image in countries like Indonesia, and just as the early relief efforts helped, a relatively modest expenditure could reap benefits for decades, not to mention helping three million human beings survive what will be a very difficult winter.

To find out more about these, and many other important but non-splashy world issues, go to the Foreign Exchange web site, ForeignExchange.TV [note: dot TV, not dot-com!], where you can read more, or even watch whole episodes on streaming video.