Source: Washington Post
By Fareed Zakaria
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was driving on the Long Island Expressway, heading out to a friend’s house to spend a few weeks working on a book. An hour into my drive, I switched from music to news and listened with horror to reports that two large passenger planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I turned around instantly, realizing that my sabbatical was over. So was America’s.
It’s difficult now to recall the mood of the 1990s. The Cold War had ended, overwhelmingly on American terms. A world that had been divided into two camps, politically and economically, was now one. Dozens of countries from Latin America to Africa to Asia that were once staunchly socialist were moving toward capitalism and democracy, embracing a global order they once decried as unjust and imperial.
America in the 1990s was consumed by talk of economics and technology. The information revolution was just taking off. I try to explain to my children that only two decades ago, much of the world that seems indispensable today — the Internet, cellphones — did not exist for most people. In the early 1990s, AOL and Netscape gave everyday Americans the chance to browse the Internet. Until then, the revolutionary technology that had broken down government censorship and opened access to information in the communist bloc was — the fax machine. Explaining its effects, the strategist Albert Wohlstetter had written an essay for the Wall Street Journal titled “The Fax Will Make You Free.”
What few of us recognized at the time was that one part of the world was not being reshaped by these winds of change — the Middle East. As communism crumbled, Latin American juntas yielded, apartheid cracked and Asian strongmen gave way to elected leaders, the Middle East remained stagnant. Almost every regime in the region, from Libya to Egypt to Syria, was run by the same authoritarian system that had been in place for decades. The rulers were mostly secular, autocratic and deeply repressive. They had maintained political control but produced economic despair and social paralysis. For a young man in the Middle East — and there was a surfeit of young men — the world was moving forward everywhere except at home.