Slavoj Žižek: Saudi-Canada spat reveals the real new world order

Slavoj Zizek
Slavoj Zizek is a cultural philosopher. He’s a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana and Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University.
Slavoj Žižek: Saudi-Canada spat reveals the real new world order
For years, experts believed liberal democracy would gradually spread around the world but the system has eaten itself and the result is a new global populism.

The most obvious factor in the ongoing conflict between Canada and Saudi Arabia is the grotesque disproportion between cause and effect. In that a minor diplomatic protest has triggered a set of measures which almost announce a military conflict.

Here’s what happened. Saudi Arabia finally allowed women to drive, but at the same time arrested women who campaigned for the right to drive. Among the arrested peaceful activists was Samar Badawi, who has family in Canada, and Ottawa demanded her release.

In return, the Saudi government proclaimed this protest a reprehensible interference in its internal affairs and immediately launched into sanctions. They included expelling the Canadian ambassador, canceling the state airline’s flights to and from Canada, freezing new trade and investment, the sale of   assets in Canada, the withdrawal of students and the repatriation of patients undergoing treatment in Canada.

And all this under the guidance of a crown prince who poses as a big reformer.

No Scruples

In reality, what we have is a clear sign that Saudi Arabia remains what it is, not a real state but a large mafia corporation run by a family. And a country which quite reprehensibly interferes in the internal affairs of Yemen, literally ruining the nation.

The message of simultaneously allowing women to drive and arresting those who demanded it is clear and unambiguous, there is no contradiction here: If small changes happen, they must come as an act from above and no protest from below is tolerated.

In the same way, there is absurd overreaction inherent in Saudi counter-measures to Canada’s protest note and the message is clear: Canada got it wrong, it acted as if we still in the period of universal human rights.

Indeed, the fact that Egypt and Russia supported Saudi Arabia in its measures, and that even the US and Great Britain, otherwise supposed great protectors of human rights, decided to stay out of the melee, makes it clear that a new world order is emerging in which the only alternative to the “clash of civilizations” remains the peaceful co-existence of civilizations (or of “ways of life,” a more popular term today).

Thus, forced marriages and homophobia (or the idea that a woman going alone to a public place is asking to be  raped) are OK, so long as they are limited to another country which is otherwise fully included into the world market.

Two Faces

At the head of this new trend is a newly found respect for Islam from the same politicians who warn of the danger of the islamisation of the Christian West. For instance, they respectfully congratulated Erdogan on his last electoral victory – because the authoritarian reign of Islam is OK for Turkey but not for us. The same goes for Israel with its scandalous new apartheid laws privileging Jewish citizens. This is the truth of today’s multiculturalism: every imposition of universal standards is denounced as colonialist.

The new world order that is emerging is thus no longer the Fukuyamaist NWO of global liberal democracy but a NWO of the peaceful co-existence of different politico-theological ways of life – co-existence, of course, against the background of the smooth functioning of global capitalism.

There will be no contradiction in imposing in our countries the strictest politically correct feminist rules and simultaneously rejecting the dark side of Islam as neocolonialist arrogance.

The obscenity of this process is that it can present itself as a progress in anti-colonial struggle: the liberal West will no longer be allowed to impose its standards on others and all ways of life will be treated as equal.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder Robert Mugabe showed sympathy for Trump's slogan “America first!”“America first!” for you, “Zimbabwe first!” for me, “India first!” or “North Korea first!” for them and so on.

Back to The Future

 Of course, this is how the British Empire, the first global capitalist empire, functioned: each ethnic-religious community was allowed to pursue its own way of life, Hindus in India were safely burning widows, for instance,  and these local “customs” were either criticized as barbaric or praised for their pre-modern wisdom, but tolerated since what mattered is that they were economically part of the Empire.

So welcome to the new world order in which Saudi Arabia leads the anti-colonialist struggle. But, naturally, there is something hypocritical about the liberals who criticize the slogan “America first” – as if this is not what more or less every country is doing, and as if America did not play a global role precisely because it fits its own interests.

The underlying message of “America first!” is nonetheless a sad one: The American century is over, America resigned itself to be just one among the (powerful) countries. And the supreme irony is that the Leftists who for a long time criticized the US pretension to be the global policeman may begin to long for the old times when, with all hypocrisy included, the US imposed democratic standards around the world.

The sad truth that sustains this new “tolerance” is that today's global capitalism can no longer afford a positive vision of emancipated humanity, even as an ideological dream. Fukuyamaist liberal-democratic universalism failed because of its own immanent limitations and inconsistencies, and populizm is the symptom of this failure, its Huntington's disease, as it were.

But the solution is not populist nationalism, whether it is be rightist or leftist. Instead, the only solution is a new universalism – to confront the problems humanity faces today, from  ecological threats to refugee crises.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.