Boris Johnson’s ‘part-Kenyan’ portrait of President Obama [Note 1] may be forgotten soon but, as a widely anticipated successor to David Cameron as the next British prime minister, his slamming rejection to a friendly advice from Washington on ‘Brexit’ (withdrawal from the EU) has delivered a heavy-weight message to the world that the United States’ hegemony is about to end.
In his book “Hegemony” which was awarded the Outstanding Academic Title 2005, Prof. John Agnew suggests that hegemony is not merely the capability of possessing unmatched military, economic and political power, but the “enrolment of others in the exercise of your power by convincing, cajoling, and coercing them that they should want what you want (Agnew 2005: p1-2). Even though Brexit might not materialize as Obama is cajoling by claiming that sealing a new US-UK trade deal may take as long as ten years [Note 2], the non-compliance with the White House’s will amongst so many British politicians and citizens is relentlessly alarming.
Washington’s not-yet-successful policing in the Middle East, Russia’s periphery, Balkan area and East Asia have revealed its recent shortage of hegemonic power to register the allies to enroll or participate into the joint forces. What is worse is that in addition to Berlin’s reluctance to antagonize Moscow over Ukraine and London’s eagerness to become the major offshore clearing center of Chinese Yuan which will definitely threaten US dollar’s world-wide dominance, signs of a new multi-polar International Relations (IR) order are flooding all over the world: the African Union’s unprecedentedly closer ties with India (3rd summit in Oct 2015) as well as China (Johannesburg Declaration and Action Plan Dec 2015 regarding China’s role in the Tripartite COMESA-EAC-SADC Free Trade Area) [Note 3], South Africa President Jacob Zuma’s praise of Iran’s 1979 revolution during his state visit to this Islamic republic soon after the lifting of sanctions [Note 4], the formation of the 16+1 framework in 2015 (sixteen Central and Eastern European countries of which many are EU or NATO members plus China to pave the Silk Road to link up Eurasia) [Note 5], Saudi Arabia’s mounting influence over Yemen and Egypt …… just name a few here.
While whether the replacement of unipolarity by a multi-polar world order is more peaceful or chaotic is hard to tell, the return of daily life racism in the West during this transitional period sounds worrying.
Charlie Hebdo’s animated suggestion in France that the three-year old Syrian boy would have grown up to become a sexual offender had he not died off the Turkish waters (Jan 2016) [Note 6], the “thumbs-down” to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy by the voters in the elections of three German states (March 2016) [Note 7], the 2011 massacre of 77 lives by a right-wing white man in Norway, and now Boris Johnson’s “dog-whistle racism” against Obama are no simple coincidence with Donald Trump’s popularity on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
During the post-Cold War American unipolar period, the promotion of such values as human rights, freedom of speech, gender equality and alike by the West under the American leadership to universalize the global cultures reached its peak. In spite of some achievements, reactionary resistance against such an attempt, which was often deemed as imposition, by various colored Third World nations evolved simultaneously.
When the United States’ superpower was losing the strengths to convince, cajole and coerce all the others to keep the world in peace, perhaps owing to the domestic financial crises one after one and policy paralysis or inconsistency caused by bipartisan struggles, the developing countries either cultivated their own ways to build up muscle (such as BRICS, Iran and Saudi) or deteriorated to become failed states (such as Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya). Both types of these countries brought troubles to the unipolar order in different ways as the former tries to rewrite the rules of game (such as terms of trade and modes of international funding) whereas the later exports tens of thousands of refugees.
In the wake of all sorts of threats, the leading mass media in the West in general and the United States in particular climbed up to the moral plateau to label the backward colored people as human right abusers, extremists or terrorists. While killing thousands of civilians by the American drones was said to be out of careless mistakes, suicide bombings and attacks were demonized as barbaric. Similar problem also takes place in the academic field. Istanbul scholar Zeynep Direk’s deliberation on the relationship between Europe and Turkey as the ‘Muslim other’ with reference to French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s “The Other Heading” [Note 8] is one of the examples that highlight the haunting of this ‘Self/Other’ or ‘West/Rest’ identity crisis on the enlightened white people.
The natural outcome of distinguishing themselves as civilized beings in contrast to the barbarians is of course the return of racism among those who are deeply disappointed by the failure of universalism (such as the public intellectuals) and also those frustrated by the vanishing of their former national greatness (such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson).
Racism will co-exist rampantly with the coming multi-polar IR order. The spreading of the racist mindsets will accelerate in the decades to come should Trump and Johnson become the heads of the US and UK governments respectively.
The Sun, “Boris Johnson: UK and America can be better friends than ever Mr Obama … if we leave the EU”, Apr 22, 2016.
Talking Point Memo, “Dog-whistle racism for saying Obama ‘part-Kenyan’”, Apr 22, 2016.
The Sun, “Barack off! Obama told to butt out of Britian’s EU referendum”, Mar 17, 2016
BBC, “Post-Brexit trade deal with US could take 10 years, Obama warns”, Apr 24, 2016.
Southern Times, “Historic Johannesburg Summit to advance China-Africa cooperation”, Jan 8, 2016.
Yahoo News from AFP, “South Africa’s Zuma in Iran praises 1979 revolution”, Apr 24, 2016.
OSW, “China on Central-Eastern Europe: 16+1 as seen from Beijing”, Apr 14, 2015.
IPD, “Charlie Hebdo reinforces the very racism it is trying to satirize”, Jan 17, 2016.
IPD, “Queen of Jordan responds to Charlie Hebdo”, Jan 18, 2016.
Reuters, “German voters batter Merkel over migration policy”, Mar 13, 2016.
Zeynep Direk, “The European Ideal in the Face of the Muslim Other”, in Agnes Czajka and Bora Isyar (ed.) (2014), “Europe After Derrida: crisis and potentiality”, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh.