Slavoj Žižek and the refugee crisis. Militarization?

Žižek on the refugee crisis: ‘militarization’

In the wake of the Paris attacks of November 2015, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek argued in an online article that to adequately give an answer to the refugee crisis, there is a need for the invention of ‘new forms of large-scale collective action; neither the standard state intervention nor the much-praised local self-organization can do the job.’ He then used Frederic Jameson’s concept of ‘militarization’ as a mode of emancipation since democratically motivated grassroots movements are seemingly doomed to failure. What is need to stop the chaos, he says, ‘is large-scale coordination and organization, which includes but is not limited to: reception centers near to the crisis (Turkey, Lebanon, the Libyan coast), transportation of those granted entrance to European way stations, and their redistribution to potential settlements. The military is the only agent that can do such a big task in an organized way.’


Kotsko: How to read Žižek

Žižek restated his vision on Europe (also expressed in his 2012 book ‘the year of dreaming dangerously’), saying that ‘the principle threat to Europe is not Muslim immigration but its anti-immigrant, populist defenders.’ However, he criticizes leftist liberals (such as philosopher Jurgen Habermas) which respond to the challenge by bemoaning a ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU and the loss of a democratic EU which according to Žižek never existed, an idealized past. Žižek, breaking heaps of taboos here, received strong criticism for this article. In a blog article in response to that of Žižek, political theologian Adam Kotsko explained that what Žižek is doing here is criticizing the tendency towards empty leftist rhetoric without any responsible and realistic policy-making: ‘The fact that the responses to these articles become a referendum on what we think of Žižek – i.e., whether he needs to be denounced – proves his implicit point. For all their faults, Žižek’s articles on this issue are about what could actually be done to accommodate the refugees.’

Open Borders. ‘The problem is not to love them’.

In public appearances during 2015, Žižek continued to propose and work out these ideas, rejecting sentimentalist responses about simply opening up the borders and loving refugees, arguing that ‘the problem is not to love them’ but that the borders ‘should be opened in an organized way’ (see the video ‘Slavoj Zizek on the refugee crisis Islam and multiculturalism at 14:50). ( Žižek further develops this in his recent book ‘Against the Double Blackmail: refugees, terror and other troubles with the neighbours’ (2016), in which he argues that the refugee crisis offers to Europe an opportunity: a unique chance to redefine itself. The only way, argues Žižek, to truly get to the heart of one of the greatest and most urgent issues confronting Europe today is to insist on the global solidarity of the exploited and oppressed. Maybe such global solidarity is a utopia. But, he warns, if we don’t engage in it, then we are really lost.)


Militarization… or humanitarian corridors?

Žižek argues for a ‘militarization’ of addressing the refugee crisis, a humane and organized way to open Europe’s borders. According to him, the military is the only agent that can do such a big task in an organized way. Now Žižek is clearly right when he says that neither Europe’s troubled states, nor its fragile grassroots movements have so far been able to address the issue, and the rising populist movements of the continent have filled this vacuum with the logic of walls. But the striking thing is that something coming close to the answer he proposes (that is: reception centers near to the crisis, transportation of those granted entrance to European way stations, and their redistribution to potential settlements) is in fact already being realized – in for Žižek probably one of the most unlikely environments of Europe: that of the Catholic Church. In cooperation with the Italian government, a number of Italian Christian communities (catholic and protestant) have organized ‘humanitarian corridors’ to receive and integrate 1000 humanitarian refugees so that they don’t have to risk their lives on the Mediterranean (see also the youtube video Humanitarian corridors, A model for Europe by the Community of Sant’Egidio). The initiative was praised by Pope Francis, who himself prioritized this issue by his visits to Lampedusa and Lesbos (even taking 12 refugees with him on the papal airplane). This is of course a small-scale measure, not yet the large-scale solution that this crisis needs, but it shows that the kind of solution Žižek argues for is possible, but outside of his political categories (of either state, grassroots movements, or militarization).


On this moment, as the first humanitarian corridor of 1000 refugees is being realized (already almost 300 have arrived in Italy), initiatives for the opening of humanitarian corridors elsewhere in Europe are being proposed, for example in Poland. Also, the model is being proposed to the United Nations and at the European Parliament. It is a model for a well-organized and humane reception of refugees so that they won’t have to risk their lives at sea. It is a way out of the deadlock that Žižek has rightly criticized – but it is, thank God, no militarization.


(for more on Žižek, see Slavoj Žižek: dreaming dangerously)

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