The renowned linguist and political activist, Noam Chomsky, once accused cultural critic and Marxist scholar, Slavoj Žižek, of being “an extreme example of” a vapid intellectual. Žižek, the alleged “radical leftist,” validated Chomsky’s assessment in a recent interview with Channel 4 News.
In the interview, Žižek mirrored right-wing propaganda about the Syrian refugee crisis by suggesting that it is “not [actually] a humanitarian crisis.” Žižek appears to suggest that, because the refugees are “active agents” and are not merely migrating to the West in “passive reaction” to political circumstances, they should be held accountable for choosing to migrate in the first place.
Žižek argued that, since the West is not directly to blame for the refugees’ plight, the value of their integration into Western society should be questioned. He insisted on taking a step back and looking at the “social totality” of the refugee crisis, or its root causes and the consequences of accepting refugees en masse into the West. In his view, the “enforced integration” of refugees is a serious and growing problem and potential recipe for disaster, because of so-called cultural incompatibilities between Westerners and non-Westerners. Rather than “enforcing” mass integration, therefore, Žižek seems to prefer maintaining “a degree of distance” from, and “polite ignorance” of, the refugees.
Žižek’s arguments are ultimately set against the backdrop of his own idealized notions of Europe, as “a place where you can combine a certain level of freedom [and] safety.” His hesitant approach toward the refugees is, as such, arguably intended to preserve some abstract idea about Europe’s sanctity, first and foremost.
His comments are also an extension of claims he previously made in a New Statesman article on the Cologne attacks—when as many as 1000 women were sexually assaulted (some by refugees) during New Year’s Eve festivities in the German city last year. In that article, Žižek argued that, in perpetrating these attacks, the refugees wanted “to wound [Western] sensitivities.”
Referring to them as “the lower classes,” Žižek blamed cultural and religious factors—namely Islam—for the refugees’ actions. In his words, “[w]e are dealing here with the standard reversal of [envy] into aggressiveness described by psychoanalysis, and Islam just provides the form to ground this (self)destructive hatred.”
Similarly, in his Channel 4 interview, Žižek implied that refugees (the potential extremists among them) are envious of the West in that “they are deeply fascinated by the Western culture…they envy it…[and] this wave of young people ready to fight for ISIS [are reacting] to a certain type of integration that didn’t work.” In “forcibly integrating” refugees, therefore, Europe may be exposing itself to the “Islamo-fascism” he mentions in his Statesman article—which is perhaps the real tragedy for Žižek.
Žižek’s views are highly reminiscent of Bernard Lewis’ well-known article, published in The Atlantic in 1990, titled The Roots of Muslim Rage. In it, the famous historian and Orientalist argued that Muslims react in outlandish and often vengeful ways toward the West because they envy its achievements.
Like Lewis, Žižek has radicalized Islam, presented it as a static heritage, and blurred the line between Muslims and Arabs (or in this case, Muslims and refugees), in order to justify his faulty generalizations.
As Peter Schwarz has previously argued in an article on the World Socialist Web site, Žižek is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—masquerading as a leftist while flaunting the most obscene right-wing sentiments. Indeed, it would seem, in the words of Schwarz, that Žižek never fails to demonstrate that he “cares little for facts and seizes on individual cases—real or invented—to slander whole social or ethnic groups.”