Jamil Khader: Why Zizek’s Critics are Wrong—and Where They Could Have Gotten it Right

Jamil Khader in defense of Slavoj Žižek: Rejoinders to Slavoj Zizek’s polemic on the refugee crisis insist on turning this exchange into Zizek’s Heideggerian moment. His interlocutors find his putatively racist and xenophobic claims about refugees and their cultural traditions to be reckless, irresponsible and inconsistent with his self-professed radical egalitarian politics.

Even worse, they claim that they can hardly distinguish his claims from populist, conservative, anti-immigrant, right-wing Neofascist propaganda, that such claims prove that he has been a closeted racist Neofascist all along. Writing for ROAR magazine, for example, Esben Bogh Sorensen writes, “Essentially, Zizek accepts the dominant idea—shared by institutional Europe and the extreme right—that refugees and migrants pose a problem, threat, or some kind of crisis for 'us' and 'our egalitarianism and personal freedoms.'”

Ironically, as Zizek himself responds to Sarah Ahmed, his critique of the hegemony of multiculturalism as an ideology does not mean that he uses multiculturalism as a normative description of the “reality of predominant social relations.” Adam Kotsko thus correctly points out, “Every time [Zizek] mentions the existence of intolerance or cultural difference, for instance, it is taken as an endorsement or legitimation rather than a description of facts that must be taken into account.”

Racist presuppositions, leftist taboos

The problem in the critical reception of his polemic on the refugees is not so much, as Kotsko maintains, that Zizek over-identifies with the “(inadequate) terms of the public debate.” Rather, Zizek’s problematization of the presuppositions inherent to both Western liberal multicultural and populist, anti-immigrant, neofascist discourses on the refugees are mistaken for his own position on the politically correct and postmodern taboos that he opposes. These presuppositions, however, are clearly distinct from his position on the taboos.

The three main presuppositions that Zizek engages in this polemic, and the PC taboos that are related to them, include the following: First, the slippage between refugees and Islamic terrorists, by which racist discourses seem to suggest that the refugees are somehow ISIS terrorists who were transplanted into Europe directly from some ISIS’s terrorism training camps. The corresponding PC and postmodern taboo that Zizek forcefully disavows is the taboo about demonizing the ISIS terrorists—those who enforce this taboo tend to subjectivize the terrorists, with the intention of offering a “deeper understanding” of their humanity in their struggle against Western colonial interventions. For Zizek, there should be no sympathy for the terrorist Other.

Second, the corollary to the slippage between refugees and terrorists is the sweeping homogenization of all Arab refugees into Muslims, whereby the religious,.....more here