Unless you’re interested in radical left-wing politics or contemporary psychoanalysis, you might not have heard of Hegelian philosopher Slavoj Zižek. Zižek is most well-known for his eccentricity, best showcased by films like “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema”, but his latest writing piece is a call for radical leftists to think more tactfully about the situation in Europe- especially now when the Overton window is so far right that it’s acceptable in mass media to refer to masses of desperate impoverished humans as “swarms”. (I wrote an enantiodromic poetic piece in response to this here.)
Opinions editor Jake, in this article, does a great job of pointing out how we can, and I think therefore we should, accommodate more refugees, and also explains one of the lesser known issues with the EU asylum application process; so in this article I’d like to focus more on the politics behind this mess.
Firstly, let us recall one of the revolutionary slogans of the summer of 68: “Man is neither Rousseau’s noble savage nor the Church’s or La Rochefoucauld’s depraved sinner. He is violent when oppressed, gentle when free.” Zižek’s second suggestion about what the bureaucrats of Europe should do about this situation is to impose clear rules and regulations about how to control the stream of refugees, rules that not only inhibit the movement of terrorists, but also repress domestic extremists such as neo-Nazis. This is simply treating refugees as human beings, capable of behaving rationally and patiently.
Secondly, let us reflect on Zižek’s main point, reduced in the article title to “The Non-existence of Norway”. We could go as far as to say this point is really about the non-existence of the idolised Western way of life but Zižek is specifically referring to how many refugees are not simply aiming for Europe, but Scandinavia- idealised by left-liberals for being a haven of tolerance and demonised by right-conservatives for precisely the same reason. While Norway may be a more-than-averagely tolerant and more-than-averagely equal society, it cannot, like any other Western country, profess to have overcome all the inherent contradictions and problems of capitalism while remaining part of that global system.
Finally, let us think on practical solutions that we as students can actually put into effect. Gregory Stanton, president of the international alliance to end genocide project, genocidewatch.org, identifies the 8 stages of genocide. 1) Classification of a potential group in an “Us Vs Them” way- see here the focus on “Our” way of life etc.; 2) Symbolisation of the potential group’s classification- see here the labels like “immigrants” and “refugees” etc.; 3) Dehumanisation of the group by equating them with pests or diseases- see here the use of “swarm”. We students cannot remain mere spectators to future potential atrocities, safe in the comfort of our relatively luxurious universities. It is up to us, as holders of this knowledge, not only to disseminate, but to activate, and to counter the kinds of discourses which can only end in tragedy.
On September 4th, more than 200 Plymouth inhabitants, myself included, marched to Hoe Park to show solidarity with the refugees. Our message was concise as it was simple: #refugeeswelcome. This demonstration was too early for many new and returning students to attend and also quite short notice, but it is not too late for us to continue the campaign to re-humanise the so-called “swarms”. Further, whenever we hear that kind of rhetoric, we should confidently point it out for what it is- hate speech that only aggravates the problem.