The Need to Traverse the Fantasy

The Need to Traverse the Fantasy
The Need to Traverse the Fantasy

Adam Kotsko, a professor of humanities at Shimer College in Chicago, in an email to me, provided the best characterization of the reactions to my latest text on the refugees and Paris attacks:

I notice that the responses always seem to be a referendum on you, almost a Rorschach test for what people think of you. If they think you’re a terrible quasi-fascist, pro-Western ideologue, they find stuff to support that. If they assume you’re in good faith, they can find a more positive reading. But the discussion never gets to the point of actually addressing the issue—it’s almost like “what we should do about the issue” is treated as self-evident to all concerned, and the question is whether and how you measure up to this implicit standard (which of course can’t be explicitly stated by anyone).

As for numerous attacks on what I have written, most of them don’t deserve an answer since they simply repeat the position I criticize. What should I say to the claim that I want to use the military to quarantine and throw out the refugees, apart from the fact that it’s a simple lie? Some of the criticism, however, is worthy of reply.

I often hear the reproach that I speak as a European, part of the European elite with whom I am in solidarity, and as such I am treating refugees as an external threat to be contained. To which I can only say: Of course I speak from an European position. To deny this would be a preposterous lie, an unmistakable sign of patronizing fake solidarity.

But which European position? In the same way that there is no one Islam, that Islam also can harbor emancipatory potentials (and I’ve written about this extensively ), European tradition is also marked by a series of deep antagonisms. The only way to effectively fight “Eurocentrism” is from within, mobilizing Europe’s radical-emancipatory tradition. In short, our solidarity with non-Europeans should be a solidarity of struggles, not a “dialogue of cultures” but a uniting of struggles within each culture.

Merkel’s invitation to accept the refugees—more refugees than any other Euruoean state—was a genuine ethical miracle, one that cannot be reduced to the capitalist strategy of importing cheap labor force. What I find more than a little bit weird is the eagerness to criticize Germany for not showing enough openness toward the refugees instead of focusing on those states that adopt the paraoniac anti-immigrant attitude: Poland, Hungary, etc. It’s the same old superego logic; the more we obey the commandment of the law, the more we are guilty. The more Germany acts in a (relatively) decent way, the more it will be criticized. On the top of that, it is deeply symptomatic of our hypocrisy how rarely the European Left insists that the way to defuse the racist fear of refugees is to include refugees in the public debate. Our TV stations and other public media should have been full of refugees describing their plea, talking about their expectations, etc. One should give them the space to speak in public, not just speak on their behalf.

Another often-repeated reproach targets my mention of Western “values” and “way of life”: How dare I ignore the blatant fact that “Western values” are for the Third World people the very ideology that justifies their colonization and exploitation, the ruthless destruction of their ways of life? My answer is that I am far from ignoring it—I’ve written pages and pages on it. What I insist upon is that, in the same way that Islam does not designate one big homogeneous entity, European tradition also provides the resources for radical emancipation, i.e., for the radical self-critique of “Eurocentrism,” while calls for a return to some pre-colonial indigenous roots mostly fit perfectly global capitalism.

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on December 28th, 2015. (full text).]

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