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Stranger Danger: To Resolve the Migrant Crisis We Must Recognize the Stranger Within Ourselves

Stranger Danger: To Resolve the Migrant Crisis We Must Recognize the Stranger Within Ourselves

The big news of the last week was the deal between Turkey and European Union on how to contain and regulate the flow of refugees. It brought a sigh of relief: The crisis is over. Europe succeeded in stemming the Muslim invasion without betraying humanitarian compassion. But did it? To see clearly what is wrong with this deal, let us reach back to one of our great classics. In Canto VI of Inferno (lines 77-89), Dante speaks to the glutton Ciacco and asks of the fate of the men of good reason, men who dedicated their life to the good of the city:

And I continued thus: “Still would I learn
More from thee, further parley still entreat.
Of Farinata and Tegghiaio say,
They who so well deserved; of Giacopo,
Arrigo, Mosca, and the rest, who bent
Their minds on working good. Oh! tell me where
They bide, and to their knowledge let me come.
For I am prest with keen desire to hear
If Heaven’s sweet cup, or poisonous drug of Hell,
Be to their lip assign’d.” He answer’d straight:
“These are yet blacker spirits. Various crimes
Have sunk them deeper in the dark abyss.
If thou so far descendest, thou mayst see them.”

Imagine we were to visit the Hell now and find there in the Third Circle today’s Ciacco, a gluttonous Western European who ignores the plight of migrants, focused as he is on continuing undisturbed his consumption. If we were to ask him “But tell me, where are all those humanitarians who bent their minds on working good?”, would he not snap back: “You will have to descend much deeper, their souls are much blacker than mine!” Why? Is this reaction not too cruel?

The point is that, self-critical as it may appear to be, the humanitarian reaction almost imperceptibly transforms a political-economic problem into a moral one of “refugee crisis” and of “helping the victims.” Further, rather than attacking the silent, low-class majority as racist and ignorant of the immigrants’ plight, or, at best, as stupid victims of racist big media propaganda, would not the truly humanitarian reaction be to address their actual concerns that express themselves in a racist way?

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on March 19th, 2016. (full text).]

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities. This account is not monitored and is only maintained to give appropriate credit.

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