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  • Not Refugees but Rapists and ColonizersThe "European Migration Crisis" through Object-Relation Theory

In 2015, the number of refugees coming to Europe soared, generating an unprecedented number of over one million asylum applications (UNHCR 2015). The majority of refugees came from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, fleeing war, persecution, environmental degradation, and devastating living conditions. The scale of migration was massive, and Europe saw the most horrifying images of human suffering at its borders. The so-called "European migration crisis"1 became a central issue of politics and a subject of various political summits. The encounter with this "overwhelming" number of non-Europeans has also triggered philosophical questions about European identity in relation to the external world.

The figure of the non-European other has traditionally served as an important category in philosophical reflections on Europe. One line of inquiry has revolved around the weight of the Islamic contribution to European heritage (Said 1997). Another philosophical debate explores how Europe developed as a normative concept in reaction to foreigners (e.g., Derrida's [Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000] discussion of the laws of hospitality that govern relations between European hosts and non-European others). In this article I make a shift from looking at the development of European identity in normative or historical terms to thinking about Europe as a phantasmatic concept. I draw from a psychoanalytic notion of a phantasy,2 developed by Melanie Klein and [End Page 261] defined by Julia Kristeva as "a sundry entity made up of verbal and nonverbal representations, sensations, affects, emotions, movements, actions, and even concretizations" (2001, 137). Rather than analyzing the factual, historical relations between Europe and Islam that led to the current refugee crisis, I rethink this development through Melanie Klein's psychoanalytical object-relation theory. I conceptualize the figure of the Muslim refugee as a phantasmatic bad object of European identity—a phantasy construct onto which Europe projects its unwanted parts. The attachment of intolerable elements of identity to an external object functions as a mechanism of defense against anxieties and the fear and guilt connected with Europe's past and present. However, the bad aspects of European identity return, taking the form of paranoid representations of refugees as threatening persecutors. I argue that it is the process of defense against unwanted identity aspects through their projection onto refugees that frames—often in an unconscious way—Europe's reaction to refugees.

After a short overview of Klein's theory and the intellectual gains that stem from its application to the current refugee crisis, I discuss three phantasmatic frames3 that shape the anti-refugee discourse in Europe: refugees as colonizers, as robbing economic immigrants, and as sexual aggressors. I analyze how these phantasy constructs are formed out of the expelled and painful aspects of European history and identity. In spite of varying reasons for animosity toward refugees in different parts of Europe, it is nonetheless striking that similar phantasmatic frames shape the anti-refugee discourse all over the continent (Baker, Gabrielatos, and McEnery 2013; Citrin and Sides 2008; Green 2007; Goodman and Speer 2007; KhosraviNik 2009; Taras 2012). My analysis, however, assumes neither the existence of a unified European identity, nor the possibility of arriving at a single analytical framework relevant to all of Europe. The sources of anti-refugee anxieties vary across the continent. In Western Europe, Muslim migration is framed as reverse colonization, operating as a phantasmatic defense against guilt for the colonial past. In the Eastern European context, shaped by the memory of Russian and German occupation, it is perceived as recurring colonization.

To illustrate my argument about the phantasmatic frames that structure the European anti-refugee narration, I have chosen the discourse of the Polish Parliamentary election campaign of fall 2015, which coincided with the peak of the refugees' arrival in Europe.4 Selecting the Polish discourse as a case study can be particularly productive, because it disturbs an undifferentiated vision of Europe, often assumed in philosophical discussions about its identity, and contests the stereotypical equation of Europe exclusively with the West. Moreover, Poland's situatedness on the symbolic and ideological "margins" of Europe provides a research perspective that is often overlooked in European...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2155-0905
Print ISSN
2155-0891
Pages
pp. 261-279
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-28
Open Access
No
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