- Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles With the Neighbours by Slavoj Žižek
Discussions in Western political circles regarding terrorism and travel bans demonstrate that refugees comprise an important part of contemporary political conversations. On one end, there are those that oppose freedom of movement due to security; whereas others argue that humanitarian priorities need to surpass security priorities in the face of the refugee crisis. Hegelian philosopher Slavoj Žižek seeks to craft a philosophical solution in his work, Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours.1 At points, this work lacks analytical nuance; yet, the book’s main contention regarding the problematic way refugees are discussed by all parts of the political spectrum in modern political, philosophical, and academic debates is of utmost importance in current work on citizenship and statelessness.
In this essay, Žižek initially wants to respond to those who argue for completely open borders as a solution to the refugee crisis. He notes that the “greatest hypocrites” are those who claim moral superiority over others by advocating for an open-border “utopia.”2 In doing so, Žižek asserts that liberals are using refugees as a non-human tool to achieve their desired ends, which is the same criticism they make of those engaging in the security discourse. This discourse becomes important when certain individuals prioritize safety of their own nation over humanitarian crises. Political theorist Michael Dillon notes that the security discourse is when powerful elites turn humans into a “species of calculation.” Moreover, these elites then use this calculability to reduce individual freedom.3
Žižek’s point, on the contrary, is that many leftist critics of those on the political right also use refugees as mere tools of humanitarianism—rather than security—and thus are equally guilty of dehumanization.4 Overall, the thesis of Žižek’s work is that the only way to solve the refugee crisis is by attacking its root cause: global capitalism. [End Page 225]
This fits in with much of Žižek’s other work where he attempts to criticize the societal negatives presented by capitalism.5 Additionally, he views culture as a significant variable in his work, and while he does not test it in the book itself, it is an addressed bias in his earlier essays.6 Yet, regardless of one’s feelings concerning either of these two biases, it is important to examine the book given its own assumptions. Consequently, this review will begin by looking at the two core arguments presented by Žižek, and then it will examine three other theorists who have written on the same subject and place them in dialogue with Žižek. Finally, it will present two fundamental critiques followed by how the text could solve for those issues.
The first contention made is that refugees from the Arab and African worlds are not “people like us,” and frankly, that should not matter. This stems from earlier work conducted by Žižek. For example, in Welcome to the Desert of the Real, he argues that the “clash of civilizations” is related to “global capitalism” and needs to be addressed globally, not locally.7 In his work on refugees, he notes, “while our Christian fundamentalists are more marginalized than those of the Muslim world . . . our liberal-secular critique of fundamentalism is also stained by falsity.”8 Žižek later extends this argument by examining refugee integration into the West, specifically Germany, and posits that refugees may not want to be amalgamated in a different culture. That is, it is not just racist Westerners that prevent cultural understandings, but it is also indeed the refugees themselves. This analysis provides evidence for Žižek’s argument regarding the impracticality of open borders.
Nonetheless, outside of basic solutions, Žižek contends that the aforementioned degree of cultural clashing does not matter, and that all people should still have compassion for refugees. He notes this is not because refugees go uncounted—in...