Slavoj Žižek: Who Is Responsible for the Refugee Crisis, and Who Must Act?

How did we get to this refugee crisis? Newton’s Third Law. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s something we may not consciously clock as we hear news and see devastating photographs of migrants crossing dangerous waters in crowded boats, fleeing for their lives. Why is this happening? If you rewind the history of these countries, tracing political event to event, you’ll find the firestarter – and more often than not, it's a long arm that has reached past its own border to interfere in another country.

In this spirited and frenetic address, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek talks about refugees, anti-immigration populism, and cultural incompatibility, bringing to light just how complex and tangled the dominant issues of our times are. Who is responsible for them? It’s a messy question.

One clear thread that swims beneath everything Žižek says is the concept of backlash. The wave of refugees coming to Europe from Syria and north Africa were displaced by previous military and political intervention. Hitler and Nazi Germany arose as a reaction to the West post WWI. Government-sanctioned homophobia and the oppression of women’s rights across Africa are a reaction against colonialist ideals. Everything is a pushback, and there are a million reactions firing off all over the geopolitical landscape.

Žižek argues that the only way out is transparency. We have many responsibilities when faced with the world’s problems, but the greatest one is to not be avoidant. We must ask and debate unpleasant and difficult questions, especially regarding immigration and the cultural clashes that will emerge – and already are. We are doomed, says Žižek, if we keep these issues at a distance.

"Behind every rise of fascism is a failed revolution," said the Frankfurt School thinker Walter Benjamin. Here, Slavoj Žižek revives that statement in the context of the failed left.

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