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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Multiculturalism and fundamentalism: two sides of the same coin

Slavoj Zizek - The One Measure of True Love is: You Can Insult the Other

"So multiculturalism and fundamentalism could be two sides of the same coin?

Slavoj Zizek: There is nothing to be said against tolerance. But when you buy this multiculturalist tolerance, you buy many other things with it. Isn't it symptomatic that multiculturalism exploded at the very historic moment when the last traces of working-class politics disappeared from political space? For many former leftists, this multiculturalism is a kind of ersatz working-class politics. We don't even know whether the working class still exists, so let's talk about exploitation of others.

There may be nothing wrong with that as such. But there is a danger that issues of economic exploitation are converted into problems of cultural tolerance. And then you have only to make one step further, that of Julia Kristeva in her essay 'Etrangers à nous mêmes', and say we cannot tolerate others because we cannot tolerate otherness in ourselves. Here we have a pure pseudo-psychoanalytic cultural reductionism.

Isn't it sad and tragic that the only relatively strong — not fringe — political movement that still directly addresses the working class is made up of right-wing populists? They are the only ones. Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, for example. I was shocked when I saw him three years ago at a congress of the Front National. He brought a black Frenchman, an Algerian and a Jew on the podium, embraced them and said: 'They are no less French than I am. Only the international cosmopolitan companies who neglect French patriotic interests are my enemy.' So the price is that only right-wingers still talk about economic exploitation.

The second thing I find wrong with this multiculturalist tolerance is that it is often hypocritical in the sense that the other whom they tolerate is already a reduced other. The other is okay in so far as this other is only a question of food, of culture, of dances. What about clitoridectomy? What about my friends who say: 'We must respect Hindus.' Okay, but what about one of the old Hindu customs which, as we know, is that when a husband dies, the wife is burned. Now, do we respect that? Problems arise here.

An even more important problem is that this notion of tolerance effectively masks its opposite: intolerance...

Are you referring to what we call victim culture?

Slavoj Zizek: The discourse of victimisation is almost the predominant discourse today. You can be a victim of the environment, of smoking, of sexual harassment. I find this reduction of the subject to a victim sad. In what sense? There is an extremely narcissistic notion of personality here. And, indeed, an intolerant one, insofar as what it means is that we can no longer tolerate violent encounters with others — and these encounters are always violent.

Let me briefly address sexual harassment for a moment. Of course I am opposed to it, but let's be frank. Say I am passionately attached, in love, or whatever, to another human being and I declare my love, my passion for him or her. There is always something shocking, violent in it. This may sound like a joke, but it isn't — you cannot do the game of erotic seduction in politically correct terms. There is a moment of violence, when you say: 'I love you, I want you.' In no way can you bypass this violent aspect. So I even think that the fear of sexual harassment in a way includes this aspect, a fear of a too violent, too open encounter with another human being.

Another thing that bothers me about this multiculturalism is when people ask me: 'How can you be sure that you are not a racist?' My answer is that there is only one way. If I can exchange insults, brutal jokes, dirty jokes, with a member of a different race and we both know it's not meant in a racist way. If, on the other hand, we play this politically correct game — 'Oh, I respect you, how interesting your customs are' — this is inverted racism, and it is disgusting.

In the Yugoslav army where we were all of mixed nationalities, how did I become friends with Albanians? When we started to exchange obscenities, sexual innuendo, jokes. This is why this politically correct respect is just, as Freud put it, 'zielgehemmt'. You still have the aggression towards the other.

For me there is one measure of true love: you can insult the other. Like in that horrible German comedy film from 1943 where Marika Röck treats her fiancé very brutally. This fiancé is a rich, important person, so her father asks her why are you treating him like that. And she gives the right answer. She says: 'But I love him, and since I love him, I can do with him whatever I want.' That's the truth of it. If there is true love, you can say horrible things and anything goes.

When multiculturalists tell you to respect the others, I always have this uncanny association that this is dangerously close to how we treat our children: the idea that we should respect them, even when we know that what they believe is not true. We should not destroy their illusions. No, I think that others deserve better — not to be treated like children...

I must confess that the left also deeply disappointed me. Falling back into this safe pacifist attitude — violence never stops violence, give peace a chance — is abstract and doesn't work here. First, because this is not a universal rule. I always ask my leftist friends who repeat that mantra: What would you have said in 1941 with Hitler. Would you also say: 'We shouldn't resist, because violence never helps?' It is simply a fact that at some point you have to fight. You have to return violence with violence. The problem is not that for me, but that this war can never be a solution.

It is also false and misleading to perceive these bombings as some kind of third world working-class response to American imperialism. In that case, the American fundamentalists we already discussed, are also a working-class response, which they clearly are not."
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