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Against the Double Blackmail

By Slavoj Zizek

Allen Lane, 2016

ISBN: 9780241278840

Against the Double Blackmail

A thought-splattered book, wherein Slavoj Zizek addresses a fair few issues vexing Europeans at the minute: terrorism, TTIP, Turkey, Islamic State and the performance of the EU itself (exactly what is it good for?), in particular its handling of the migrant crisis.

The bulk of the book is about the migrant crisis, mind, and the crucial question of what is to be done about the hundreds of thousands of people (you may ask: is this an exaggeration? Answer: No) seeking to settle in Europe (specifically, Germany and/or Sweden). Zizek identifies two main options open to the EU, this being the ‘double blackmail’ of the title, both of which he rightly rejects.

First option is an open door policy a la Merkel. This cannot work: it is unsustainable economically and not possible politically. It leads to local/national unrest and the rise of the far-Right, as can be seen in Germany and Sweden even now, less than a year after migrants began arriving in large numbers. There are concerns about disorder too, whether this takes the form of terrorism (as in the Paris attacks) or rape and pillage (as on New Year’s Eve in Cologne). Incidentally, Zizek discusses the Cologne attacks by reference to the latest Tarantino movie and carnivals. A lapse in taste here, I think; definitely the wrong register.

Second option is to close up shop, batten down the hatches and allow entry to none but the most deserving. An approach adopted by Hungary and then Austria and now by the EU itself in its deal with Turkey (Zizec calls this deal ‘shameful’; at any rate, it is a deal which may shortly be shown to be illegal under international law). Now this approach has the merit of controlling the influx of migrants, something which Europeans understandably appreciate – Ordnung is a quality that the Austrians in particular value greatly – but it doesn’t address the humanitarian aspect of the crisis, nor the root causes of migration. It just makes it more manageable, gets it off the front page for a while and lets us all live comfortably numb lives once more. Until a vessel leaving Libya for Italy sinks, and many drown.

Instead of these two, Zizec proposes that we ‘reconstruct global society on such a basis that desperate refugees will no longer be forced to wander around.’ Now, this statement raises a number of questions. What is ‘global society’? Are all migrants desperate and/or refugees? Are they ‘forced to wander around’ , say from Turkey (where they presumably – I concede this may be a dubious presumption – are free from war and persecution?) to Greece?  Or, again, from Greece to Germany, in order to seek asylum there? UNHCR usually raise an objection when migrants are not allowed to wander, when they encounter closed borders; ie, when they are ‘forced to’ stay put.  Anyway, he, Zizec, concedes that this reconstruction might strike some as Utopian – and one cannot but agree with this part, at least. For how can one eradicate war and social division from human society? Perhaps by means of some form of transhumanist technology, a moral enhancement pill if it can be found, but that’s a prospect for the long term. And it may strike some as Utopian.

This is an interesting book but by no means does it present a solution to the migrant crisis; probably because there is none. It is provocative, erratic, scattered-gunned with ideas, worth reflecting upon. Europe is beginning to resemble the world of Chez Max, the late Jakob Arjouni’s final novel.

The publisher’s description of Against the Double Blackmail can be read here.