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Liberal multiculturalism masks an old

barbarism with a human face
Across Europe, the politics of the far right is infecting us all with the need for a
'reasonable' anti-immigration policy

o Slavoj Zizek
o guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 October 2010 22.00 BST
o Article history

The recent expulsion of Roma, or Gypsies, from France drew protests from all around
Europe – from the liberal media but also from top politicians, and not only from those on
the left. But the expulsions went ahead, and they are just the tip of a much larger iceberg
of European politics.

A month ago, a book by Thilo Sarrazin, a bank executive who was considered politically
close to the Social Democrats, caused an uproar in Germany. Its thesis is that German
nationhood is threatened because too many immigrants are allowed to maintain their
cultural identity. Although the book, titled Germany Does Away with Itself, was
overwhelmingly condemned, its tremendous impact suggests that it touched a nerve.

Incidents like these have to be seen against the background of a long-term rearrangement
of the political space in western and eastern Europe. Until recently, most European
countries were dominated by two main parties that addressed the majority of the
electorate: a right-of-centre party (Christian Democrat, liberal-conservative, people's) and
a left-of-centre party (socialist, social-democratic), with smaller parties (ecologists,
communists) addressing a narrower electorate.

Recent electoral results in the west as well as in the east signal the gradual emergence of
a different polarity. There is now one predominant centrist party that stands for global
capitalism, usually with a liberal cultural agenda (for example, tolerance towards
abortion, gay rights, religious and ethnic minorities). Opposing this party is an
increasingly strong anti-immigrant populist party which, on its fringes, is accompanied
by overtly racist neofascist groups. The best example of this is Poland where, after the
disappearance of the ex-communists, the main parties are the "anti-ideological" centrist
liberal party of the prime minister Donald Tusk and the conservative Christian Law and
Justice party of the Kaczynski brothers. Similar tendencies are discernible in the
Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Hungary. How did we get here?

After decades of hope held out by the welfare state, when financial cuts were sold as
temporary, and sustained by a promise that things would soon return to normal, we are
entering a new epoch in which crisis – or, rather, a kind of economic state of emergency,
with its attendant need for all sorts of austerity measures (cutting benefits, diminishing
health and education services, making jobs more temporary) is permanent. Crisis is
becoming a way of life.

After the disintegration of the communist regimes in 1990, we entered a new era in which
the predominant form of the exercise of state power became a depoliticised expert
administration and the co-ordination of interests. The only way to introduce passion into
this kind of politics, the only way to actively mobilise people, is through fear: the fear of
immigrants, the fear of crime, the fear of godless sexual depravity, the fear of the
excessive state (with its burden of high taxation and control), the fear of ecological
catastrophe, as well as the fear of harassment (political correctness is the exemplary
liberal form of the politics of fear).

Such a politics always relies on the manipulation of a paranoid multitude – the

frightening rallying of frightened men and women. This is why the big event of the first
decade of the new millennium was when anti-immigration politics went mainstream and
finally cut the umbilical cord that had connected it to far right fringe parties. From France
to Germany, from Austria to Holland, in the new spirit of pride in one's cultural and
historical identity, the main parties now find it acceptable to stress that immigrants are
guests who have to accommodate themselves to the cultural values that define the host
society – "it is our country, love it or leave it" is the message.

Progressive liberals are, of course, horrified by such populist racism. However, a closer
look reveals how their multicultural tolerance and respect of differences share with those
who oppose immigration the need to keep others at a proper distance. "The others are
OK, I respect them," the liberals say, "but they must not intrude too much on my own
space. The moment they do, they harass me – I fully support affirmative action, but I am
in no way ready to listen to loud rap music." What is increasingly emerging as the central
human right in late-capitalist societies is the right not to be harassed, which is the right to
be kept at a safe distance from others. A terrorist whose deadly plans should be prevented
belongs in Guantánamo, the empty zone exempted from the rule of law; a fundamentalist
ideologist should be silenced because he spreads hatred. Such people are toxic subjects
who disturb my peace.

On today's market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant

property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol. And the list
goes on: what about virtual sex as sex without sex? The Colin Powell doctrine of warfare
with no casualties (on our side, of course) as warfare without warfare? The contemporary
redefinition of politics as the art of expert administration as politics without politics? This
leads us to today's tolerant liberal multiculturalism as an experience of the Other deprived
of its Otherness – the decaffeinated Other.

The mechanism of such neutralisation was best formulated back in 1938 by Robert
Brasillach, the French fascist intellectual, who saw himself as a "moderate" antisemite
and invented the formula of reasonable antisemitism. "We grant ourselves permission to
applaud Charlie Chaplin, a half Jew, at the movies; to admire Proust, a half Jew; to
applaud Yehudi Menuhin, a Jew; … We don't want to kill anyone, we don't want to
organise any pogrom. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always
unpredictable actions of instinctual antisemitism is to organise a reasonable

Is this same attitude not at work in the way our governments are dealing with the
"immigrant threat"? After righteously rejecting direct populist racism as "unreasonable"
and unacceptable for our democratic standards, they endorse "reasonably" racist
protective measures or, as today's Brasillachs, some of them even Social Democrats, tell
us: "We grant ourselves permission to applaud African and east European sportsmen,
Asian doctors, Indian software programmers. We don't want to kill anyone, we don't want
to organise any pogrom. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always
unpredictable violent anti-immigrant defensive measures is to organise a reasonable anti-
immigrant protection."

This vision of the detoxification of one's neighbour suggests a clear passage from direct
barbarism to barbarism with a human face. It reveals the regression from the Christian
love of one's neighbour back to the pagan privileging of our tribe versus the barbarian
Other. Even if it is cloaked as a defence of Christian values, it is itself the greatest threat
to Christian legacy.