Marxist philospher and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek in an article in Guardian has as said that anyone who wants to fight for emancipation should not be afraid to examine religion and culture. “The outline of what happened in Rotherham is now more or less clear: at least 1,400 children were subjected to brutal sexual exploitation between 1997 and 2013; children as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities, beaten and intimidated. The perpetrators were (almost exclusively) of Pakistani origin, and their victims were often white schoolgirls.
Reactions were predictable. The left exhibited the worst of political correctness, mostly via generalisations: perpetrators were vaguely designated as “Asians”, claims were made that it was not about ethnicity and religion but about the domination of men over women, plus who are we – with our church paedophilia and Jimmy Savile – to adopt a high moral ground against a victimised minority … can one imagine a more effective way to open up the field to Ukip and other anti-immigrant populists who exploit the worries of ordinary people? Such anti-racism is effectively a barely covert racism, condescendingly treating Pakistanis as morally inferior beings who should not be held to our standards,” he said.
“One of the terrifying effects of the non-contemporaneity of different levels of social life is the rise of violence against women – not just random violence, but systematic violence, violence that is specific to a certain social context, follows a pattern and transmits a clear message.
“The serial killings of women in Ciudad Juarez, for example, are not just private pathologies, but a ritualised activity, part of the subculture of local gangs, and directed at single young women working in factories – a clear case of macho reaction to the new class of independent working women.
“Then there are the serial rapes and murders of indigenous women in western Canada, close to reservations around Vancouver, belying Canada’s claim to be a model, tolerant welfare state: a group of white men abduct, rape and kill a woman, and then deposit the mutilated body just within the reservation territory, which puts it legally under the jurisdiction of the tribal police who are totally unprepared to deal with such cases. In these examples, the social dislocation due to fast industrialisation and modernisation provoked a brutal reaction from males who experience this development as a threat. The crucial feature in all these cases is that the violent act is not a spontaneous outburst of brutal energy that breaks the chains of civilised customs, but something learned, externally imposed, ritualised, part of collective symbolic substance of a community.
“The same perverted social-ritual logic is at work in the cases of paedophilia that continuously shatter the Catholic church: when church representatives insist that these cases, deplorable as they are, are the church’s internal problem, and display great reluctance to collaborate with police in their investigation, they are, in a way, right – the paedophilia of Catholic priests is not something that concerns merely the people who happened to choose the profession of a priest; it is a phenomenon that concerns the Catholic church as such, that is inscribed into its very functioning as a socio-symbolic institution. It does not concern the “private” unconscious of individuals, but the “unconscious” of the institution itself: it is not something that happens because the institution has to accommodate itself to the pathological realities of libidinal life in order to survive, but something that the institution itself needs in order to reproduce itself.”
In other words, says Zizek, it is not simply that, for conformist reasons, the church tries to hush up embarrassing paedophilic scandals. In defending itself, the church defends its innermost obscene secret. What this means is that identifying oneself with this secret is a key constituent of the very identity of a Christian priest: if a priest seriously (not just rhetorically) denounces these scandals, he thereby excludes himself from the ecclesiastic community, he is no longer “one of us”.
“And we should approach the Rotherham events in exactly the same way: we are dealing with the “political unconscious” of the Pakistani Muslim youth – not with chaotic violence, but with a ritualised violence with precise ideological contours: a youth group that experiences itself as marginalised and subordinated taking revenge on vulnerable women of the predominant group. And it is fully legitimate to raise the question of whether there are features in their religion and culture that open up the space for the brutality against women.
Without blaming Islam as such (which is in itself no more misogynistic than Christianity), one can observe that violence against women rhymes with the subordination of women and their exclusion from public life in many Muslim countries and communities, and that, among many groups and movements designated as fundamentalist, the strict imposition of a hierarchic sexual difference is at the very top of their agenda. To raise these questions is not covertly racist and Islamophobic. It is the ethico-political duty of everyone who wants to fight for emancipation.”
So how are we to deal with all this in our societies? He says in the debate about Leitkultur (the dominant culture) from a decade ago, conservatives insisted that every state was based on a predominant cultural space, which the members of other cultures who live in the same space should respect. “Instead of bemoaning the emergence of a new European racism heralded by such statements, we should turn a critical eye upon ourselves, asking to what extent our own abstract multiculturalism has contributed to this sad state of affairs. If all sides do not share or respect the same civility, then multiculturalism turns into a form of legally regulated mutual ignorance or hatred.
“The conflict about multiculturalism already is a conflict about Leitkultur: it is not a conflict between cultures, but a conflict between different visions of how different cultures can and should co-exist, about the rules and practices these cultures have to share if they are to co-exist. One should thus avoid getting caught into the liberal game of “how much tolerance can we afford of the other”. At this level, of course, we are never tolerant enough, or we are already too tolerant. The only way to break out of this deadlock is to propose and fight for a positive universal project shared by all participants,” he adds.
“This is why a crucial task of those fighting for emancipation today is to move beyond mere respect for others towards a positive emancipatory Leitkultur that alone can sustain an authentic coexistence and immixing of different cultures.
Our axiom should be that the struggle against western neocolonialism as well as the struggle against fundamentalism, the struggle of WikiLeaksand Edward Snowden as well as the struggle of Pussy Riot, the struggle against antisemitism as well as the struggle against aggressive Zionism, are parts of one and the same universal struggle. If we make any compromise here, we are lost in pragmatic compromises, our life is not worth living,” he concludes.