Slavoj Zizek in Istanbul

—PART 2 —PART 3 —PART 4

with a transcription by Marvin Gonzalez

Okay. I hope the translation will work.

Thank you very much. And I like it very much when I am introduced and I cannot follow what is said. I have this nice imagination that you were telling them “be patient with this idiot.” I am proud to be here.

Before I begin properly I would nonetheless like to clarify two critical points, which were raised against me. One is a minor one I got made from friends like, how can you appear at the other event, that conference, whatever. Let me tell you why I accepted that one—I mean let them pay for me being here. They pay for everything and I did there what? Nothing, I improvised for twenty minutes some stuff which I am able to repeat here. You know the point is I am able to be here for free. My god this is what Lenin calls, you know what Lenin said, the bourgeoisie will even sell you the rope to hang them. That’s how we should function, don’t be ashamed here—they demand, just don’t feel obliged toward them. That’s the important thing.

The second thing is much more sensitive. I was told there were many negative echoes about my, how should I call it, Ottoman derivation. Praising Turkey and so on. Here, maybe just to clarify any misunderstanding, a short explanation should be given. I of course—I am not an idiot—have no illusions about any progressive nature of the Ottoman Empire, and so on and so on. I do not in any way preach any return to it. The background of those remarks of mine is my own historical experiences of racism, anti-Turkish racism. You know when I was young in ex-Yugoslavia, which was culturally dominated by Serbs. Nothing against Serbs but I mention this because the whole elementary school propaganda was the usual racist story: “We the Serbs, or Yugoslavs, were the last fortress/defense of civilized Europe against the primitive Turks,” and then everything was blamed on them, like there is one Yugoslav story, “Already in 14th century when even in France they were eating with hands, we in Serbia already had forks and knives to eat, but then you the Turks ruined all this,” and so on and so on. So as a reaction to this, of course, and this is an automatic reaction of an adolescent in school, I started to read history books about how it really was. And of course I am not saying the Turks did not invade Europe. They were all doing horrible things in those times, of course. Although even here you discover wonderful things. When I was in Greece, Athens, a year ago, they told me that there once a year they celebrate the memory of how, under Turkish occupation, Greek children had to study the religion, Orthodoxy, during the night—illegal to learn. Then a Greek friend of mine, historian, told me, “Yes this is true but just with two qualifications. First, these schools were not run during the night but during the day. And point two, they were financed by the Ottoman Empire.” So Much for Heroism.

So what I want to say is the following thing: I think you find the quotations in my book Parallax View, in the very last pages where I quote them. It’s interesting how we…okay, Europeans, like to project into Turkey the opposite of us. So for example, now Islam-totalitarian against European tolerance. But do you know that in historical…

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…All of this outcry but you have the same law here which is even tougher. I was told that you have a law here now, in Turkey, which prohibits construction of any new non-Islamic religious buildings, you can only repair the old ones as cultural monuments but not build new ones. You cannot build now, here, a Catholic church or whatever. Like, you know, everyone has here their problems. All I want to say is this: there are two things you are usually criticized for and I will not go into. Of course you are guilty, but in what way. Of course I am opposed to this French stigmatization of you because of the Armenian slaughter. Not because I don’t think Turks did some horrible things there, but I find it very problematic in that I think this is an abyss of political correctness. This attempt to try to legalize crimes in the sense of, if you deny this crime then… Because you know, then you open it. Now another will say, “what about our genocide” and so on and so on. And then we are approaching a ridiculous era where you will have two types of crimes. You know, like, if you kill half a million you can still deny it, if you kill more than half a million you can deny it, and so on. This is generally the ethical problem of what in the west they call Political Correctness, where something that should be part of our, lets call them “spontaneous customs/habits,” they try to formalize it or to legalize it. And the effects are always catastrophic here.

But I think your answer here should be another one, which I don’t hear often enough. Yes, why not? You should, not because of the pressure of the west—screw them—you, for you own good, you should openly admit, “Yes, we did horrible things and so on (Armenia, Serbs).” But you should point out something which will be the true answer to Europe. Remember who did this: the Young Turks. Those precisely who were imitating Europe, who wanted to become a modern European nation-state. So Europe, ideologically, is in no position to simply criticize you here. You just did what most of the emerging nation-states in Europe did.

I am sorry but this is the history of modern nation-state. Okay, some are more violent, some are less violent, but, for example really, the history of early absolutist France, 17th-18th century. How much crackdown was there already there from late middle ages on that… how’s it called? Where there was the great rebellion against Cathars in the south, then Bretons and so on. All nation-states are founded on, more or less strong—genocide or whatever. Whether it be English and so on, and so on. So, okay, I agree. You did horrible things but then what did United States do? What did others do, and so on and so on. Even Israel, I don’t… Of course I am pro-Palestinian. But nonetheless we should make it clear that the problem of Israel is that they are doing now what other states were doing three-four hundred (years) earlier. They just tried to build now a nation-state. So again, the answer should be that this precisely was the gift of Europe to you. The genocides you did, no? And in this sense when I say Ottoman—my god I am not an idiot, I am well aware what kind of a lethargic-passive-conservative regime the Ottoman Empire was. All I am saying is this: If there is a lesson of the twentieth century it is the horrors of nation-states. And this is why retroactively this is the only thing that interests me about the Ottoman Empire. Even the Soviet Union tried to be this but failed. I think it’s crucial for us to invent a new political model of some kind of unity, be it state or whatever, which is no longer based on ethnic belonging. That is the fundamental criteria.

This is my, I think, not in the sense of returning to Ottoman Empire… Then another reproached I was told, sorry, connected to this: That I celebrate too much Islamic tolerance and so on. My god, I am well aware of the horror of Islamic fundamentalism. But, you know what my position is here? I am a total atheist here but all great religious texts are written in an opportunistically ambiguous way. You know they offer possibilities for this or for that. Take Christianity. God says, “You know if somebody strikes you on the right cheek turn the left. Love your enemies.” Whatever. But then I can imagine God dictating this and then God says: “Wait a minute. There may be situations where you need a little bit of violence.” So Christ says, “Okay lets add: I bring sword not love.” All gods were opportunist. They said but to make sure they add the opposite. Like “Love, don’t kill except when you really have to kill.” So the same goes for Islam.

If we criticize today Islamic fundamentalism we should always be aware that… let me tell you two-three things you should know, and I am in no way pro-Islam. This is a nice tragic story: did you know that when Crusaders occupied—liberated—Jerusalem, they didn’t kill many Arabs. They mostly used them as servants, but they certainly killed all of the Jews there. And did you know that when Saladin re-conquered/re-occupied Jerusalem, do you know that one of the first public proclamations of Saladin was a public appeal to the Jews? “Now it’s safe, you can come back.” Or another detail from ex-Yugoslavia, my own. When we had terrible war, civil war, in early ‘90s. We learn, you know what was the only part of ex-Yugoslavia that had considerable Jewish population? Sarajevo. Why? Because it was Muslim-dominated. It’s crazy when you compare it to recent Middle East problems. They were, for historical reasons, the only ones who tolerated Jews there. We others—we in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia—we threw them out already in the 16th-17th century, and so on. This also, I am so sad I don’t have time to develop this, but this also allows you to explain… nonetheless if I approach Middle East topic.

Another Strange thing which I found really worrying. Do you remember that madman—but he is not a madman—Breivik, who killed the people in Oslo. You know why not? Because I claim that all the right-wingers relaxed when psychiatrists proclaimed him a clinical madman, because this means it’s just madness, it’s not serious. But if you look a little bit I think, his manifesto, hundreds of pages of reflection, no this is not madness. This a very consistent explanation of a certain vision of a crisis of Europe. And what is so important there is that, and this is really Breivik as an omen of where we are, he is anti-Semitic in the West. He says for example, “Norway and Europe, Western Europe, we can be… We are laughing because we don’t have too many Jews, but,” he says, “England and—especially—United States have too many Jews. They will have to deal with this problem,” blah blah. But at the same time, he is totally pro-Zionist.

We have this paradox, literally of an anti-Semitic pro-Zionist. Anti-Semitic towards Jews in western society but totally pro-Israel in the Middle East. Yes, because there the state of Israel is the protection against Islam and so on and so on. And this, I think, is something very dark. First a similar thing is happening the United States. The conservative Baptist, the Christian right, they are in a discreet way sometimes not even …

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political debates with some of my Jewish friends (pro-Palestinian, open) and they were attacked by a hard-line Zionist there. And you know what shocked me? How they were attacked. They were attacked as people who pretend to be Jews but are really not one of ‘us;’ they don’t have firm roots, they care only about money, they are just floating around. And I said, “Wait a minute, didn’t I hear this?” This is how we in Europe stigmatized the Jews one hundred years ago. You know, the basic approach of anti-Semitism in Europe was that ‘Jews, you cannot trust them. They can be formally our citizens but they don’t really have roots here. They just’…blah blah blah. So they are treating their own members—Jews—who are critical of Zionist politics, exactly in an anti-Semitic way. And this is a very tragic phenomenon. Let’s face it, historically Jews are a great people—what they contribute to science, freedom of speech and so on. But I think—and I don’t mean in a military sense, what we have in the Middle East, but more spiritually—the greatest victim of this development will be the Jewish people themselves. The way it turns now, they will be just, more and more—instead of this unique open people freely floating around, standing for a kind of intellectual exchange outside all particular limits—they will just become one tiny land-grabbing people much more, even often, fundamentalist than their own Arab neighbors.

You know, for example my friend showed me, I’ve written about it, that now in Israel one of their obsessions is that Arab boys seducing Israeli girls are the new form of terrorism. So you have phone calls everywhere, sorry phone numbers, that if you as a parent are afraid that your daughter is dating a Palestinian, you call a certain psychiatric service and they treat it as a case of madness. They take the daughter to the hospital, and so on. It’s absolutely incredible this religious fundamentalization of Israel.

But back to my main point. So this is all I meant with Ottomanism. I know it was a decadent regime and so on, but measured even by the standards of the 19th century I can tell you, it was definitely much more tolerant than European nation-states. And I said the same about Austro-Hungarian empire, I don’t have any particular love for it. But, again, you know where you have another consequence of this? I spoke with my Chinese friends, some leftist philosophers there. China has the same problem today. You have on one hand this old imperial tradition, where you have the Emperor who is not identified ethnically but just Emperor of all the people, and then you have this more nation-state logic of, “Han is the only true Chinese.” And it’s as if China, People’s Republic, as a state oscillates between these two, cannot decide. And unfortunately, it’s leaning more and more towards this nation-state Han predominance model, which is why then they have all the problems…Not even so much with Tibet (you know, we always hit the wrong target), Tibet at least gets lot of money to be developed, much worse things are happening to other minorities and so on.

So all I am saying, this is all, that part of the progressive project today, one part (the main one is how to get over capitalism and so on) definitely is to reinvent again a kind of, how should we call it, state—social body not founded on an ethnic exclusive identity. Which kind of puts this…this is at the second stage, this is…, don’t take me for an idiot, I am not for an emperor but… This is, in a way, how my Chinese friends explained to me (we shouldn’t do it) what is an unintended progressive element of having an emperor. Like in China they explained to me, an emperor was considered as divine, from heaven. That is to say not ethnically identified. And you know this is very important, to have the highest element not ethnically indentified. And this is all I meant. And it is a typical, even Marxist dialectic, in the sense that Marx often pointed this paradox how something which originally is a conservative phenomenon, remainder of the past… Then in a totally different situation it can become a moment of progress, so that it gets what would be the term, “transfunctionalized,” you know.

Or to now return to you, Turkey. The way I meant it, Ottoman Turkey, well the first step would be give to the Kurds full autonomy, and so on and so on. No. This would be my Ottoman Turkey, no? Where I don’t get it, this is I think your too European nation-state fear. As if, if you give more autonomy to Kurds somehow, I don’t know, your unity will be threatened or whatever, I don’t know. This is I think a purely European paranoia. The problem is not that you are not European, maybe you are here too Western European. This is why I think it is a good thing for you that it didn’t work with the European Union. The price will be paid by Europe, not by you. You have now a unique chance to develop a strong presence outside, Europe is, I think, unfortunately (I believe less and less in it), in decay. But you know what.

Let me go to another point here. You know European conservatives like to say, “Europe is in crisis, it’s in danger, European legacy is threatened.” It is, but where is the threat? Not the Islamic-fundamentalist and so on. They are maybe, not seriously, a minor, external… I think the true threat to Europe, to what is great in European legacy, the idea of secular democracy, equality, egalitarian society, feminism and so on, all this stuff. The true threat to it, I think, are precisely the defenders of Europe today. Those conservative, populist defenders developing all around, this anti-immigrant racist populism, this is the threat to Europe. So if Europe were to stop worrying about the threat to Europe, it would have been much better for Europe. I think if this defender of Europe like, I don’t know, in Hungary now: Orban. Or in Italy or whatever. If they come to power it’s the end of Europe.

So again, I hope this clarifies things because in today’s situation of global economy and so on, I don’t think you can say, “now we need the nation-state, then later in communism we will go beyond nation-state.” No, we have to start thinking already today because the new entities that you have, even in the throes of capitalism (my god), all successful—or many successful—capitalist economies, have this problem and learn to deal with them. Even United States… look if anyone, United States would have had much more a right than Western Europe to worry because Spanish population is in an extreme expansion there. Even the state of New York, but especially California and Texas are already being [....]. I was there, I know. All the public signs, you know traffic signs, in stores, it’s already English and in Spanish. And I am very critical of United States but whatever you say, apart from some crazy conservatives who are really marginal, nobody makes a problem out of it. And I think—I am very critical of the United States but—this is what we need. This… again I sincerely apologize if I appear as some kind of in-love-with-some-western-exotic-dream of the challenge, and then you have horror or whatever. Like all Europe with its own Top Kofte or whatever. No, it’s not this. What I think is that the fact that during the result of WWII, was that these two multinational empires were
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4 Comments

  1. Engin Kurtay
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Marvin,
    It’s very good that you also published the transcription of the speech, cause it is now possible to compare the speech word by word with my translation into Turkish. I become mad when I see all those censorings and fraudulent alterations of Zizek’s words in Turkish media. I wrote a reply to irrelevent critics in sendika.org and will translate this article into English in the coming weeks. It’s interesting to see these symptomatic reactions in ideological/political sphere!
    Regards
    Engin Kurtay

  2. Posted April 14, 2012 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    I also was shocked by “absurd” comments of Turkish media and even columnists. Communication had never been that much of mis-communication.

    Thanks for publishing this.

  3. Marvin Gonzalez
    Posted May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Engin. I am glad this is a helpful resource. Unfortunately it’s very easy to misconstrue Zizek meaning when you stuff it into soundbites.

  4. Marina V.
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Zizek is amazing! People have to believe in divine, that’s why – in my opinion – they don’t have their own identity. They are afraid of their own identity, actually!
    In addition, Europeans have got no power if they don’t defend their countries from immigrants, as they tremble in the Name of the Big Other…
    Though, as the Name of the Father is ambiguous, so is god…
    Thank you,
    Marina V.

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