Slavoj Zizek's piece on the refugees situation, which appeared in La Repubblica on September 11, was every bit as stimulating as his writing usually is. The parallels he draws to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's book On Death and Dying --which everyone should read -- are enthralling. And he gives a timely analysis of the root cause of the problem; the proliferation of "failed states." I fully share his ideas on how Europe should respond.
But I found the tone with which he describe the expectations of these refugees patronizing; is it really such a utopian dream to want basic safety, protection under the law, a job, and a social safety net? We're talking about minimum wage, not an "impossible request."
Everyone knows that people fleeing wars and social crises are just trying to survive. But I detect a hint of panic when Zizek dwells on the right of Europeans to maintain their current lifestyles; this right seems too obvious to bear mention, and the incoming refugees hardly appear to be exporting their own lifestyles to Europe. In fact, the opposite is true. An exodus this sudden and this massive carries with it a strong message -- further confirmed by the Islamic State's condemnation of their departure -- "Your system is better."
Historically, people have left their lands only when compelled by mighty forces; it's not a choice anyone makes lightly. And today we are facing the failure of an entire world that can't manage to meet its people's basic needs. This is not the final chapter of an ominous "clash of civilizations," but the tragic result of a crisis within a civilization. The greater Middle East is in the process of redefining itself, and we Europeans are experiencing the repercussions. But the people suffering most acutely from those shocks right now are Arab Muslims.
Setting aside, for a moment, the underlying causes and culprits (Zizek's explanation of global capitalism and colonialism is oversimplified, as population shifts have been taking place for ages), we should mention a few curious implications. Traditionally, observant Muslims have divided the world's countries into the "house of war" (Dar al-Harb), where Muslim law is not enforced, and the "house of Islam" (Dar al-Islam). But today, the house of Islam and that of war have become interchangeable. And by leaving, Syrians are voting with their feet: that is their message.
There is no legitimate camp on that side of the sea -- no justice, leader, or movement that inspires even an iota of trust among Syrians. Therefore, they are leaving en masse. And where are they going? They are coming to us in Europe, where they can, at the very least, live. Despite the long-standing prejudice, propaganda, ideology, and language barriers, they're saying that the west -- Europe -- is a better place to be.
A country shows its true colors through the way it treats its own citizens: this is what these refugees are saying. They know full well that we live differently here, that the culture is different, and that they might struggle. But they still prefer to come.
Ultimately, their migration asks difficult questions of Islam in the long run, and demands a careful self-examination. But we also need to look at the refugee situation as the tremendous opportunity it is: perhaps Europe is where the thousand-year dilemma of coexistence between religions and cultures will finally resolve itself. It is a political and cultural challenge: after 50 years we Western Europeans have finally managed to live together, despite the difficulties. We are still only halfway there, and there is a long way to go. And now it's Islam's turn.
Europe is becoming unavoidably diverse, and it is still under construction. This penetrates the roots of our culture, touches deep chords, and awakens old fears, but it also renews old dreams of coexistence -- dreams that have left traces across our cities and the entire Mediterranean. Right now, fear may seem to be winning. Let's look around: in many parts of Europe and the Mediterranean, coexistence was undermined and destroyed. But it could still come back to life. Everything can change.
History still holds surprises. In fact, it reintroduces the same challenges in different forms. They won't be easy to solve, but building walls is our way of repeating the same old mistakes, just as another terrified but peaceful population is crossing our borders to seek help. If we're going to make mistakes, at least let's not make the same old ones.
Yesterday's strangers are now our neighbors, and this fact is far more important than any old leftist diatribe on globalization, fault, and blame. Let us seize this moment.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.