The Paris Attacks and a Disturbance in a Cupola

Slavoj Žižek on the Paris Attacks
People kneel as they light candles to pay tribute to victims near the site of the attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, France, November 18, 2015. Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Yes, the Friday 13th Paris terrorist attacks should be unconditionally condemned, but... no, no alleviating circumstances, it is just that they should be REALLY condemned, for which more is needed than the simple pathetic spectacle of solidarity of all of us (free, democratic, civilized people) against the murderous Muslim Monster.

In the first half of 2015, Europe was preoccupied by radical emancipatory movements (Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain), while in the second half the attention shifted to the “humanitarian” topic of the refugees—class struggle was literally repressed and replaced by the liberal-cultural topic of tolerance and solidarity.

With the Paris terror killings on Friday, November 13, even this topic (which still refers to large socioeconomic issues) is now eclipsed by the simple opposition of all democratic forces caught in a merciless war with forces of terror—and it is easy to imagine what will follow: paranoiac search for ISIS agents among the refugees, etc. (Media already gleefully reported that two of the terrorists entered Europe through Greece as refugees.)

The greatest victims of the Paris terror attacks will be refugees themselves, and the true winners behind the platitudes in the style of je suis Paris will be simply the partisans of total war on both sides.

This is how we should REALLY condemn the Paris killings: not just by engaging in pathetic shows of anti-terrorist solidarity but to insist on the simple cui bono question. There should be no “deeper understanding” of the ISIS terrorists (in the sense of “their deplorable acts are nonetheless reactions to European brutal interventions”), they should be characterized as what they are, as the Islamo-Fascist obverse of the European anti-immigrant racists—the two sides of the same coin.

But there is another, more formal, aspect that should give us to think—the very form of the attacks: a momentary brutal disruption of normal everyday life. Significantly, the attacked objects do not stand for military or political establishment but for everyday popular culture —restaurants, a rock venue and a soccer stadium. Such a form of terrorism—a momentary disturbance—mainly characterizes attacks on developed Western countries, in clear contrast to many Third World countries where violence is a permanent fact of life. Think about daily life in Congo, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Where are outcries of international solidarity when hundreds die there?

We should remember NOW that we live in a “cupola” where terrorist violence is a threat which just explodes from time to time, in contrast to countries where (with participation or complicity of the West) daily life consists of uninterrupted terror and brutality.

In his In the World Interior of Capital, Peter Sloterdijk demonstrates how, in today's globalization, the world system completed its development and, as a capitalist system, came to determine all conditions of life. The first sign of this development was the Crystal Palace in London, the site of the first world exhibition in 1851: the inevitable exclusivity of globalization as the construction and expansion of a world interior whose boundaries are invisible, yet virtually insurmountable from without, and which is inhabited by one and a half billion winners of globalization; three times this number are left standing outside the door.

Consequently, “the world interior of capital is not an agora or a trade fair beneath the open sky, but rather a hothouse that has drawn inwards everything that was once on the outside.” This interior, built on capitalist excesses, determines everything: “The primary fact of the Modern Age was not that the earth goes around the sun, but that money goes around the earth.”

After the process that transformed the world into the globe, “social life could only take place in an expanded interior, a domestically and artificially climatized inner space.” As cultural capitalism rules, all world-forming upheavals are contained: “No more historic events could take place under such conditions―at most, domestic accidents.”

What Sloterdijk correctly pointed out is that capitalist globalization does not stand only for openness and conquest, but also for a self-enclosed globe separating the Inside from its Outside. The two aspects are inseparable: Capitalism's global reach is grounded in the way it introduces a radical class division across the entire globe, separating those protected by the sphere from those outside its cover.

The latest Paris terrorist attacks, as well as the flow of refugees, are momentary reminders of the violent world outside of our Cupola, a world which, for us, insiders, appears mostly on TV and online reports about distant violent countries, not as part of our reality. That's why it is our duty to become fully aware of the brutal violence that pervades outside our Coupola—not only religious, ethnic and political violence, but also sexual violence.

This aspect should in no way be dismissed as marginal: From Boko Haram and Mugabe to Putin, anti-colonialist critique of the West more and more appears as the rejection of the Western “sexual” confusion, and as the demand for returning to the traditional sexual hierarchy.

I am, of course, well aware how the immediate export of Western feminism and individual human rights can serve as a tool of ideological and economic neocolonialism (we all remember how some American feminists supported the U.S. intervention in Iraq as a way to liberate women there, while the result is exactly the opposite). But one should nonetheless absolutely reject to draw from this the conclusion that Western leftists should make here a “strategic compromise,” silently tolerating “customs” of humiliating women and gays on behalf of the “greater” anti-imperialist struggle.

So let’s bring class struggle back—and the only way to do it is to insist on global solidarity of the exploited and oppressed. Without this global view, the pathetic solidarity with Paris victims is a pseudo-ethical obscenity.

In spite of all the obscurity surrounding the influx of refugees into Europe, many among them undoubtedly try to escape terrifying conditions in their country. A day after the Paris attacks, one of them dryly commented on TV: “Imagine a city like Paris where the state of exception that reigns there today is simply a permanent feature of daily life for months if not for years. This is what we are escaping from.” One cannot ignore the moment of truth in this statement.