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Slavoj Žižek: Sexual is Political

Both in the Islamic State and the United States of America

In the Palestinian social media, a fight is going on, which is being ignored by the West. There are two people in the foreground:

Mohamed Asaf and Tamer Nafar. Asaf is a pop singer from Gaza, very popular not only among the Palestinians, but in the entire Arab world and even in some places in Europe. He is supported by Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian authorities; they proclaimed him the cultural Ambassador of Palestine. With a beautiful voice he sings soft love and patriotic songs in a pop style. Politically he is a unifying personality, since he is above political divisions, supporting only the freedom for Palestine. In March this year Asaf said in an interview, that in the name of "sustaining the tradition" he won't allow his sister to sing in public. Tamer Nafar, a Palestinian rapper, who is the main actor of Udi Aloni's film Junction 48 and also the co-screenwriter of the film, replied to Asaf in a touching open letter:

"If any other pop singer would have said: 'In accordance with our tradition women can't sing in public and I personally value this tradition, therefore I can't let my sister sing,' I would protest and confront him, but because it's about Asaf, our Cinderella from Gaza, I am left feeling still angry, but above all, I'm sad.

Just like the Palestinians, who in support of Mohamed Asaf first gathered on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, in the diaspora, refugee camps and inside the area, out of which they squeezed us in the year of 1948, I also call on Asaf to join us at these same streets to give incentive to the girl from Yemen, Gaza, Morocco, Jordania or Lid - to the girl, which dreams to sing, dance, write and compete on the Arab Talents. Because we are Palestinians, we have to fight against the Israeli apartheid and gender inequalities. I dream for us to walk with hand in hand, for a woman to hold a man by his hand in the

fight against the walls that divide us. It's not smart to march each by himself and simultaneously call for unity!

Do you want to talk about tradition? From personal experiences I can tell you, that I was an angry kid from the ghetto in Lide. I only calmed down after my mother sung to me. This is the tradition I want to conserve! Therefore, our dear Arab sisters, sing, as loud as you can, cross borders, so we will calm down. Freedom for everyone or for nobody!"

Aloni's film talks about the problematic position of young Israeli Palestinians (which are the descendants of families that after the war of 1948 stayed in Israel), whose everyday life means constant struggle on two fronts: against the repression of the Israeli state and against the fundamentalist pressures inside his own community - Nafar in his songs makes ridicule of honour killings, the victims of which are Palestinian girls, and because of this he is even attacked by the Western supporters of the Left. Something strange happened to him in a recent visit to the USA. When in the student campus of the University of Columbia in New York he sang a song, in which he protests honour killings, some anti-Zionist students attacked him for dealing with this topic - they accused him that in this way he is only propagating the Zionist view of Palestinians as primitive barbarians (and added, that if honour killings actually do exist, Israel is responsible for them, since it is because of the Israeli occupation that the Palestinians are forced to live in poor conditions which is why their society can't modernize). Nafar replied in a dignified way: "When you criticize me, you are criticizing my community in English, to make a good impression on your radical professors. When I sing in Arabic, I sing to protect the women in my 'neighbourhood'."

He tried to say, that Palestinians don't need the condescending help of Western Liberals; even less they need silence about honour killings because of the "respect" of western leftists towards the Palestinian way of life. These two aspects - the enforcing of Western values as universal human rights and the respect towards different cultures, regardless of the horrors which can be a part of these cultures - are two sides of the same ideological mystification. A lot has been written about how perverse the generalities of fundamental human rights are, how in secret they give advantage to Western cultural values and norms (the individual has priority before the community and so on). But to this

insight we should add that multicultural anti-colonial advocacy of the different ways of life is also false: it hides the conflicts inside all of these ways of life, it justifies horrible acts, sexism and racism as expressions of a culture, of which we don't have the right to judge based on foreign, Western values.

have the right to judge based on foreign, Western values. Toilets for everyone in the student

Toilets for everyone in the student campus in the city Rancho Bernardo in California.

The polemics between Asaf and Nafar is a part of a larger struggle, connected to sexual difference, which gives an additional meaning to the slogan from 1968: Sexual is political. Decades ago Ayatollah Khomeini wrote: "We don't fear sanctions. We don't fear a military invasion. We tremble before the invasion of Western immorality." Khomeini's words about the fear and about what from the West a Muslim should be most afraid of, has to be understood literally:

Muslim fundamentalists have no problem with brutal economic competition and military clashes, their true enemy aren't the Western economic neocolonialism and military violence, but Western "immoral" culture. The same goes for Putin's Russia, where conservative nationalists present the fight with the West as a cultural one, in the last instance focused on sexual difference: when the Austrian transvestite won Eurovision Putin himself said at a dinner in Saint Petersburg: "The Holy Bible talks about two genders, male and female, and the main

purpose of their union is to give birth to children." As usual Žirinovski was less restrained and marked the outcome of the Eurovision pop contest as 'the end of Europe'. "Our outrage is unconstrainable. There are no more men and women in Europe, there is only it." The minister's deputy Dmitrij Rogozin tweeted, that Eurovision showed the supporters of European integration the future of Europe, which are bearded girls. In this figure of a bearded lady as the symbol of United Europe lies a kind of quasi-poetic unnatural beauty (for a long time the bearded lady was a part of the standard cast of freaks in cheap circuses) - no wonder, that Russia among the calls to a new cultural Cold War didn't want to play the Eurovision song to its television viewers. The logic is the same as Homeini's: the fear is not aroused by either army or economy, but by immoral degradation, the threat of sexual difference. In many African and Asian countries even the movement for the rights of homosexuals is understood as the expression of the cultural influence of capitalist globalisation and it's undermining of traditional social and cultural values, so that the fight against homosexuals looks like an aspect of anti-colonial struggle. Doesn't the same hold for Boko Haram? For its members the liberation of women represents the most visible feature of the destructive cultural influence of capitalist modernisation, so that Boko Haram (which name could be translated approximately as 'Western education is forbidden, especially the education of women') can understand and present itself as a force, which fights the destructive influence of modernisation, specifically with the enforcement of hierarchic rules for the relation between sexes. The question is then, why Muslims, which undoubtedly experienced exploitation, domination and other destructive and humiliating aspects of colonisation, in their responses attack that which is (at least for us) the best of Western heritage: our advocacy of equality and personal freedom, with a healthy dose of irony combined with making fun out of every authority. The answer is obvious: their goal is carefully chosen. The Liberal West is for them not unbearable only because of exploitation and violent domination, but also because, to add insult to injury, because it represents the brutal reality in the guise of its opposite: freedom, equality and democracy.

Boko Haram only took the logic of normative sexual differentiation to the extreme. The presentation of sexual difference, which gives a specific gender a specific role, and with this establishes a symbolic norm, which expands itself even to urinary segregation. It's ironic, that

separate toilets are the main issue of a wild legal and ideological battle, especially in the USA. A group of 80 directors of companies mainly from the Silicon Valley (headed by the owner of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, and the director of Apple, Thom Cook) on 29. March this year signed a letter to the governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, and in it condemned the law, which forbids the use of public toilets for transsexuals, which are meant for the members of the other sex. "We

are disappointed because of your decision to endorse this divisive law," they wrote in the letter. " The majority of the business community is all the time warning lawmakers at all levels that these kinds of laws are bad for the employees and for business." (The law states a person has to use public washrooms and toilets according to their biological sex, and not the sex with which it identifies. Transsexuals would have to officially change their sex on their birth certificate, to be able to use the appropriate toilets.) So it is clear, what big Capital thinks: Tom Cook can easily forget about hundreds of thousands of Foxconn's workers in China, who in slave conditions build Apple products - his big act of solidarity with the oppressed is a demand to do away with sexual


hand in hand with the theory of political correctness.

As usual, even in this case a big company proudly goes

correctness. As usual, even in this case a big company proudly goes Conchita Wurtz and Jean

Conchita Wurtz and Jean Paul Gaultier, Wienna 2015.

So what is transsexuality? It means that an individual feels a disparity between the biological sex (female or male, which society assigns him at birth) and the subjective identity. That's why it doesn't cover only "men, who feel and act like women" and the other way around, but also

a very complex composition of additional sexually unusual positions,

which are outside the binary opposition between male and female:

duogender, trigender, allgender, variable gender and also nongender. The vision of social relations that is supported by transsexuality is the so-called postsexuality: the social, political and cultural movement, the members of which advocate the voluntary absolvation of gender, which is possible because of the recent advance of science in biotechnology and reproductive technology. Their plan does not concern only scientific possibilities, but is also ethically justified: the premise of postsexuality presupposes, that social, emotional and cognitive consequences of fixed gender roles is an obstacle to perfect human emancipation. The society, where sexual reproduction would be abolished (or in which other variations are also possible, so that for example a woman could be the father of her own child and so on), will give rise to unheard of new possibilities to experiment with freedom, society and emotions. It will abolish the difference because of which all later social hierarchies and forms of exploitation are maintained.

We could say that postsexuality is the truth of transsexuality: the indiscriminate variability of sexual identity reaches its unavoidable peak with the abolition of sex as such. Let's remember Marx's excellent analysis of how in the midst of the French Revolution in 1848 the conservative republican Party of order functioned as the coalition of two branches of Royalists (Orleanists and Legitimists) in a "nameless kingdom of the Republic": one can be a Royalist generally only by being

a Republican - and similarly one can be sexualized generally only by

being asexual.

The first thing to note about transsexuality is that it is connected to a general tendency in today's prevailing ideology of the rejection of every particular "belonging" and the celebration of the "variability" of every identity. Thinkers just as Frederic Lordon recently emphasized the inconsistency of "cosmopolitan" intellectuals, which oppose nationalism and advocate "freedom from belonging" and in extremis usually reject every search for roots in every affiliation to a particular

ethnic or cultural identity as almost protofascist. Lordon compared this secret belonging of the self-proclaimed universalists without roots with the oppressive reality of refugees and illegal immigrants, from which the fundamental rights are taken and which desperately search for any form of belonging (for example a new nationality). Lordon is completely right in this sense: it's not hard to notice, that "cosmopolitan" intellectual elites in their contempt towards the local population, which sticks to its roots, belong to their own, completely exclusive circles of elites without roots and that their cosmopolitan lack of roots is itself a sign of a deep and strong belonging. This is exactly why it is extremely indecent to connect elite "nomads", who travel the world, and refugees, which desperately search for a safe place, towards which they would feel they belong - it is the same indecency as if we would compare a rich Western woman on a diet and a starving refugee.

Furthermore we here stumble upon an old contradiction: the more somebody is on the edge and excluded, the more he is allowed to express his ethnic identity and a specific way of life. This is the politically correct thinking: people far away from the Western world can in entirety express their special ethnic identity, without being

proclaimed as essentialist rasist identitarians (the natives of America,


males, the more objectionable this claim becomes: Asians are OK,

maybe also Italians and Irish, but with Germans and Scandinavians it's

But this kind of prohibition of the expression

of the identity of white people (as a model of the oppression of others),

already objectionable


the more we come close to the infamous white heterosexual

even though it might seem like an admission of guilt, nonetheless reflects a fundamental opinion, that because of this prohibition of the expression of identity they become the general neutral middle, the starting point, from which the truth about the other's oppression is accessible. The imbalance influences also in the opposite direction: the impoverished European countries expect that the developed Western European countries will take over the entire burden of multicultural openness, while they themselves could treat themselves with patriotism.

The same tension can also be detected in transsexuality: transsexual people, who seem transagressive, are resisting every prohibition and can simultaneously act hypersensible, they feel oppressed because of a forced choice ("Why should I have to decide if I'm a man or a woman?")

and they need a space, where they could wholly recognize themselves. If they so proudly insist on their 'trans-' beyond every classification,

why do they at the same time so steadily insist on their own proper space? Why do they not react to separate toilets with heroic indifference - "I am a transsexual, a little of this, and a little of that, dressed as a woman and so on, therefore I can choose whichever door I will enter?" Don't "ordinary" heterosexuals have similar problems, since they themselves sometimes can't recognize themselves in the prescribed sexual identity? We could even say, that being a man (or a woman) doesn't mean an identity, but is more of a way of avoiding a

specific identity

demands will arise: why not a marriage between more than two people? What justifies the limitation to a binary form of marriage? Why not even marriage with animals - isn't it now, when we know the details of animal emotions, the exclusion of the possibility to marry an animal is an undoubtable case of species differentiation, an unjust privileging of

the human species?

There is only one way out of this blind valley, and it is the same we have with garbage disposal,- these are trash cans. Public trash cans are today more and more differentiated: we have special cans for paper, glass, metal cans, carton, plastic, and so on. Even there sometimes complications arise: If I have to throw out a waxed paper bag or a notebook with plastic binding, where should I throw it, into paper or packaging? No wonder, that there are on the trash cans along with the general sings also detailed instructions: PAPER: books, newspapers and so on, but NOT books with hard covers or in plastic wrapping and so on. In these cases the proper disposal of trash could take up to half of an hour or more, to read all of the instructions and to properly decide. To make it simpler we also have a trash can for other garbage, where we put everything, which doesn't fit what is listed on the other

trash cans - again we have along with special trash cans for paper, plastic and so on also a trash can as such, a general trash can. Shouldn't we also do the same with toilets? Because no division can satisfy all of

the identities, we would put along with the two (three entrances an additional door for a "general gender".

he reason for the inefficiency of all of these classifications, which try to be as detailed as possible, is not the empirical richness of identities, which resist classification, but exactly the opposite, the insistence that

And we can easily predict that new anti-differential



the differences between sexes are real, "impossible" (because they resist classification) and at the same time unavoidable. The multiplicity of gender aspects (male, female, homosexual, duosexual, transsexual and so on) circles around an antagonism which forever eludes it. Homosexuals are male, lesbians are women, transsexuals establish a passage from one to the other, to dress into the member of the other

sex is a combination of both, duosexuality floats between them way we turn it, there is a duality somewhere.

That's why it's important to emphasize the opposition that appears today: on the one hand the violent imposition of a solid symbolic form of sexual differentiation as the key move against the social disintegration, on the other hand a perfect transsexual transition of genders, the dispersion of sexual differences into a multiplicity of forms. On one part of the world abortion and marriage between homosexuals are supported as a clear sign of moral progress, elsewhere inflamed homophobic campaigns and protests against abortion appear.

The big mistake when dealing with this opposition is to search for the proper balance between the extremes - instead of this we should emphasize what is the same in both extremes: a peaceful world in which the agonistic tension of sexual differentiation vanishes, be it either in a clear and solid hierarchic division of sexes or in a joyful variability of the desexualized universe. It is not hard to discern in this dreaming of a peaceful world of a society without social antagonisms, or to put it in other words, without class struggle.


Text published in the Slovene journal Mladina 16 on 22. April 2016, translated from Slovene to English and published without authorization by Simon Gros on 23. April