“Those who attacked Žižek, those who sought to keep him from speaking, didn’t have a positive politics or even a critique. All they had was a posture. For these leftists the act of calling someone out, the denunciation, is an end in itself. Those who heckled Žižek, those who demanded to know why the Left Forum had allowed him to speak, they weren’t attempting to change anything. They were instead only seeking to exercise their collective power in this one instance.”
Douglas Lain writes, while describing a recent protest against Žižek speaking at Left Forum this year as an “illness on the Left“, that details of the protest were not important. Rather, it is “the character of the critique, the reasons Žižek’s new detractors gave for heckling him, and finally what is behind the call to no platform him” that matter. Unfortunately for all of us, Lain does not illuminate us further on those issues in his defense of Žižek, or perhaps more accurately, Žižek’s right to be warmly welcomed and accepted at Left Forum.
Instead, Lain snarks about Amy Goodman’s speech before Žižek’s performance as being “insufferably pious” before launching into defending a man who defends Roma pogroms in his native Slovenia. It’s not hard to understand why Lain was rankled by Goodman and could not wait to hear Žižek speak. While Amy Goodman paid tribute to Bree Newsome, who courageously scaled the flagpole in South Carolina to tear down what crackers call “the Stars and Bars”, Žižek told his front-row acolytes, via anonymous friend, that Native Americans, victims of the largest genocide in human history, cut down more trees and killed more buffalo than the slave-owning colonists who invaded the Western Hemisphere ever did. While Goodman warned the audience against the resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan, a murderous organization created to lynch those brought to this country in chains, Žižek insisted that we should – like the Klan does – seek to build our identity in relation to people of color by calling them the N-word.
I don’t know where Douglas Lain comes from. I don’t know what his class background is. And I certainly don’t know what he means by criticising the “character” of our critique of Žižek as being without substance or purpose.
After all, did Lain feel uncomfortable when he heard the words that came out of Žižek’s own mouth read back to him? Did he feel as though he was suddenly singled out in his enjoyment of Žižek’s rantings that – “of course” – terrorists and rapists were among the refugees in Europe? He insists that “supposedly racist or sexist quotes taken from [Žižek’s] lectures or essays“, were “either stripped of context or misinterpreted” – but was either Žižek or Lain too traumatized by our minuscule protest to say exactly how using the N-word is acceptable in any context?
Was he, like a young man who emailed me earlier today to call me “ugly” and “disgusting”, rather “embarrassed” by the presence of a handful of women and people of color heckling Žižek and insisting that he could not use the N-word on a stage once occupied by Cornell West and Harry Belafonte? At a forum where the “Left” – traditionally people who are in favor of smashing racism instead of welcoming it as “moderately progressive” discourse – did it seem embarrassing for Lain and others like him to find people who cared so deeply about these things?
Did Lain and his companions suddenly feel out of place as the vast majority of the audience — including Ms. Goodman, who was slated to appear on stage with Žižek but left as he began his tirade – walked out on such a performance?
Good! That’s what it feels like to be on the wrong side of a picket line.
It was never my intention to no platform Slavoj Žižek at Left Forum. It was my intention, as I stated at the Q&A section of his plenary, to find out how much money the organizers spent to bring a man who was known to propagate such racist, misogynist, and xenophobic ideas to the Left. I’m still waiting for my answer.
Days after I had a white man in Žižek audience jab his finger at me and insist it was “just fine” for him to call his black friends n—-rs, someone with access to the Left Forum twitter account suddenly revolted.
Our anonymous comrade stated the following:
“The Old guard is threatened by a decentralized movement being led by [people of color]. They cringe at the thought of being useless. They validate their existence by pontificating, criticizing and theorizing. Xenophobia, racism and Euro-centrism hides behind marxist language. The reluctance to rescind Zizek’s invite after deplorable comments on Syrian refugees speaks volumes about the old guard overseeing the [Left Forum]. He was kept on to back the old left (van)guard against what they see as the threat of “identity politics.” Over the last couple years there has been an internal struggle to broaden the content and demographic of the Left Forum. This will undoubtably come at the expense of the older, white traditional marxist left.”
A little more than an hour later, these tweets were wiped from the Left Forum’s twitter account. They followed comments that were critical of Žižek’s appearance also wiped from the Left Forum’s Facebook group. This action followed Kristin Lawler trying to grab the microphone away from me as I stood to read Žižek’s statements back to the audience assembled. And these actions all followed from the live feed covering the event being cut as soon as I opened my mouth to protest in front of people like Douglas Lain.
Who then, is being “no platformed” at Left Forum? Is it someone like Žižek, who the organizers immediately sought to defend and shield from critique? Is it the organizers, who viciously ignored and censored any dissent of their decisions? Is it someone like Lain, a left book publisher who uses his position to mediate left discourse?
No, I think not. Based on what happened, I’d say the people of color, women and our allies who Žižek insists encapsulate “white liberalism” in our refusal to accept racism and misogyny into our discourse at Left Forum were those who were no platformed. And we are the ones who will keep struggling while folks like Lain wring their hands and wonder where their legitimacy has run off to.