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Novel’s Immigration Warnings Become All Too Real

by Bruce Haring

A 1973 French apocalyptic novel is actually coming to life on the shores of Italy.

Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints looked to a time when European civilization is overrun by immigrants. The title is taken from the Bible’s “Revelation,” Chapter 20, which talks of a camp of saints being swamped by invaders. In the book’s case, the camp means Western civilization being overrun.

Raspail, a noted travel writer and novelist, portrayed his mass of immigrants as a million starving people fleeing turmoil in East India. The book’s theme of refugees playing upon the West’s compassion by commandeering ships in an effort to move to other countries and re-establish their homeland is eerily prescient. Like in today’s world, religious groups in the book attempt to aid the refugees (and are thanked in the novel by being killed), while those opposed to the immigration wave are cast as villains in the media.

Raspail’s genius was his use of source material to construct his dystopian narrative. He borrowed heavily from events of his time, using editorials, speeches, pastoral letters, laws, news stories, and other statements as devices to be uttered by his characters, reflecting back on their statements as sheer folly when Western society starts to break down.

The novel’s subject matter was as controversial in the ‘70s as it is today. The difference now is that the subject matter is no longer fantasy — the European Union, much like the US in its southern border crisis, is suddenly faced with conditions that parallel the novel’s premise.

Italy, as the southernmost point in Europe, is now a particular target for those fleeing turmoil in the Middle East and Africa. After a boating disaster last October which saw 366 people drown, the Italian government created Operation Mare Nostrum, intended to stop vessels from landing in Italy by intercepting them nearer their points of origin.

Although the action was originally intended to stop refugee boats (most of them departing from Libya), it’s turned into a rescue operation. While the EU has held meetings to deal with the immigration crisis, it’s just so much rhetoric and stalling, leaving the angry Italians coping with a crisis that their aging population can’t afford. Italy’s Mare Nostrum is costing an estimated $9 million pounds per month, according to the Journal. It services a large influx – more than 65,000 people have already arrived via boat to Italy this year.

Many Are Economic Refugees

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that many of the refugees arriving in Italy are from Syria, fleeing the civil war in that country. Others are from Eritrea and Somalia, leaving the chaos of those countries behind. But others — likely the vast majority of arrivals — are economic refugees. There’s good reason to head North for them: the World Bank puts the average gross national income per capita in the EU at $33,906. In sub-Saharan Africa, it’s $1,547.

While Italy bears the brunt of the traffic, the entire EU is in play. Immigrants can easily migrate to 26 other countries thanks to the Schengen Agreement, a treaty which abolished internal border controls in continental Europe. No papers needed to cross and go anywhere.

The Camp of the Saints is told in flashback, as an old man in France prepares what he believes to be his last supper before the angry hordes of refugees descend. As Mozart plays in the background, the man contemplates whether his civilization will survive.

It’s a question that the Europeans and the US must contemplate as people keep piling up at their borders. There’s no easy answer. But as Raspali saw it over 40 years ago, it’s a question of whether Western civilization as it now exists can be endlessly supportive of the rest of the world.

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