‘What if they were to come? I did not know who “they” were, but it seemed inevitable to me that the numberless disinherited people of the South would, like a tidal wave, set sail one day for this opulent shore, our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier.’
These words, taken from John Raspail’s novel Le Camp des Saints, encapsulate a certain fear formed in the era of falling empires, and postcolonial discourse. That is, the fear of what one might call reverse colonisation, where Europe, as the reverse victim, falls under the effects of colonisation from the nations it once controlled. The western world, starting with France, is overtaken by the ‘unbridled, menacing hordes’ (p.16) of the east and south, whose ‘invasion’ is blamed on the ‘weak-kneed’ actions of European countries. To Raspail, these countries do not respect their own culture. The author published this work in 1973, with the English version coming in 1975, and is intended as prophetic. The protagonist is left nameless in this apocalyptic fiction, but the writer of its story intended to leave his words for his ‘grandchildren’, in the hope that they could read his work ‘without too much disgust that my blood runs through their veins’ (p.103). This tirade on the future destruction of the white race was received with both positive and negative reviews; but which, after some years, had been left forgotten. That is until the 2010s, when the Syrian refugee crisis again stoked fears of colonisation from the “hordes of the east”. Raspail’s novel reached the best seller list again in 2011, and which, through the likes of Steve Bannon, has reached public discourse.
Although much of Raspail’s original scaremongering can be applied to much of the modern political landscape, it is indeed in France, the novel’s native country, that his ideas have had the most influence. For some French philosophers, the influx of Islamic migrants and refugees has triggered a nationalistic instinct and therefore a desire to protect a culture they believe is now under threat. One such thinker, named Renaud Camus, phrases it as the following:
‘You have one people, and in the space of a generation you have a different people.’
What he is quite abruptly describing here is one of his own theories, Le Grand Remplacement, or The Great Replacement, developed in his book of the same name. Through the average academic lens, Camus’ argument is a conspiracy theory that does not stand up to reason, but to him it is central to the idea that France, Europe and the people within them are tied ‘with their culture, their language, with their looks, with their preferences.’ When confronted with the inflated nature of his own statistics, the controversial philosopher retorted: ‘Since when, in history, did a people need ‘science’ to decide whether or not it was invaded and occupied?’ Those words do indeed summarise the feelings of reverse colonisation which exist today, and further identify them as belonging to populism and fundamentalism that ignores facts in preference of ideological fears. It is telling that, in an interview with Vox’s Sarah Wildman, Camus himself refers specifically to the fact that ‘the will not to be replaced was at the centre of resistance to colonialism’, and likens ‘the refusal of being a colony in India or in Africa’ as the same as France’s supposed modern predicament. The thinker’s fears are postcolonial, for they depend upon a time after traditional empires, in which a changing world order makes possible the reverse movement, or in the eyes of the xenophobic, the colonisation of people.
Such dismay at the shifting demographics of a post-empire Europe is not just common to this man, or his rightist companions, but is instead a cultural phenomenon which extends further into France’s history and beyond its own borders. The ex-president, Charles de Gaulle, for example, made clear that the ‘yellow’, ‘black’ and ‘brown’ Frenchmen should remain a ‘small minority’ in a country based upon the ‘white race, Greek and Latin culture, and the Christian religion’. In Britain, Winston Churchill warned of ‘militant mohammedanism’ or Islamic invasion. One does not need much help to think of Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, and his warning of a ‘total transformation’ of English culture in comparison to these. In current times, we might think of Farage, Tommy Robinson, or other anti-Islamic politicians who stoke fears of immigration and its effects, who intend for us to believe that Syrian refugees want to “rape and pillage” their way through European cities. The Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose party PVV has had various successes in his country’s politics, talks of ‘Islamic Testosterone Bombers’ who wish to harm the ‘women and girls’ of western nations. All in all, these figures and their followers represent a distinctly postcolonial fear of a reversal of history into the modern day, and that their western civilisation, which was formed intellectually during a period of rampant imperialism, may be turned upon its head. In essence, the colonial stereotyping of “eastern” people, has become a xenophobic fear of the other in the postcolonial centre.