Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On the migration-as-invasion motif

Back in August, a friend of mine, Andrew Barton wrote about the minor fictional sub-genre of invasion literature, which developed in Britain in the late 19th century in response to fears that the country was vulnerable to any number of military threats (first France, then Germany). It spread around the world, adopted in countries which feared their neighbours, adopted and maintained even to this day if less ardently.

The world has changed in the last hundred years; there's no longer a massive groundswell of anxiety in mainstream society about whether the Stars and Stripes or the Union Jack or whatever flag you choose to fly is about to be lowered for the last time. This may be less true in Australia: yesterday I saw a trailer for the upcoming movie Tomorrow When the War Began, which appears to be nothing if not Red Dawn down under, and Red Dawn itself is being remade with the Chinese, not the Russians, as the invaders of America.

Migration is frequently seen as a form of invasion, as an intrusion by one alien population into the domain of another, ostensibly for practical purposes (work, say, or school) but actually hoping to destroy this nation and replace it with their own. Recently, the motif has made it into young adult literature, in Australian writer John Marsden's Tomorrow series, which features an invasion and occupation by a Southeast Asian power that might well be Indonesia, this Indonesia interested in colonizing that island continent.

If invasion literature does come back in a big way, though, it won't be the same as the original nineteenth-century wave; it'll be informed by the fears of the present. What I wouldn't be surprised to see is a new wave of invasion literature based around the idea of the developing world invading the developed.

It was the story of MV Sun Sea, a vessel loaded with hundreds of Tamil refugees that made landfall on Vancouver Island last week, that got me thinking along these lines. Refugees are always a hot-button issue, and there will always be people who agitate for them to just be sent back where they came from - the fear of strange Others coming to your land unbidden from over the sea is, like Michael Valpy wrote in the Globe and Mail, a kind of primal xenophobia. It's also something we're going to have to learn how to deal with, because unless all our projections are off, the incipient climate and food and water crises of the next fifty years are going to generate a massive tide of people desperate to escape the privations of the developing world.

I can easily see a new wave of invasion literature tapping into the undercurrent of xenophobia that this would generate: stories about how these other, impoverished countries are trying to "steal" the developed world's wealth, and probably also their women - because, honestly, invasion literature would probably be a man's genre. Hell, I can even see the possibility of "liberal" invasion literature, tapping into the developed world's culpability in keeping the developing world depressed and vulnerable to climate shocks.

The prototypical migration invasion novel is Jean Raspail's 1973 :Le Camp des Saints/The Camp of the Saints, where weak-willed and excessively humanitarian Westerners do nothing as waves of immigrants from the Third World both domestic and foreign come and take over (Indians in Europe, Chinese in Siberia, African-Americans in the United States).

It goes without saying that migration-themed invasion literature contributes nothing at all good to discussions on migration and population. The simple fact is that migrants are normal people (gasp!), experiencing conditions at home which make them try to take advantage of a better environment elsewhere, whether in another region or another country. Perhaps most of the time migration is intended as a temporary phenomenon, as a way to earn economic or social capital that could be used at home, wether to sustain a community of origin or to make investments. When migrants stay, dDiaspora cultures do endure, but they haven't conquered and do eventually assimilate; even in the course of the great Germanic migrations into the Western Roman Empire, where Germanic-speaking Arian Christians ruled over Romance-speaking Roman Catholics, in the end the ruling elite assimilated to the majority population. Identifying waves of migration that aren't military invasions as attempts to destroy the receiving country is ridiculous, with militarized borders ironically discouraging migrants from leaving, on account of the costs and risks of going to and from the country where they make their living.

All I can say is that the language, the rhetoric used by people matters. Especially in a time when literally unbelievable irredentisms--Greater Mexico, Eurabia, Indian and Russian caliphates, Greater China--are discussed much more by fearful people than by the irredentists' nominal audience, and are acted upon as actually existing threats, honesty counts.


Damien Sullivan said...

Europeans into Americas and Australia and South Africa
Americans moving into Mexican Texas
Americans moving into Hawaii
Jews moving into Palestine

Are these not migrations as invasions, with replacement and marginalization of the original language and culture?

And going way back, Scots into Pictland, Angles and Saxons into Briton. More linguistic relacement, if not genetic.

Now, with the modern examples, one might argue they're colonialism rather than migration, or migrations performed by higher-tech and wealthier cultures, though I don't know if this would have been obvious ahead of time in the case of Texas, vs. migrations by poorer populations in smaller quantities.

Migrations aren't intended as invasions, but they can still have a transformative effect, and it seems more honest to acknowledge that and ask whether likely transformations are desirable. Likely transformations may in fact be small with most into-First World migration today, but still: Texas, Hawaii, Israel.

Randy said...

Let's start by defining "invasion" after Wikipedia: "a military offensive consisting of all, or large parts of the armed forces of one geopolitical entity aggressively entering territory controlled by another such entity, generally with the objective of either conquering, liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a territory, forcing the partition of a country, altering the established government or gaining concessions from said government, or a combination thereof." None of the population movements--not of Arabs and Turks to Europe, not of Indonesians to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, not of Mexicans to the United States, et cetera--remotely qualifies as an invasion, with the standard exception of the diplomatic apparatuses of the countries involved trying to guarantee the basic rights of their citizens. There's a fundamental category error here. One may as well say that I, a Prince Edward Islander, invaded Ontario and mean it sincerely.

The first three population movements you identify occurred either as a consequence of depopulation (usually disease, sometimes war) or of migrants taking advantage of a very thinly settled territory. Neither of these countries apply: South Africa isn't being repopulated by Chinese notwithstanding HIV/AIDS, Norden isn't being overwhelmed by migrants from the rest of Europe notwithstanding its wealth and low population densities, et cetera. These parallels aren't relevant to the modern world, or to the population movements I mentioned.

Israel is the exception that proves the rule. Jewish settlement in Palestine was a conscious effort, conducted for ideological not economic reasons. Organized by quasi-government agencies, building an economy independent of Arab labour and land ownership and resources, forming military units, trying to gain foreign sponsorship--that effort at state formation is something that has no parallels in the modern situation.

As for assimilation, while I grant you that there are some traits taken on, integration is defined by the norms and expectations of the receiving community, the interests of the immigrants themselves never mind the sending countries being secondary. French of North African descent mainly speak French, are fast becoming as likely to be actually existing Muslims as other French are to be actually existing Roman Catholics, vote for established political parties rather than their own, intermarry at a substantial rate with non-Muslims, and define themselves in relation to the particular laicist, republican, and centralized ethos of the Republic. Some invasion. Even in circumstances like Germany where integration has been significantly less successful for some groups, it's still the dominant society--leitkultur, if you will--that decides how things will work. Some invasions.

Anonymous said...

Another counter example. Jews in America. They refuse to assimilate.

Another counter example. The Chinese in almost any country they migrate to. They also refuse to assimilate and retain enormous amounts of their own culture.

It seems that the Thais have it right. Chinese schools have been outlawed in Thailand, so wealthy Chinese have to send their kids back to Hong Kong to ensure they learn Cantoness/Mandarin etc.

These two examples are interesting duals of each other since, just like the Jews in the US/Europe, the Chinese in most SE Asian countries can pass as locals and thus invade all the economically important spots and end up nepotistically controlling the country.

Anonymous said...

On inter-marriages and french muslims, the rate isn't that high. The INED survey "Trajectoires et Origines" tells us that the rate is high because of the citizenship given easily to 2d generation migrants. If you look two or three generations ahead, there's no such large-scale intermarriage.

The story of the Bannu Hillal tribe expansion in Northern Africa tells us: first immigration, then marriages, finishing with military invasion.
History never teaches us a one-way lesson!
Keep the good work,

Jerald said...

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Migration to Australia