'The Camp of the Saints' is a work of speculative fiction, first published in France in 1973
and in English-speaking nations in 1975
. It was written by Jean Raspail
, an award-winning writer of some eccentricity (in 1998 he single-handedly invaded Minquiers
, one of the smaller Channel Islands
, reclaiming it from the British for the imaginary land of Patagonia
, of which he is king). 'Saints' is an extremely controversial novel; just as Salman Rushdie
was held under a fatwa
for producing 'The Satanic Verses
', so are people excommunicated for mentioning the book in polite company without immediately condemning it.
The book's plot concerns 100 rickety boats which, over the course of three days in the early 21st century, are headed for the Mediterranean coast of France. Within the boats are 800,000 Indian citizens who plan to claim asylum in France; a cast of French citizens await them whilst the government wonders whether to bomb the boats into oblivion or let them land. Raspail posits a situation in which the French army is left to choose between what Raspail believes to be France's extinguishment, or machine-gunning boats filled with starving children - an action which would preserve France, but undermine the very civilisation Raspail believes in.
Raspail wrote the book as a tragedy on the inevitable submergement of Western civilisation, just as that same civilisation submerged the Native American and Aborigine peoples before it. Raspail's belief is that western liberal values are fundamentally better than those of other nations, but that they are ultimately suicidal and doom the west to destruction; that the society which replaces it will not nearly be so kind, and that a mixture of guilt, self-loathing, and altruism create a climate in which the pinnacle of western achievment is its self-genocide. This was strong stuff in 1973 and one is likely to be expelled if seen with the book in a university campus.
'Saints' is a fascinating, uneasy, and slightly repellent thing, for whatever message Raspail has is buried by his undisguised hatred for liberal people and non-Christian non-whites; the refugees are little more than semi-human plague carriers, whilst all other countries appear to be plotting to destroy France (which may well be true). Of France's liberal politicians Raspail argues that they
"...would empty out all our hospital beds so that cholera-ridden and leprous wretches could sprawl between their clean white sheets and who would cram our brightest, cheeriest nurseries full of monster children..."
Ultimately this undermines the book's potential effect, and many people dismiss it outright as a racist tract, indeed, it is a racist tract, and both the Ku Klux Klan and the BNP cite it on their websites as required reading. The irony is that the novel is is otherwise an extremely prescient work of speculative fiction, in that it came true; on February 17, 2001, a ship containing 1,000 Iraqi Kurds beached itself off Nice, whilst in the UK and Europe a lack of political will has led to widespread abuse of the asylum system, to the anger of both the native population and legitimate immigrants who have taken the time and trouble to go through official channels. France has not yet collapsed, but the steady rise of the right wing and the continued popularity of the Daily Mail cannot be dismissed as a random twitch of public taste; everything has a backlash eventually. Raspail ended his novel with the complete destruction of western civilisation, with the remaining patriots bombed by their own governments, whost liberal politicans had fled to Switzerland. It remains to be seen how things transpire in real life.
Science fiction has long been a vehicle for allegorical points about contemporary society; Raspail's mistake was to not make his point in a sufficiently abstract way (robots, for example - if he had used a plague of self-replicating robots instead of Indian people, he would not have got into trouble). Nonetheless the controversy surrounding the book did not seem hurt his career, perhaps because French authors are expected to be shocking; in 1997 he won the $20,000 T S Eliot Award for Creative Writing and appears to be still going strong.