- The Migrant as Colonist:Dystopia and Apocalypse in the Literature of Mass Migration
The urgency and even alarmism in current public and political discourses surrounding the global phenomena we have come to call the ongoing "migrant crisis" and the perpetual "War on Terror" can hardly be overstated, inflamed and instrumentalized as they are by various far-right entities across the world. "Apocalypse" is a term with increasing purchase among journalists, bloggers, and politicians across the spectrum to describe numerous factors surrounding mass migration, whether it be the dire circumstances compelling people to leave the Global South, the state of the "host" nations in Global North, or the future of the world at large.1 Apocalyptic motifs similarly appear in a recent spate of speculative fictions that imagine the decimation of the Western, democratic, capitalist, "civilized" world in the wake of mass migration into Europe, North America, or indeed any nation-state deemed more stable than that from which people emigrate en masse. [End Page 653]
In a study of recent Australian speculative fiction, DOLORES HERRERO has dubbed this the "Golden Age of post-apocalyptic thinking," prompted by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and ensuing "War on Terror." In the new incarnation of the apocalyptic genre, "people are worried about almost everything: war, viruses, fundamentalisms of all kinds, ecological global disasters, genetically modified humans, computers that can no longer be kept under control, global warming, etc."2 The proximity of the coming apocalypse is a shared feature in these works, yet where the existential threat lies within the narrative can differ greatly. The threat may be perceived as the kind of military violence, political upheaval, or climate disaster that compels people to migrate away from their homelands. Contrarily, the threat may be perceived as the arrival of those very migrants themselves. This difference in vantage point has immense ideological weight in determining what a given apocalyptic narrative pinpoints as the cause of impending end-times, and indeed, what it actually means for Western civilization to crumble.
Recent examples from the Anglophone literary sphere include Lawrence Hill's novel, The Illegal (2014), set in a version of Canada called "Freedom State" that stages Hunger Games-style competitions for migrants to acquire citizenship; On Such a Full Sea (2014), Chang-Rae Lee's fable-like novel set in an Asiatic incarnation of America after the collapse of democracy; and Merlinda Bobis's magical realist Locust Girl: A Lovesong (2016), which depicts the perils of bordercrossing in an Australia that has suffered a catastrophic environmental event. This genre has entered the mass market as well: for example, Robert Ferrigno's Assassin trilogy (2006–2009), which speculates that twenty years from now a war-torn United States has severed into an Islamic Republic and a Christian Confederacy. But contemporary literature that specifically imagines the future Europe as an apocalyptic dystopia dominated by migrants takes on an added historical valence: the spatial and ideological logic of mass migration is portrayed to be that of colonization in reverse. By extension, contemporary migrants in Europe are understood, in effect, to play the part of colonizers. The migrant dystopia that mirrors and inverts the language of colonization highlights the [End Page 654] conceptual link between the formative period of the colonial project and the current "crisis" of migration. The direction of migration toward Europe seems to index a break from recognizable reality, landing us somewhere along the spectrum between magical realism, dystopia, and full-blown apocalypse.
This dystopian turn in literature complicates turn-of-the-century debates surrounding multiculturalism, communalism, laïcité (or secularism), and racial disharmony. If, for instance, in the United Kingdom Zadie Smith's White Teeth was roundly lauded in 2000 for celebrating the cosmopolitan ethnic rainbow of millennial London, then what do the dystopian novels featuring British South Asian immigrants tell us about a post-9/11, post-7/7 U.K.? Preceded by Salman Rushdie's vision of an immigrant-filled London as a Dante-esque hellscape in The Satanic Verses, many works from Britain and Europe more broadly now imagine postcolonial immigration in terms ranging from the parabolic to the apocalyptic, thereby undoing the paradigms of colonial utopianism...