France's most notorious and internationally best-known novelist Michel Houellebecq insisted Saturday that his new book “Submission”, which envisions a future France ruled by a Muslim government, is not a far-right racist scare story.
“Submission”, which is released in French on Wednesday, has been the subject of intense debate in recent weeks, particularly for its portrayal of Islam.
In 2001 Houellebeck described Islam as “the stupidest of all religions”, a position he has since vocally distanced himself from.
But his latest book has stirred criticism from all quarters and been attacked widely by the French media and on social media. France’s Muslim community accuse the author of inciting Islamophobia in a country with Europe’s biggest Muslim population.
Leading the barrage is Laurent Joffrin
, editor-in-chief of left-leaning newspaper Libération, who argues that the novel “will mark the date in history when the ideas of the far-right made a grand return to serious French literature”.
“This is a book that ennobles the ideas of the [far right anti-Europe and anti-immigration] National Front (FN) party,” he added.
Not so, said philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, a member of France’s prestigious AcademieFrançaise, who described Houellebecq as a man, “with his eyes wide open and who is not intimidated by political correctness”.
Profound changes to French society
“Submission” is set in 2022, at the end of a hypothetical second mandate for unpopular Socialist French President François Hollande, who is beaten in the first round of a presidential election by far right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen
and the fictional Mohammed Ben Abbes, who leads France’s first “Muslim Fraternity” party.
The French electorate, wary of seeing the FN take power, vote for Abbes, a Muslim moderate whose election provokes immediate and profound changes to French society.
Women change the way they dress and leave the workplace in droves to look after families, solving France’s unemployment problem, while the book asserts that the resulting increased conversion to Islam kills freedom of thought in an increasingly patriarchal society.
“I accelerate history, but no, I can’t say that the book is a provocation—if that means saying things I consider fundamentally untrue just to get on people’s nerves,” Houellebecq said. “I condense an evolution that is, in my opinion, realistic.”
“Yes, the book has a scary side. I use scare tactics,” he added. “Actually, it’s not clear what we are meant to be afraid of, [white far-right] nativists or Muslims. I leave that unresolved.”
‘A Muslim party makes a lot of sense’
And while Houellebecq freely admits that his vision of a future France is “not very realistic” because Islamic political unity in France “is the most difficult thing to image”, he insists that Muslims are dangerously unrepresented in mainstream French politics.
Muslims, he says, are “very far from the left and even further from the Green Party” while “one doesn’t really see why they would vote for the right, much less the extreme right which utterly rejects them”.
“For those reasons, it seems to me, a Muslim party makes a lot of sense,” he said.
Houellebecq, best known in the English-speaking world for his 1998 novel “Atomised” and his 2001 “Platform”, a story about a French couple who create a sex tourism business in Thailand that falls victim to Muslim terrorists, said he had read the Koran while researching his latest novel.
“The Koran turns out to be much better than I thought, now that I’ve reread it — or rather, read it,” he said. "The most obvious conclusion is that the jihadists are bad Muslims ... an honest reading will conclude that a holy war of aggression is not generally sanctioned, prayer alone is valid."
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