Charlie Hebdo Massacre

The Man on Charlie Hebdo's Cover: Michel Houellebecq's Novel of France Turned Muslim


On the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the magazine's cover featured a caricature of controversial French author and provocateur Michel Houellebecq sporting a wizard's hat. "Predictions of the seer Houellebecq," reads the cover copy. The Houellebecq cartoon offers a pair of predictions: "In 2015, I'll lose my teeth," and, "In 2022, I'll observe Ramadan."

What's going on? Houellebecq's new novel, Soumission (Submission) is set in a near-future France ruled by a Muslim political party. Scheduled to be published in France on Wednesday, it had already inspired some highly charged controversy over whether its message—and its author—was Islamophobic. According to Laurent Joffrin, the editor in chief of the leftist paper Liberation, the book's publication "will mark the date in history when the ideas of the far-right made a grand return to serious French literature." (Joffrin refers to Houellebecq as "serious" because he is the winner of several French literary awards.)

Like Charlie Hebdo itself, Houellebecq has been in trouble over his remarks on Islam before. (Indeed, Charlie Hebdo and Houellebecq are a nearly perfect pairing of Gallic provocation.) His 2001 novel, Platform, contains explicitly anti-Islamic passages, and in an interview he gave at the time, he expressed his belief that "Islam is the most stupid" of the monotheistic religions. (He also said he found monotheist belief itself to be "the act of a cretin.")  Houellebecq was sued for inciting hatred against Muslims, but the court acquitted him on the grounds that criticism of religion was a legitimate activity.

In Soumission, a moderate Muslim-led party wins the French presidency with broad support in order to prevent National Front leader Marine Le Pen from winning the office. (She does win the office in a 2011 French political fantasy: Les Deux-Cents Jours de Marine Le Pen.)

The next day, according to a brief description in The Paris Review, "Women abandon Western dress. Most begin wearing long cotton smocks over their trousers; encouraged by government subsidies, they leave the workplace in droves. Male unemployment drops overnight. In formerly rough neighborhoods, crime all but disappears. Universities become Islamic. Non-Muslim teachers are forced into early retirement unless they convert and submit to the new regime."

In the wake of the massacre and the death of close friends on the Charlie Hebdo staff, Houellebecq has suspended his promotional appearances and left Paris for an undisclosed destination.

However, Houellebecq recently gave an extended interview about his book to France Info, which has been translated and posted by The Paris Review.

In writing his novel, he says

I tried to put myself in the place of a Muslim, and I realized that, in reality, they are in a totally schizophrenic situation. Because overall Muslims aren't interested in economic issues, their big issues are what we nowadays call societal issues. On these issues, obviously, they are very far from the left and even further from the Green Party. Just think of gay marriage and you'll see what I mean, but the same is true across the board. And one doesn't really see why they'd vote for the right, much less for the extreme right, which utterly rejects them. So if a Muslim wants to vote, what's he supposed to do? The truth is, he's in an impossible situation. He has no representation whatsoever. It would be wrong to say that this religion has no political consequences—it does. So does Catholicism, for that matter, even if the Catholics have been more or less marginalized. For those reasons, it seems to me, a Muslim party makes a lot of sense.

Asked why he addressed his subject "in such a dramatically exaggerated way," he cited "my mass market side, my 'thriller' side."

The France Info interviewer suggests that Soumission is part of a paranoid right-wing reaction to Muslim immigration. Such authors see Islam hanging like a threat over French culture, deforming it. Among the most outspoken of these works is Eric Zemmeur's Le Suicide français (France's Suicide).

Asked to compare his novel to such books, Houellebecq says"I don't think we are witnessing a French suicide. I think we are seeing practically the opposite. Europe is committing suicide and, in the middle of Europe, France is struggling desperately to survive… What's more, for people to convert is a sign of hope, not a threat. It means they aspire to a new kind of society." 

Overall, Houellebecq argues, "You can't really describe this book as a pessimistic prediction. At the end of the day, things don't go all that badly, really." (Except for the women, which Houellebecq agrees is "a whole other problem.") As for who plays the villain in his book, he says, "It's not clear what we are meant to be afraid of, nativists or Muslims. I leave that unresolved."

Houellebecq admits in the course of the interview that some of his answers may be contradicted by his novel (or vice versa). You can read the whole thing here, with its many references to the positivist philosopher August Comte, the decadent novelist J.K. Huysmans, a dismissal of the Enlightenment, and Houellebecq's own current belief that religion is necessary to society. Readers looking for a pulp yarn about an imperialist Islam will have to look elsewhere. (Tom Kratman's Caliphate, a work of military sf, may fit that bill.)

Houellebecq's book will be published in English in September.

One last point of possible interest. Houellebecq's Wikipedia page says that "a recurrent theme in Houellebecq's novels is the intrusion of free-market economics into human relationships and sexuality. Whatever (original title, Extension du domaine de la lutte, which literally translates as 'extension of the domain of the struggle') alludes to economic competition extending into the search for relationships. As the book says, a free market has winners and losers, and the same applies to relationships in a society that does not enforce monogamy. Westerners of both sexes already seek exotic locations and climates by visiting developing countries in organized trips. In Platform, the logical conclusion is that they would respond positively to sex tourism organized and sold in a corporate and professional fashion."

In Houellebecq's world, it turns out that submission has as many possible causes as it has happy adherents.

NEXT: Friday A/V Club: The Muhammad Movie That Never Was

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  1. CAIR would do the same in the U.S., if they could. France is much closer to CAIR’s compatriots in France actually doing it.

  2. You can read the whole thing here, with its many references to the positivist philosopher August Comet, the decadent novelist J.K. Huysmas

    Don’t drop names you can’t spell, Freund

    1. August Comet was a stellar example of a philosopher!

  3. it [Houellebecq’s novel Submission] had already inspired some highly charged controversy over whether its message ? and its author ? was Islamophobic.

    There is no question in my mind that the critics would not find the novel controversial if it had been about a Catholic or Protestant party gaining power in the future, or bothering to call its message “Christianophobic”

    1. To be fair, isn’t there a pretty long tradition of the European having a tight relationship between the government and the church (state religions, various Christian Democratic parties, etc.)?

  4. After objecting to and publishing a rebuttal against her depiction in The Elementary Particles (vt Atmoised), Houellebecq’s mother stated in press interviews:

    “If he has the misfortune of sticking my name on anything again he’ll get my walking stick in his face and that’ll knock his teeth out.”

  5. What’s up with this crap:

    Your comment contains a word that is too long (50 characters).

    Even links? WTF?

    1. I bet it would work if embedded the link as an actual link using markup. Can anybody point me to the writeup if there is one of how to embed links, offset paragraphs and bold words, etc?

      1. If you’re using Chrome, get the free reasonable extension, which will let you do it easily, otherwise you’ll have to use basic HTML tags

        1. Thanks, I think I’ll go reasonable/Chrome.

    2. It was an anti-spamming measure put in place to stop certain trolls from screwing up the display of the blog by posting long strings of characters to throw off the pagination.

      1. OK I get that. But you know a lot of links are over that 50 char limit. I’ve seen folks around here using HTML markup to embed longer links. Is there a short cheat sheet for formatting on this site?

          1. Let’s see if this works.

            I like this (hope didn’t SF the link):

            Louison Cartoon

            Translation: “They just got here and they’ve already drawn dicks everywhere.”

            1. It worked! Thanks SF.

            2. Perfect!

              1. Thanks to you both.

          2. When SF is giving out linking advice, how far have we fallen.

            1. The living will come to envy the dead.

              1. something about cannibal rape gangs too?


      Paste your link in the box and it gives you a new, smaller link.

  6. “it had already inspired some highly charged controversy over whether its message?and its author?was Islamophobic”

    It’s not a phobia if they are trying to kill you.

    1. You mean the implied irrationality of a phobia?

      1. Yes, the lefty tactic of labeling things “phobias” is really annoying. A phobia is an irrational fear. Anyone who reads history or the news should know that being afraid of Islam is perfectly rational.

  7. So does Catholicism, for that matter, even if the Catholics have been more or less marginalized.

    You mean recognizing Mary as the Mother of God isn’t codified in law in France like it is here? I am so going on a spree. Where’s my cassock and surplice? Someone fetch my thurible and incense.

      1. We was too late. The Reverend Neuk saw the light.

        1. You beat me to it. Kudos.

  8. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
    go to tech tab for work detail ????????

  9. I enjoyed “Caliphate” by Tom Kratman.

    It was seen as anti-Muslim and controversial. All he really did was take European White vs. Muslim birthrates, immigration, and conversions and do the math. Then laid in what society looked like when the Turks and Moors last took over chunks of Europe.

    1. agreed

    2. I guess no Hollywood producer/director will take the risk to do a movie adaptation of Tom Kratman’s “Caliphate”.

      1. However, maybe “Bollywood” or some fanfilms producer/director might step on it.

  10. Great to see a piece from Chuck Freund on Hit and Run!

  11. The civilized world puts up with this “islam” and “muslim” thing at its peril.

    Intelligent, decent folks will destroy this rot at every chance.

    1. Satire and mockery of Islam is a noble deed. If we don’t mock them, we’ll never be free of them. Showing reverence, or anything other than contempt, for their beliefs will make their beliefs more prevalent and potent.

  12. “Islam is the most stupid” of the monotheistic religions

    I don’t know, they’re all stupid in their own ways, but Islam is definitely the overall worst religion, monotheistic or not. I can’t think of a worse one, can you?

    1. And the least fun.

    2. Some of the Sub-Saharan African animist religions still sacrifice and mutilate children. In some cases, the child’s own parents will sell their children to a shaman for this purpose. Those religions are definitely worse ‘per capita’ if you will, but they’re not worse than Islam since it’s flavor of barbarism is much more widespread and influential and therefore more destructive of civilized society.

    3. Scientology?

      Personally, I don’t think so, but I just thought someone should put that out there.

      1. Scientology?

        They earn honorable mention, sure, but I don’t think they make even the top ten.

    4. What religion is Nicole?

    5. Nope its the worst – only religion that advocates child rape. “if the prophet Mohammad did it then it must be OK for me”

  13. Start working at home with Google! It%u2019s by-far the best job I%u2019ve had. Last Thursday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,

    ———— w?w?w.?J?o?b?s?-?S?i?t?e?s??.c?o?m?

  14. $89 an hour! Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening?And i get surly a chek of $1260……0 whats awesome is Im working from home so I get more time with my kids.
    Here is what i did

  15. “In formerly rough neighborhoods, crime all but disappears.”

    It’s more like “mutaween crime takes over and is unreported for obvious reasons”.

    If a violent gang takes over and no crimes are reported out of fear, is there still crime? Of course there is. More than ever.

  16. “But what do you need a financial advisor for? Twenty years ago you had the highest GNP in the world, now you’re tied with Albania. So, good job. Your second largest export is secondhand goods, followed closely by dates for which you lose five cents a pound. You know what the business world thinks of you? They think a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other’s heads off and that’s exactly where you’ll be in another hundred years- so on behalf of my firm, yes, I accept your money.”

  17. before I looked at the draft that said $9300 , I didnt believe that…my… brother woz actualy earning money part time on there computar. . there best friend haz done this 4 only about 1 year and as of now cleard the mortgage on there mini mansion and purchased themselves a Car . you can try this out……….

  18. read
    America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It

    by Mark Steyn

    basically the same premise.

    Stupid Europeans were too lazy to work or build their own economy so they imported a subclass to do the work. Now they have a permanent subclass that is intent on taking over the continent and making it Muslim. Give it about another 20 years and either the Muslims will be firmly in control or the Europeans will have to purge the Muslims in a manner that will be rather ugly and violent.

    1. You’re being sarcastic right?

      “… were too lazy to work or build their own economy so they imported a subclass to do the work.”

      This seems applicable to the US somehow. Mmmmm, if only I could figure out the connection …

  19. Last night I was reading Theodore Dalrymple’s, “The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris” mostly, because I was wondering how things had changed since the riots of 2005. PBS had some great coverage and so did a few other news outlets, about the terrible living conditions faced by the Muslim population in Paris. It’s funny that his piece was written in 02′ and was spot on.

    While a myriad of guest speakers on cable news pontificate all the whys and hows young men get radicalized, there has not been one in-depth reporting about the Muslim population there. Perhaps, if they would, the “hows & whys ” wouldn’t be all that surprising.

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