Monday, 15 February 2016

Houellebecq - "Submission" - a review

On the day that Michel Houellebecq's controversial new novel Soumission ("Submission") was published in France last year - January 7 - Islamist cretins chose to attack the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo - murdering 12 people.

As publicity stunts go, this must top the lot.  "Submission" is a dark tale, set in 2022, in which France is taken over by a Socialist-Islamic coalition, including the supposedly moderate Muslim Brotherhood, under the presidency of the charismatic Mohammad Ben Abbes, and joins the Umma - it becomes an Islamic State. 

Our guide through this new world is a middle-aged academic at the Sorbonne named Francois.  Francois is very French: world-weary, single, somewhat sex-obsessed but otherwise full of ennui.  Released by the University, as a non-Muslim, he watches events with a cold eye, a very dispassionate observer of France's Islamisation.  Throughout, Francois's thoughts are interspersed with literary references, some rather arcane, many referring to our hero's pet subject; the 19th Century novelist Huysmans.  It is all strangely gentle, and very French.

Somewhat predictably, Houllebecq has been accused of Islamophobia in writing the novel.  Yet, the honest reviewer would have to conclude that there is nothing remotely critical of Islam in it.  Indeed, the supposed 'attractions' of the faith - not least polygamy and Middle Eastern petrodollars - play a crucial role in turning our protagonist's head.

So, this is no fire and brimstone, nativist call to arms. Far from it.  If there is a target for Houllebecq's ire, it is very much the Francois of this world, rather than the Muslims.  Instead the book is a rather thoughtful exposition of how such a turn of events might come to pass, and how western populations - full of rootless, materialist, ennui-laden individuals like Francois - might meekly acquiesce.  Or submit.

On that point, Houllebecq may, regrettably, be proved right.  Western societies - stripped of any remaining pride in their own nations or their own traditions - may well fall victim to political and religious colonization in the way that he describes - supinely, with little more than a Gallic shrug.

But on another point, Houllebecq is almost certainly wrong.  As the bloody events at Charlie Hebdo demonstrated - on the very day that this book was published in France - a Muslim takeover is unlikely to be peaceful.

This book was never going to be anything less than controversial - but it is well worth reading, if nothing else as a reminder of how fragile so-called "Western Liberal Civilization" might prove to be.