SoumissionSadly, Michel Houellebecq and his Islamophobic new novel Soumission (Submission) look to be among the all-too-predictable beneficiaries of the Charlie Hebdo attack – alongside anti-Islamic hate groups and far-right politicians everywhere. The Bookseller has already felt the need to run a statement from Houellebecq’s UK soon-to-be-publisher, stating that plans to publish the book in the UK in September are unaltered.

The ever so slightly insensitive promobabble pitch from publisher Jason Arthur quoted by The Bookseller describes Submission as: “a breathtakingly audacious and daring novel that’s certain to turn heads and raise eyebrows … It is a work of grand ambition, razor-sharp wit, and real heart – a tour-de-force from one of Europe’s most exciting writers. Submission is a novel we are proud and pleased to be publishing here at William Heinemann.”

Meanwhile, French literary circles appear to be almost as exercised about the fact that Soumission was reportedly the first-ever literary work from a major French publisher to be pirated as an ebook ahead of its launch – when ebook versions based on advance press copies of the book were apparently circulated via Torrent sites and file sharing networks free of charge. And I for one find it hard to regret any lost sales for Houellebecq on that score.

Some French commentators complained that the pirating was simply feeding a buzz for the book, noting that the book and the drama around it are “a carefully calculated provocation” and that Houellebecq himself is “the king of provocation.” Other journalists and media apparently boycotted the download and even discussion of it.

However, one French intellectual went further. In an open letter to Houellebecq written at the end of 2014, Nicolas Gary, founder of the literary magazine ActuaLitté, accused the author of producing “badly concealed incitements to hatred and fear,” and complained that he felt “soiled” by Houellebecq’s writing. “If your book was pirated, it was what it deserved,” Gary continued, blaming Houellebecq for “sinking so low” as to “casually stir up subjects that foster xenophobia.”

Houellebecq himself talks blithely about: “the destruction of the philosophy handed down by the Enlightenment, which no longer makes sense to anyone, or to very few people. Catholicism, by contrast, is doing rather well. I would maintain that an alliance between Catholics and Muslims is possible.” Obviously, he must have conveniently forgotten the 2001 interview with Lire, which Gary quotes, where he said:

Islam is a dangerous religion, and has been since its appearance. Luckily, it is doomed. On the one hand, because God does not exist, and even if you are stupid, you realize that in the end. in the long run, the truth will out. On the other hand, Islam is being undermined from within by capitalism. All we can hope is that it triumphs quickly. Materialism is a lesser evil. Its values are despicable, but still less destructive, less cruel than those of Islam.

Obviously, Houellebecq’s thinking has moved on a bit since then – in his atheism at least, but not in his attitude towards Islam.

One more time, just in case anyone missed out on why I’m so riled about this: Michel Houellebecq’s novel, and all his own comments about it, are direct, explicit assaults on the Western traditions of tolerance, freedom of belief, freedom of expression and enquiry, and open-mindedness that the journalists of Charlie Hebdo died for. All in the name of authority, obscurantism, and confessional conformism. Al-Qaeda and ISIS couldn’t hope for a better Western intellectual fellow traveler – or useful idiot.


  1. Quite frankly, I have trouble imagining how any book could be legitimately Islamophobic in the sense meant here. That’s given both how that religion’s radicals act (as witnessed by recent events in Paris), and how little political and religious freedom there are in majority-Muslim countries. Both are disturbing.

    The former illustrates how those who take the religion’s beliefs to its historical roots act. They are, after all, only acting like the religion’s founder acted. It’s easy to believe that the only reason NYC has not had terrorists explode a dirty atomic bomb there is that these terrorists don’t have one to repeat their 9/11 mass killing on a still larger scale.

    And the status of Muslim nations illustrate how limited the moderation of a Muslim majority is. You’d think that, if a Muslim democracy offering religious freedom for all were easy to establish, as least one would exist. Christians can establish them, as can Jews. India is probably a good illustration that a Hindu democracy is possible. I’ve also heard that Islam’s hostility to democracy is why Buddhists in countries like Burma find it dangerous. The lack of Muslim democracy is at least suggestive.

    And it’s certainly no fun to live in most majority-Muslim countries, as any consultation of the country index on Freedom House will demonstrate:

    Even an eager and compliant conversion to Islam will do little good. You’ve got to convert to sect of Islam that’s on top at that particular time or your life is in danger. The Iraqi Muslims killed by ISIS must have realized just before their heads were chopped off.

    Yes, some Muslims are capable of realizing that. Years ago, I lived in Israel at a time when Hebron was a center of tensions between Jews and Arabs. While looking there for an ancient oak called the Oak of Abraham, a Palestinian medical student offered to help me.

    After finding it, we went back to his parent’s home for tea. Starting off our conversation about politics, he said that he thought the solution to Arab-Israeli troubles was a “secular democratic state.” I came back with a question. Where in the Middle East is there a secular democratic state? He was a clever guy and saw my point in a flash. If regions of the Arab world that have far less tensions that that between Arabs and Jews can’t form a secular democratic state, then what hope is there for a single Arab/Israeli nation? Almost none.

    No, in my experience, the real Islamophobic individuals and organizations are those who’re literally so afraid of Islam they seem incapable of criticizing its failings or insisting that it change. They denounce terror-driven censorship and practice censorship.

    Sadly, they’re typically cowards. They are also engaging in one of the most modern of lies, attempting divert attention from their own moral failings by accusing others of psychological problems, here a “phobia.” That’s nonsense. It’s quite possible to see Islam as it has long been practiced as dangerous without being overcome by fear by it.

    In fact, this chatter about “phobias” is like accusing my book, My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer of being “cancerphobic” because describe all too well the horrors of that disease. It’s no fun to come to work knowing that, statistically, one third of the children you’re caring for are likely to die. I’m not cancerphobic, because I didn’t want cancer to kill those children. I just had a sense of decency. I liked those kids.

    And I’m not Islamophoic because I want that religion to stop killing people and forcibly repressing every point of view but their own.

    –Michael W. Perry, Lily’s Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan (Yes, I imagine some would call that book Klanophobic.)

  2. Paul, your desire to show off your ‘tolerant’ credentials is driving you into absurdity. There’s no contradiction whatever between predicting the eventual demise of Islam and suggesting that it may make a pact with the Catholic Church in the meantime.

    And of course Islam is a dangerous religion. All ideologies are dangerous — including your own knee-jerk liberalism — because they replace reasoned responses with programmed ones. Evangelical religions are particularly dangerous, because its adherents want everyone else to do the same, And unlike Christianity, Islam hasn’t been losing battles against science for five hundred years. Most of its believers still actually think it can perform as advertised. Much blood will have to be be spilt — most of it, inevitably, theirs — before they learn that it can’t.

    Tolerance of people — even stupid, unreasoning people — is a solid and worthwhile principle. Tolerance of stupid, unreasoning beliefs is not.

  3. I hate to say this, but the chief editor of Charli Hebdomaire was a leftwing looney and a nihilist who did not really take the time to think that what was at stake was his own life (and the woman he loved that he left behind and who is in grief now for his senseless death)…and did not take the time to think that his arrogant nihilisim might even lead to the death of innocent policemen, male and female, Christian and Muslin, innocent fellow staffers Christian and Jewish and Muslim and Atheist and Agnostic, and a Muslim staff copy editor who was at the ill-fated staff meeting, innocent Jewish children and adults, at the Kosher Market in St. Vincennes incennes..ALL for a rather arrogant stance that cartoons are more important than life. Derek Fox in New Zealand said it well, you should read his rant. As a Maori journalist, he knows what its like to be on the receiving end of LIBERAL do-good arrogance and conceit. PAUL and others here: WE ARE IN A THOUSAND YEAR WAR with Islam, i said this publicly in 2001 just after 911 events…..this war is not a war of equal footing. The fanatical Muslims Jihadists are part of a primitive non-Western, non-logical, non-rational, non-liberal, non-Judeo-Christian-Buddhist-Shinto religioous belief system ..and they LIVE in a different and separate reality from the West…and they will not stop at anything and this tragic “war” will last for another 1000 years. We are not at war, so much as they are at war. This is what Charli’s editor did not understand, He was not brave and couragous. He was a stupid arrogant nihilist. Did anyone learn anything from this tragedy in Pairs last week? No, there will be more such attacks for another 985 years. Prepare. Stop with your liberal bellyaching. W are in a war. It’s time to take up and stop hiding benearth the skirts of Freedom of Expression and #jesuischarli. Charli was wrong. Charli is dead. Charli did not care. RIP, Charli

  4. lets just take a moment to re-read this idiotic critique in light of the latest Paris attacks. leaves a nasty taste, doesn’t it?
    having read the book in the weeks since reading your review, your criticisms are so off base as to make me wonder whether you had read it when you wrote this nonsense, or you were just going off what you had heard the book was about. but dammit man, when are we going to realize that islam is no friend of western liberal thought, and right now there are sections of our community that are bending over backwards to accommodate a theology that would make us the first to go if they were ever in charge?

    rereading this, it seems you would have us go down the road of taking pre-emptive strikes on creative thought for fear of offending islamic sensibilities, rather than defending the core value of artistic freedom that has been a benchmark of western civilization since the enlightenment?

    rather than taking aim at islam, this book takes aim at clueless attempts by the western political elites to pacify an enemy that will accept nothing less than our total… you’ve guessed it… submission.

    your review could have been penned by a character in Houellebecq’s magnificent satire.

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