by Michel Houellebecq
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On January 8, 2015, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared: “France is not ‘Submission’, it is not Michel Houellebecq!” The reasons for the irritation that Houellebecq’s latest novel causes are evident: Houellebecq tells the story of the sudden death of French culture and tradition as we know it – in a very near future.
Paris, 2022: Street battles between extremists are bringing the political climate to a boiling point. The Front National is enormously popular and is set to become the strongest party. To prevent it from nominating the next president, the liberal parties at the centre are coalescing with a moderate Islamic party. The plan works. France’s first Muslim president moves into the Elysée Palace. What makes this perfectly plausible vision of the future so scandalous is what follows after: Within months and without the slightest resistance, civil society changes completely. The Muslim Brotherhood, who take on France as if it were a bankrupt company, do not create a totalitarian regime à la Huxley or Orwell. Their assumption of power and France’s transformation happen in an entirely unspectacular, democratic and legal way. Schools and universities are islamised, women disappear from public occupations, clothing requirements and polygamy are introduced. And the public accept Islamic obligations and prohibitions in the same way that they previously accepted quota systems, tax increases, the rules of recycling, and the privatisation of public services.
“My novel is deeply ambivalent. It can be seen as desperate or as hopeful.” Houellebecq’s mischievous political thriller is not directed against Islam, but rather describes the collapse of Western culture. This collapse is the result of the slow decline of collective commitments, guided by a vision of the world which is dominated by the idea of the individual and thus leads directly into economic, social and moral disaster.