For more than a decade novelist Michel Houellebecq has been the bete-noire of politically correct elites in France. With provocation woven into his DNA, he has angered almost everyone across the board, from left to right, so it is no surprise that his latest novel Soumission (Submission) has raised a storm of protest among the chattering classes in Paris.
Published on the day that Charlie Hebdo was attacked, the novel offers a glimpse of the malaise that has affected part of the French intellectual, political and media establishment for a decade and, in turn, encouraged those, including jihadists, who insist that Western democracy is doomed. (In its last pre-attack issue, Charlie Hebdo carried Houellebecq’s caricature on its cover.)
Initial reviews of the novel, often produced by those who hadn’t read it or at best skimmed through it, labelled it as another piece of “Islamophobia” because it envisages what an Islamist government might do to France. However, the novel could also be read as an apologia for an Islam that, having ceased to be a religion, has transmuted into a political ideology and, as such, become an alternative to the Enlightenment, pretending to save Europe from historic decline and eventual “civilizational suicide.”