The latest addition to my website is Michel Houellebecq‘s Soumission [Submission]. This novel has received considerable pre-publication publicity because of its controversial subject matter. The book, set in 2022, follows François, a university professor who teaches nineteenth century French literature in the University of Paris III and is a specialist on the writer, J-K Huysmans. At the previous French presidential election, the run-off was between the Socialists and the extreme right. Despite the fact that the country had moved to the right, the Socialists won. However, as a result of the rise of the extreme right, the Muslims had created their own party, the Muslim Fraternity. To everyone’s surprise, in the first round of the 2022 presidential election, the Muslims were second to the extreme right. A deal was made between the other main parties and the Muslims. However, because of the uncertainty, there is considerable unease in France. There seem to be violent outbreaks which the media and government keep hidden. The university is “temporarily” closed. François leaves Paris, fearing a civil war, and heads South-West. Arriving at the small town of Martel (named after Charles Martel who beat the Arabs at Tours), he meets the husband of a colleague. This man had worked for the French internal security service but had just been given early retirement. He tells François what he thinks is going to happen. The Muslim Fraternity duly wins the election and suddenly but quietly, things start to change. Women have to dress more conservatively and are seemingly driven out of many jobs to become just wives and mothers. Polygamy is adopted. Crime drops. Eventually, François is offered a good job at the university, if he converts to Islam.
Houellebecq takes as his basis that there is a desire for an increasing religious/spiritual approach and that an incoming Muslim government would be fairly uncontroversial and not too extremist. I think he is either naive or disingenuous. In particular, suddenly relegating women to being second-class citizens is not going to happen. With a Muslim population of around 7.5%, France is not going to elect a Muslim government. He is right in that the major parties in many West European countries are looking increasingly irrelevant but, apart from the extreme right, there does not, as yet, seem to be a viable alternative and, if one does emerge, it is unlikely to be a Muslim party. Nevertheless, this is an interesting book that raises a host of ideas, inevitably controversial, as we would expect from Houellebecq, and it likely to lead to a lot of discussion, particularly when this book has been translated into other languages. Whether women and Muslims agree with it would seem to be highly doubtful.