Soumission [Submission] (publisher: Flammarion), the latest novel by Michel Houellebecq, reaches bookstores on January 7. For François Maillot, director of the La Procure [religious] bookstore in Paris, such a work prompts Christians to wake up.
[French Christian weekly] La Vie
January 5, 2015
This book has not yet been released, and everyone already knows the plot. It is about France in 2022, which witnesses the confrontation, in the second round of the presidential elections, of the candidate of the National Front and the chairman of the Muslim party, Mohamed Ben Abbes. The narrator, François (I cannot but see in the choice of this name the designation of this character as the archetypal Frenchman...), a university professor who is a Huysman expert, but who remained an atheist, witnesses this incredible electoral conclusion, while completely tied down in the problems of his personal life, limited to his university career and the angst of not being anymore capable of seducing women[...]. Faced with this political storm, a mysterious character of the secret services, Alain Tanneur, will give him the comprehension keys that will lead him to accept the idea of submitting himself to Muslim domination.
In fact, nothing in this Islam would at first seem to prompt resistance. Ben Abbes is a polite man, representing a moderate Islam. And that is Houellebecq's stroke of genius, which begets here what is a falsely anticipatory novel, but is in fact a true autopsy of the France of today. Ben Abbes debates politely with Madame Le Pen. He wants a measured and acceptable Islam. He brings to France a reassuring order, which the UMP [center-right], the UDI [center], and PS [Socialist center-left] will join without hesitation! He will even choose [centrist politician François] Bayrou as prime-minister, which gives Houellebecq one of his most formidable strokes... By preaching polygamy, Ben Abbes becomes a kind of moral assurance for all men entangled in their zippers' affairs, to the great comfort of the narrator. He places himself in a soft social-democratic vision which does not shock anyone. His only demand is [being in control of the Ministry of] Education, with the addition of a Koranic course to the general studies. The system being ruined, he has no difficulty in arriving at his goals. The Sorbonne, on its last legs, will even become a Koranic university, without this facing any resistance, with each person merely trying to hold on to his position...
Houellebecq achieves this tour de force of putting in place a near future which nobody had thought about and that, if we are honest while reading it, has all the elements of believability... It is undoubtedly this which grants to this novel its exceptional strength. No takeover by Fascists, no civil war (or just briefly, quickly covered up by the media), no radical Islam chopping heads, stoning men, raping women. As in Huxley's Brave New World, it is imposed softly in a society that is numb and with no way out. If there is any violence in this novel, it is in this perspective of crushing the reader with a submission to a soft and almost consensual New Order, without any resistance being offered to it. Faced with the collapse of politics, the Islamic Republic becomes a choice like any other. Faced with the ruin of the country, petrodollars buy it all. Faced with intellectual emptiness, any kind of speech can impose itself. Faced with generalized atheism, Islam can win the day.
The central point of the novel seems to me to reside in that which however seemed, during its reading, to be its weakest point. Could the French people accept a regime that would demand of women to accept a polygamy that would place them in a position of inferiority regarding men? Those who are proud of having thrown away the cover of Catholicism, would they accept to convert to Islam to teach at the Islamic Sorbonne? Regardless of fiction, Houellebecq follows uppercut with uppercut. How much is our devotion for the equality of the sexes an idea for which we would fight, and not a thin ideological layer that the contingencies of the moment and the insatiable demands of sex will quickly crack? How much is the free thinking of our contemporaries a strong conviction that may resist the attack, even a peaceful one, of a religion that is sure of itself? As we can see it, it is in what could appear as outrageous that Houellebecq reaches the heart of the matter. It might well be, in fact, that all that our society says it believes in is nothing more than a construction built upon sand, that the weakest gust of wind would cause to collapse. This is what Submission says, that our age does not believe in anything, or at the very least, in nothing whose nature allows it to be able to oppose itself to any faith. Faced with cynical and consumerist individualism, every recognition of a collective ideal, of the overcoming of a navel-gazing horizon, contains infinite power.
This book is nothing else than the great novel of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual decomposition of France.