Nation-state or Islamic Republic of France, Houellebecq’s question

French author Michel Houellebecq asks questions and gets prizes (Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images)


Nine years ago, Michel Houellebecq wrote Submission, one of the most influential novels of modern French literature. As the snap elections in France approach, it is more timely than ever.

Submission not only describes contemporary France in an eerily naturalistic and politically-incorrect manner, but also makes a dystopian prophecy: that the French progressive fixation in favour of Islam and against traditional and national values will one day lead to France becoming an Islamic republic. In 2010, his earlier novel, La Carte et le Territoire, won the prestigious Prix Goncourt.

In a satirical and consistently offensive manner, the enfant terrible of French letters even describes exactly how such a thing will happen. And this is where things get interesting.

In the fictional second round of the 2022 Presidential Elections, writes Houellebecq, Marine le Pen faces a Muslim opponent. With the support of the socialists, the liberals and the Left, France’s Islamist Party sweeps to power. Islamic law is then enforced, women are side-lined from professional and public office posts, universities are shut down and conversion to Islam is encouraged.

What France’s biggest selling and most controversial living author is suggesting is straightforward. French ruling elites hate their nation’s conservative values and ethnic tradition so much that they would prefer to see their country embrace the Sharia, rather than re-establish itself as a European nation-state.

Now of course Submission is fiction. But the year is 2024 and Le Pen’s party is very close to coming to power in the coming legislative elections. And while earlier this week Macron spoke of a “civil war” if the far Right wins, Muslim extremists recently warned that “all hell will break loose” if the National Rally comes to govern France.

Rhetorical and fringe exaggerations, one may hope. Is France in danger of being politically taken over by Islamists? Of course not.

Are liberals, socialists and leftists rallying behind a Muslim party or candidate? No, they are not. Are Islamist values really about to become prevalent in the heart of the EU? Not really. Only bigots could be afraid of such things.

Houellebecq himself has often been accused of bigotry. In fact, he is one of France’s top “love to hate” figures. He is despised, mocked and ridiculed on a regular basis. But perhaps some of what he says must be taken seriously.

On January 7 2015, the day when Submission was published in France, Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly magazine, came out with a front page caricature of the author, making fun of him and his predictions.

On that same day the magazine’s offices were attacked by two French-born Algerian Muslim brothers, who murdered 12 people and injured 11 others.

One must ask the question raised by Houellebecq: where is the line between fiction and reality?

Sometimes reality surpasses fiction in a way that is unpredictable or even irrational. As Tom Clancy, another famous novelist, put it, “The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.”

Nobody knows where all these political pressures, these conflicts, will take us. But all of us in France, Europe and the West must realise we may already be in a cultural and demographic death spiral. It needs to be halted. We need to find the way to pull-up out of this deadly plunge, or we may wake up one day and wonder what sort of France, what sort of Europe, we have let be created for us.