Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission (Farrar, Straux, and Giroux, 2015, just now available in English translation) is set in the year 2022. Its protagonist, Francois (he in never given a surname) is a lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris, a disillusioned, middle-aged professor of literature (“the academic study [that] leads basically nowhere, as we all know…”), who each fall term takes up with a different female student, who eats micro-waved food, who watches online porn, and who, believing nothing, has nothing of substance to say to students who, in any case, do not want to learn. His employer, the University is corrupt and morally vacuous, operating only within the iron strictures of political correctness (typical -“the Conference of University Presidents had recently joined a boycott against academic exchanges with Israeli scholars…”); Francois is surrounded at work by narcissistic windbags and dedicated careerists. Each reader will decide whether or not this is a caricature of academic life in the contemporary University; as someone who spent most of his professional life in Universities, it rang true to me.
As the novel opens France is in the midst of a general election hotly contested by three parties – governing Socialists, the right-wing National Front, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamists and the Socialists finish in a dead heat; in the subsequent runoff election the Muslim Brotherhood takes office. The next morning Francois observes that the students seem “tense and anxious”, except for girls wearing burkas who “…moved slowly and with new confidence, walking down the very middle of the hallway, three by three, as if they were already in charge”. Soon some University buildings are emblazoned with a gold star and a crescent moon
In office the Islamists demonstrate their priorities: “What they care about is birthrate and education. To them it’s simple – whichever segment of the population has the highest birthrate, and does the best job of transmitting its values, wins. If you control the children, you control the future.”
Without fanfare Sharia law is introduced throughout France. Francois (himself “about as political as a bath towel”) discovers what Islam (the word means “submission”) is like in practice; academic survival, even advancement, will be possible for him but only if he converts to Islam. Francois, an atheist, has no particular reason not to convert, but before he can make any decision about it, the Sorbonne is closed, mid-term, and no date is announced for its reopening.
Houellebecq is a skillful writer (his previous novel The Map and the Territory won the Prix Goncourt in 2010), capable of such a sentence fragment as this: “…a strange oppressive mood settled over France, a kind of suffocating despair, all-encompassing but shot through with glints of insurrection.” The glints are quickly extinguished.
With nothing to do Francois embarks on a road trip and ends up at a Benedictine Abbey, “…the oldest Christian monastery in the West.” Here he observes the disciplined daily life of the monks, their working days punctuated by the offices and the Mass. But after a few days “I no longer knew the meaning of my presence in this place”, and so he returns to Paris.
How can it be, Francois asks himself, that a country with France’s proud history could so suddenly, abjectly, and totally fall under Muslim domination? The answer, he concludes, is that the Catholic Church was at the heart of French civilization; “Thanks to the simpering seductions and the lewd enticements of the progressives, the Church lost its ability to oppose moral decadence, to renounce homosexual marriage, abortion rights, and women in the workplace. The facts were plain: Europe had reached a point of such putrid decomposition that it could no longer save itself, any more than fifth-century Rome could have done.”
On January 7, 2015 Houellebecq’s Submission was published in Paris. The next day Houellebecq’s face was on the cover of the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. And the day after that two Islamist gunmen visited the offices of Charlie Hebdo and murdered eleven people, including the editor. Houellebecq went into hiding and has not been seen publicly since.
As I write these words the Islamists have just paid another weekend visit to Paris, murdering (by last count) 143 people at various locations, and leaving another 300 people wounded many critically. The French President has declared this to be an “act of war” and has promised a swift and merciless response. But we have all heard such declarations from politicians before; like President Obama’s infamous “red line” they seem always to be ineffectual.
The message I took from the novel Submission is that it is already too late; Western civilization has lost its beliefs and its will to survive. It is over. Fact or fiction? I think we are about to find out.
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