The deadly attack at a French satirical magazine today coincided with the release of a controversial book depicting a France led by an Islamic party and a Muslim president who bans women from the workplace.
The sixth novel by award-winning French author Michel Houellebecq, called “Submission,” plays on fears that western societies are being inundated by the influence of Islam. While French authorities haven’t linked the murders at Charlie Hebdo to Islamists, witnesses cited by Europe 1 radio and Agence France-Presse as saying that two hooded people entered the offices of the magazine, shooting at random and shouting “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.
In the book, Houellebecq has the imaginary “Muslim Fraternity” party winning a presidential election in France against the nationalist, anti-immigration National Front. The cover of Charlie Hebdo’s latest edition features a cartoon of the author dressed as a sorcerer under the headline “The Predictions of the Wise Man Houellebecq.”
“A pathetic and provocative farce,” is how Liberation characterized the book in a Jan. 4 review that scathingly said the novelist is “showing signs of waning writing skills.” Political analyst Franz-Olivier Giesbert in newspaper Le Parisien yesterday was kinder, calling it a “smart satire,” adding that “it’s a writers’ book, not a political one.”
National Front’s leader Marine Le Pen, who appears in the 320-page novel, said on France Info radio on Jan. 5 that “it’s fiction that could become reality one day.”
On the same day, President Francois Hollande said on France Inter radio he would read the book “because it’s sparking a debate,” while warning that France has always had “century after century, this inclination toward decay, decline and compulsive pessimism.”
Today, Hollande was at the offices of Charlie Hebdo after raising the terrorism alert for Paris to the highest level. He said France was in a state of shock after the country’s worst terrorist attack in decades left at least a dozen people dead, four more in a critical condition and another 20 injured.
In an interview on France 2 TV last night, Houellebecq denied that his book was scaremongering.
“I don’t think the Islam in my book is the kind people are afraid of,” he told the broadcaster. “I’m not going to avoid a subject because it’s controversial.”
Houellebecq’s book is set in France in 2022. It has the fictional Muslim Fraternity’s chief, Mohammed Ben Abbes, beating Le Pen, with Socialists, centrists, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party rallying behind him to block the National Front.
Ben Abbes goes on to ban women in the workplace, advocates polygamy, pushes Islamic schools on the masses and imposes a conservative and religious vision of society. The French widely accept the new environment, hence the book’s title.
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, with more than 5 million people of the faith out of about 65 million, a number that’s been growing with children and grandchildren of 20th century immigrants. Very few Muslims have reached top-level jobs in France, and second- and third-generation French people of Arab descent say they often face discrimination.
Still, the fear of Islamization has traction in France with opinion polls showing the anti-immigration Le Pen would lead in the first round of the 2017 presidential race. The party topped the Socialist Party and UMP in last year’s European elections. It may score well again in this year’s local ballots.
In 2002, National Front Founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, stunned the country when he made it to the second round of the presidential election. He was eventually defeated when all political parties rallied behind his rival, the conservative candidate Jacques Chirac.
Houellebecq has a history of being provocative. His fame can be traced back to 1998 when he published “Atomised,” a nihilist depiction of two half-brothers, Michel and Bruno, and their struggle with living in today’s society.
In 2002, the author was cleared by a French court of inciting racism for saying that “all religions are stupid but Islam is the stupidest of all,” and that the Koran was “badly written.”
For his latest book, Houellebecq borrows the title of a documentary by the Dutch filmmaker and author Theo van Gogh, who made “Submission” in 2004, criticizing the treatment of women in Islam. He was murdered in the same year by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim.
Charlie Hebdo today posted on its Twitter account a cartoon depicting Islamic State Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The magazine’s offices were firebombed in November 2011 after it published a special edition featuring the Prophet Mohammed as a “guest editor.” The fire caused no injuries.