New Houellebecq book stirs European angst over Islam
A new book imagining a future France coming under Islamic rule hits French bookshops on Wednesday in a literary sweep likely to fuel creeping European angst about Muslim immigration.
The novel, "Soumission" ("Submission"), is guaranteed to become an instant bestseller because of its author: Michel Houellebecq, a star French writer who has found worldwide fame with cynical works portraying an imploding society with dry humour and graphic sexuality.
But its concept -- of an Islamic government emerging from 2022 French elections ditching traditional parties for the far-right National Front and a new Muslim Brotherhood-styled party -- touches on real-life themes already simmering in France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and other EU nations.
An influx of mostly Muslim immigrants, many fleeing conflicts in Syria, Sudan and elsewhere, at a time of European economic malaise has increased Europeans' fears that their cultures are under assault and strengthened the hand of anti-immigrant far-right parties.
It matters little that Houellebecq himself has admitted to the Paris Review that the book's scenario for France is "not very realistic", at least not for "several decades", it has already become a hot talking point.
French President Francois Hollande told France Inter radio on Monday, "I'll read it because it's creating debate," but carefully stressed that it was just "literature" and "the idea of submersion, of invasion, of submission is an old idea".
But others see "Soumission" filling the sails of Europe's far-right.
The arrival of the book, said Laurent Joffrin, chief editor of the left-leaning daily Liberation, "will mark the date in the history of ideas on which the ideas of the extreme-right made their entrance in high literature".
The head of France's National Front, Marine Le Pen, told France Info radio on Monday that while the book was fiction, "it's a fiction that could one day become reality".
- The French Republic 'is dead' -
The initial print run in France for "Soumission" is 150,000 copies, a significant number for the country's market. German and Italian translations of the book will be released mid-January. No date has yet been given for the English-language version.
Houellebecq is clearly enjoying the attention his sixth novel is getting, although he states that he is politically "neutral" in the debate around it.
"Today, atheism is dead. Secularism is dead. The (French) Republic is dead," he told the French news magazine L'Obs in an interview to be published Thursday.
"The Muslims are... closer to the right, even to the extreme right," he argued.
"Who can they vote for, the Muslims of France? They can't vote for the (ruling) Socialists who put in place gay marriages. They aren't going to vote for those on the right either, who want to kick them out. The only solution then is the establishment of a Muslim party."
France has been grappling in recent years with how to integrate its Muslim population -- the biggest in Europe, estimated at up to 10 percent of the country's 65 million inhabitants.
In 2010 France prohibited face-covering Islamic headwear in public places, a ban upheld by the European Court of Human Rights last year.
In 2005, riots erupted in several poor Paris suburbs with large, disaffected Muslim populations.
© 2015 AFP