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Novelist Houellebecq was wrong about rise of Muslim Brotherhood in France

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Two years ago Michel Houellebecq, the very dark French novelist, published a dystopian satire called Submission about France succumbing to Sharia law under the rising political influence of Muslims. If you like Houellebecq’s manner as much as I do, you will find the book devilishly entertaining. And its meditations on literature (Huysmans) and spirituality are stirring.

There is just one glaring problem with the novel: Houellebecq is wrong about his projections of Muslim power. Houellebecq made a literary mistake imho by casting his story in 2022, just a few years out; and his story includes assertions about political developments in 2017 that have already been shown to be false.

Houellebecq says that in 2017, “a leftist president was reelected in a country that was more and more openly rightwing.” Then he charts the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood:

Over the next few weeks a strange, oppressive mood settled over France, a kind of suffocating despair, all-encompassing and shot through with glints of insurrection. People even chose to leave the country. Then, a month after the elections, Mohammed Ben Abbes announced the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood. There had already been one attempt to form an Islamic party, the French Muslim Party, but it soon fell apart over the embarrassing anti-Semitism of its leader–so extreme that it drove him into an alliance with the far right. The Muslim Brotherhood learned its lesson and was careful to take a moderate line…. Its rise was nothing short of meteoric. After less than five years it was now polling just behind the Socialists, at 21 versus 23 percent… The National Front, with 32 percent, remained far and away the leading party of France.

Everything about Houellebecq’s imagined 2017 is wrong. The left was roundly defeated in the last elections. It got only 7 percent of the vote in April. The National Front and Marine Le Pen did very well initially– 21 percent of the vote — but a far second to the neo-centrist meteor, Emmanuel Macron. France is not an “openly rightwing” country. In the May runoff the National Front was thumped, 2-to-1, by Macron, who has not a scintilla of socialism or Islam about him– and who is greeting Donald Trump today as France’s president.

And no: A month after the election, the Muslim Brotherhood did not announce its formation. Therefore no Muslim party is having a meteoric rise. The idea that the Muslim Brotherhood will be able to form a coalition with the Socialists in 2022 in order to defeat the National Front and gain the presidency and then institute Sharia law… Not a chance in hell, or Paris either.

Houellebecq was clearly being satirical. He was mocking leftwing political correctness, and hinting about the results of leftwing righteousness and lawlessness: the imposition of a patriarchal order in France. He was also making fun of right wing nationalists– and suggesting ways that an Islamic France would be an improvement over the atomized and materialistic society that Francois, the narrator, lives in.

But if Houellebecq was warning us about the political dangers/attractions of religious politics, the warning has backfired– because he has already been so wrong about his projections. When he tells us that there will be no representatives of the Jewish Students Union on any Paris campus while Muslim Brotherhood branches are popping up all over, in 2022, we shouldn’t be alarmed. Sorry, there’s just no way.

His mistake was to place the book in the here and now. This strikes me as a literary failure; the point of a dystopia is to cast a light of critical recognition on current social trends. Most famously, in 1984, Orwell sought to warn people about Communism’s potential power in western society. But Orwell published the book in 1949, long before the events he was predicting. So we had to mull the predictions for years before they were disproven by events.

Houellebecq is surely less afraid of Islam than Orwell was of totalitarianism. Orwell was obsessed. Houellebecq merely seems diverted. His real interests lie elsewhere.

I must give the author credit for a number of correct pronouncements. Houellebecq said that the UMP, Sarkozy’s old party, would plateau. It has– now called the Republicans, the party fell short of the runoff in the last election. His predictions of the political collapse of the left are also on target. Thus it is “over for the two parties that have dominated French political life since the birth of the Fifth Republic.”

He also said that in 2017 Marine Le Pen of the National Front “tried to look like Angela Merkel, even to her suits.” Spot on.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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14 Responses

  1. Keith on July 13, 2017, 4:50 pm

    PHIL- “Houellebecq was clearly being satirical.”

    Perhaps, but his writing (which I didn’t read) may be also influenced by his STRONG pro-Israeli/anti-left bias. A quote for you about someone you admire.

    “Israel is more moral than the Palestinians. At first I was neutral, but the Palestinian suicide bombings shocked me. Unlike the Israelis, who strike at pre-marked targets, the Palestinian attacks are blind, and that is much less moral. The end does not justify the means, and that is why the Palestinians have lost legitimacy in my eyes.” (Michel Houellebecq)

    • Citizen on July 14, 2017, 5:43 am

      I guess the genius novelist never thought about the fact the Palestinians were not equipped with sophisticated guided weapons, nor protected at the UN from accountability, in both advantages, by the lone superpower USA & its European allies.

      • Eva Smagacz on July 15, 2017, 10:07 am

        Spot on – is it
        less moral to take pin out of granade and perish with it, in knowledge that it’s the only way to stop the enemy, as Russian soldiers used to do for “matierii Rassija” [mother Russia]

        Than to press buttons on the computer console somewhere on the outskirts of Sderot, before returning to doing manicure?


      • Citizen on July 16, 2017, 4:30 pm

        Hi Eva. Always glad to read your insightful comments. I’m not sure, do you live in Poland? I wonder as I’m trying to figure out what’s going on over there.

    • eljay on July 15, 2017, 12:23 pm

      || Keith: … “Israel is more moral than the Palestinians. At first I was neutral, but the Palestinian suicide bombings shocked me. Unlike the Israelis, who strike at pre-marked targets, the Palestinian attacks are blind, and that is much less moral. The end does not justify the means, and that is why the Palestinians have lost legitimacy in my eyes.” (Michel Houellebecq) … ||

      Mr. Houllebecq appreciates the “more moral” actions of the rapist who strikes his victims pre-marked targets in a calm and calculated manner while they “much less morally” lash out blindly in fear, anger and desperation.

  2. Henry Norr on July 14, 2017, 2:21 am

    You write, Phil, that the French left “got only 7 percent of the vote in April. ” That’s wildly wrong. It’s true that Benoît Hamon, the candidate of the Socialist Party (from its left wing, for what that’s worth) got only 6.36 percent of the vote in the April 23 first round. But Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the new La France Insoumise party, a genuine leftist, got 19.58 percent, far more than almost anyone had expected at the start of the campaign., and only 1.72 percent behind Marine Le Pen of the National Front. And candidates from smaller left parties got almost 2 percent.

    In all, it’s fair to say that the French left has not recovered from the demise of the old Communist Party and the move of the Socialist Party leadership (notably former President François Hollande) into the neoliberal camp. But Hamon’s victory in the Socialist primary and Mélenchon’s remarkable performance in the campaign and the first round of the presidential vote are real signs of hope. Ignoring them in assessing the state of French politics is like talking about UK and US politics without mentioning the successes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

    • Citizen on July 16, 2017, 4:35 pm

      Have you ever seen anything so stale and childish as Trump & the latest French leader at the peacock military parade? It was like watching old grainy documentary film of the big power spectacle shows just before WW1. I guess silly is evil.

  3. a blah chick on July 14, 2017, 10:28 am

    I’ve got a great way to shut up the Sharia law hysterics. Just tell them that Israel has Sharia law and watch their heads explode.

  4. Brewer on July 15, 2017, 4:19 pm

    One glance at that visage is enough to restore one’s faith in Karma.
    Incredible how low the literary establishment will go in promoting garbage that conforms to its ideology. Look what it did for Houellebecq’s buddy, faux philosphe Bernard Henri Levy.

  5. Citizen on July 16, 2017, 4:38 pm

    My god, look at that picture! Looks like he’s from Hobbit world.

    • echinococcus on July 16, 2017, 8:58 pm

      Sorry, I just can’t share Weiss’ liking for the guy’s production. His writing looks even worse than the face shown in that particular picture.

      People Magazine-level language, Ladies’ Home Journal-level sociology, Reader’s Digest-level science*, all blown to a giant Hindenburg with the full support of the big best-seller factories as their darling. Those who don’t read French are lucky –he is, with Bernard-Henry Lévy, the guy to justify all of RoHa’s pronunciamientos on the Abominable French Language.

      Two quotes about this guy, from people who should know (almost as much as RoHa) about writing in French:

      “Well then, what does this novel [The Map and the Territory] offer that is new? […] Some prattle about the Human Condition; some stilted writing with pretend-simplicity […].” — Tahar Ben Jelloun

      “Let Houellebecq write as many poor dialogues as he wishes; that isn’t the problem. The problem is that he is called a (good) novelist and that he calls “poetry” his own writing. […] But the “I got a hard-on; it’s raining” effect is somewhat stale and hackneyed –not enough, at any rate, as a claim to a style.” — Raphaël Meltz

      Perhaps the translation looks better, who knows?

      As for what his own mother says of this “greedy upstart” who “believes in his arrogance that he is always superior” “ready to do anything to get riches and fame”, it starts by “he can go get f*cked by whoever he wants” as long as he avoids mentioning her… (
      *Also peddling undigested population genetics, i.e. not the relatively scientific part but the racist mountebankery.

  6. Qualtrough on July 18, 2017, 12:22 am

    I’m all for criticizing Houellebecq, but this criticism of his looks is childish and does nothing to support any case against him. Take the high road people.

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