Michel Houellebecq’s novel “Soumission” is very enjoyable reading. Written in simple, clear prose it tells the story of a Parisian professor of literature in 2022, just before and during a presidential election where the Muslim candidate wins a clear majority and forms a Muslim-dominated coalition government with the other “Republican”, i.e. anti-Front National parties. Everything goes very smoothly, apart from a few minor raids and incidents, the French nation willingly-unwillingly yields to the Muslim candidate – who himself seems to abhor the more radical Salafist activities.
The protagonist, a youngish, world-weary professor whose dissertation on mid-19 century French writer Joris-Karl Huysman forms the basis not only of his academic career, but pervades his slow life’s daily non-activities more and more, leads his alcohol and easy sex-permeated life away from friends and acquaintances, apart from his female student sex partners quite uninterested in the world around him, slides into depressions, occasional discussions with colleagues and in this way is the unwilling “role model” for the French society’s slide into a Muslim-dominated world. When his university closes and is re-opened as a Saudi-financed new university, he loses his job, his lover, a young Jewish student, leaves for Israel and he starts to contemplate suicide, but is too lethargic to really think about it. However, the new university president, a Christian “identity” follower, approaches him, invites him to a lavish city palace in Paris where he lives with his new Muslim wives (yes, the new government accepts and promotes several wives and rewards its new (formerly Christian) followers after their conversion with enough money to support several wives. There he offers our protagonist a job in the university, a salary 3 times as high as before, and acquaints him with the joys of several wives (one for the kitchen who prepares delicious Lebanese pastries, one for sex, others do not become visible) and the quasi-humanist philosophy of the new President whose further geopolitical aim is the resurrection of the Roman Empire under French (Muslim) leadership. EU accession with Turkey is close, negotiations with Morocco and Tunisia have begun, those with Egypt are seen as the ultimate prize. Christian faith may remain, Jews might become problems, but tolerance and Scharia law seem to be happily married. Our protagonist accepts all these changes easily, as seem most of society, apart from Marine LePen who is relegated to leading large demonstrations, but more or less removed from active politics. Of course, every day, new first surprises occur: women do not wear skirts any more, in order not to show legs, all female students wear veils, at the official university parties only male Saudis and French mingle, etc. The protagonist’s sexual needs encounter problems, since the veiled students do not reveal how they look, so he contacts escort services which strangely enough are populated by women with Muslim names, but whose sexual practices seem universal. When he asks his university president (who later becomes university minister) about the problem how to choose an appropriately looking wife, he is told about the valuable services of (female) marriage brokers who are able to view the candidates naked and thus advise the men.
There is a lot of discussion about the merits and demerits of 19the century French literature which to a non-French are hard to judge. Names fly back and forth, the conceptual roots of various identity and Muslim-oriented political movements are discussed, atheism unveiled as a logical non-sequitur and many political movements directed towards Islam in an “intelligent design” manner as their ultimate raison d’ etre.
The stunning impression I had when reading this very well-written and translated book (in German) is the pervasive distance which the protagonist and his occasional discussion partners feel towards all the goings-on. This is in very stark contrast to today’s international frenzied debate about Islamism, IS and their threat for (Christian) Europe. In Houellebecq’s book one really gets the feeling of an old, tired, sated civilization which has given up itself and which is being taken over by the new vigorous “humanist” Islam with a (relatively) moderate face. There are no Charlie Hebdo or Kosher supermarket horrors, but only matter-of-fact takeovers of Muslim “values” and conceptions. H. does not even hint at maybe more radical moves in the future, rather a somber lull has captured France and the European Union (in a number of other EU countries, Moslem governments have already been installed). This is not Orwell’s vision of 1984, but a “Roman Empire with a Human Face”.