SUBMISSION: A Novel
By Michel Houellebecq
Translated from the French by Lorin Stein
New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2015
It is France in 2022. An election year. The country is convulsed by violence. Not just the riots that have become a fixture of French urban life in recent years, but outright street battles. Ethnic groups fight right-wing youth. The country’s media refuses to honestly disclose who is committing the crimes. Who is leading the riots.
To prevent the election of the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, the Elites form a grand coalition composed of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement, the Socialists, and the new Muslim Brotherhood. They nominate a “moderate” Muslim, the charming Mohammed Ben Abbes, who wins and becomes the new President of the French Republic.
The story is told through the eyes of Francois, a professor of literature at the Sorbonne, who is basically burned out in his mid-40s. He relates what he sees, what is going on at his university. Here is how he (really Houellebecq) describes the situation:
On reporting crime in the run-up to the election:
No one talked about violence in the banlieues or race riots anymore. That was all passed over in silence.
Speaking with a friend:
I think they are terrified the National Front is going to win the election. Any images of urban violence mean more votes for the National Front…You’ll notice that every time things have gotten out of hand these last few months, it started [according to mainstream reports] with an anti-Muslim provocation: somebody desecrating a mosque or forcing a woman to lift her veil, that kind of thing.
And you think the National Front is behind it all?
No, no. They can’t do it themselves, that’s not how it works. There are, shall we say, back channels.
A spontaneous reaction emerges in the form of the “Indigenous Europeans” movement:
They had a clear, unifying message: We are the indigenous peoples of Europe, the first occupants of the land….We are against Muslim occupation—and we’re also against American companies and against the new capitalists from India, China, et cetera, buying up our heritage. They were clever, they quoted Geronimo, Cochise, and Sitting Bull….The music was catching. It brought in new members, younger members.
Millions of Frenchmen turn out for the National Front’s rallies, carrying banners that read, “We Are the People of France” and “This Is Our Home.”
But, in the end, the corrupt elites defeat the populists. Widespread election fraud is suspected. Francois reflects:
I realized—I’d known for years—that the widening gap, now a chasm, between the people and those who claimed to speak for them, the politicians and the journalists, would necessarily lead to a situation that was chaotic, violent, and unpredictable. For a long time France, like all the other countries of Western Europe, had been drifting toward civil war.
In the new cabinet, the Muslims share power with their coalition partners. But they insist on taking the Ministry of Education. Like Antonio Gramsci’s followers in the United States and elsewhere today, they know that, in the words of Pierre Assouline, “Education controls the transmission of values and molds the spirit before dominating the soul.” The author reminds us of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s proclamation:
If Islam is not political, it is nothing.
As the novel concludes, the Left sits back and allows the Muslims to take over the school system. No one may teach who is not pro-Islam. Francois goes through the motion of submission, the meaning of Islam in Arabic, thus retaining his professorship. And now that polygamy is legal, he takes on more than one much younger new wife.
Elsewhere, Belgium follows France in having a new Islamic administration. Similar movements are on the march in the rest of Western Europe.
Readers may be aware that Submission was released in France on January 7, 2015, the day the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked by masked gunmen, murdering eight of its employees. It happened that the current issue had featured Michel Houellebecq, who had earlier posited that “the dumbest religion is still Islam.”
At latest count, the novel has been translated into nearly twenty languages, including Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian, to Czech, Finnish, Portuguese, Slovenian, Latvian, Icelandic, Hebrew, and Japanese. It has been a best-seller in Germany and Italy.
European critics have likened it to Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints and George Orwell’s 1984. Like those authors, Houellebecq’s main targets are the intellectual classes and the political and economic elites. In the novel the narrator observes,
Thanks to the simpering seductions and the lewd enticements of the progressives, the Church had lost its ability to oppose moral decadence….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.
In an interview with The Paris Review, Houellebecq remarked, “I condense an evolution that is, in my opinion, realistic.” Events since the release of his novel bear witness to the truth of that. American readers will find much to reflect on here.