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Soumission by Michel Houellebecq – Book Review

Religion is not something people are able to critique easily. Many of the ‘new Atheists’, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. have outed critique on Christianity and on the Islam. Most of the Christian can tolerate criticism and jokes nowadays, but for Muslim countries this is not the case. People who critique the Islam can get death threats or drawing Muhammed might mean blasphemy and the loss of Muslim friends.

            It is no wonder that many critique Christianity instead when they want to disprove God, the same arguments apply in great lines to the Islam as well. They care a bit too much, but French people? They just don’t give a shit. They’ll critique and humor anything and the more taboo surrounds the topic, the quicker they’ll be to do it.

            Enter Michel Houellebecq and his book Soumission or Submission (which is the meaning of the word Islam). In this novel we follow a university professor from Paris, who specializes in the work of Joris-Karl Huysmans. He has affaires with his students and drinks until he isn’t able to stand straight. So far, a typical French novel. The elections are coming up and two parties are taking the front. The extreme right party and the Muslim party. Both would mean a huge shift in the political landscape and society as they know it.

            The Muslim party claims victory and now intends to bring in Sharia law and the Quran as highest power of law. The intellectuals aren’t really fond of this. Women wouldn’t be allowed in schools anymore; only men would be allowed to go to university. Other negative impacts would be instated for women. To have a position of power would mean to convert to the Islam. So, at first, no one of the intellectuals actually becomes a Muslim, until one part of it incites an interest. They would be allowed to have multiple wives. When learning about this all the male intellectuals decide that the Islam isn’t all that bad and become a Muslim.

            Obviously, this is critique on the Islam of the highest order. Yet, it is also critique of the intellectual world. They only think about themselves and if there is something profitable in it, then they’ll convert to whatever they need to convert into. Houellebecq masterfully gives critique both to the Islam and to the hypocrisy of the intellectual elite, who don’t really follow through in their beliefs when it isn’t profitable for them to follow them.

            So, while the Islam is presented in a bad daylight, the true critique is on our society and our intellectuals as a whole. True, the Islam has some unacceptable laws, but it’s we as a society who are willing to let those unacceptable laws exist as long as we get some profit from it (here: multiple women). I believe Houellebecq plays with these two critiques and themes beautifully.

            This is a light read. It isn’t very long and is easily readable. It’s quite straight to the point and doesn’t leave much room for multiple narratives. It did get me interested in learning more about the Islam and the Quran. Nowadays (definitely in Belgium) there is a lot of debate concerning the immigration of people from Muslim countries. Should they adapt our values and standards or is it okay to live in a multicultural society? Houellebecq gives his opinion on the matter through this book. It’s a book that’s quite topical and I believe it’ll be this way for some time still. Even if you don’t share his view on the matter, it is definitely worth the read.

By elenchusphilosophy

I'm a Philosophy student in Belgium, trying to talk and write about ideas of all kinds of sorts.

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