As per my earlier report on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, other commentators have been picking up on the coincidental timing of the attack with the publication of Michel Houellebecq’s new novel Soumission (Submission), with its (to say the least) controversial portrayal of a near-future Islamicized France. Al Jazeera is just one, rounding up the responses of Houellebecq himself and of other sources inside and outside France. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, for instance, labeled the novel a “provocation,” and expressed the hope that members of the local PEGIDA anti-Islamic movement are “not interested in French novels,” because they could feel “vindicated in their dumb resentment” by it.

As it happens, the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo published at the time of the attack showed what the magazine itself thought of the book and of Houellebecq. Starring on the cover under the headline, “The Predictions of Mage Houellebecq,” the Houellebecq caricature declares “In 2015, I’ll lose my teeth,” and “In 2022, I’ll celebrate Ramadan!”

Asked on broadcaster France 2 to respond to charges that he was feeding the Front National and Islamophobia with the novel, Houellebecq declared: Other things change the course of history: essays, the manifesto of the Communist Party, but not novels.” However, he went on to say that “I won’t avoid a subject just because I know it’s controversial,” and, in words that will hardly reassure anyone alarmed by the novel’s vision of a France converted wholesale to Islam, “it’s not radical Islam in the book … rather, it’s one of the gentlest variants imaginable. ”

One of the many other bitter ironies of the attack is that one of the policemen who died, Ahmed Merabet, was himself a French Muslim, underlining the fact that moderate Islam as well as free speech and France were victims of the attack. But if Houellebecq isn’t exactly jumping up from the Judas seat as a stalwart defender of tolerance and Western secular traditions – except in so far as they facilitate his own work – others are. France Télévisions, Le and Groupe Radio France have offered their material and human resources “so that Charlie Hebdo can continue to exist.” Besides the global ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬ demos, Banksy has already portrayed what he feels about the affair – see below. And one of Charlie Hebdo’s former journalists has declared: “We have all decided, the journalists who survived and their ex-colleagues, that we are going to have a meeting tomorrow to publish the next Charlie Hebdo, because there is no way, even if they killed 10 of us, that the newspaper won’t be out next week.” Free speech, like Islam, has its martyrs.



  1. You bring up a reference to the antisemitic Judas myth from Christian church propaganda in article about getting rid of age-old religious stereotypes? PAUL? GET THEE TO A NUNNERY! shame on you sir….wtf?

  2. Dan, you bring up PC sensitivities about a single word/metaphor choice in the context of Charlie Hebdo? Notorious for offending all comers indiscriminately? Apply those attitudes, and Charlie would never even appear, let alone be worth dying for.

  3. Quote: “Let’s be clear here: the terrorists’ goal is not to “defend” Islam, but to increase the persecution of (the largely non-religious) Muslims in France, so that they have an easier time recruiting them to their cause.”

    Being rather patronizing aren’t you? You suggest that they’re lying about their goal. My experience is that even violent people tell the truth when the describe their motivations. Hitler, after all, made quite clear why he felt justified in persecuting Jews. And the Klan never claimed to be anything other that a white supremacist organization.

    Your point is also illogical. If these terrorists had wanted to turn the broader population of France against the country’s Muslim’s large and growing minority, they’d have picked a more general target. They’d have attacked winter vacationers at a beach in the south of France, for instance. Everyone non-Muslim would have felt threaten and would have wanted repression.

    Instead, by targeting one of the few publications in France brave enough to make fun of their religion’s founder, they signaled that safety for heretics lies in silence. “Don’t criticize Mohammed,” they were saying, “and we will probably leave you alone.”

    One of the most important of talents is the ability to see reality as it is, not sugar coating it to make it seem less threatening or distorted in to serve some other goal. Sure, these terrorist want converts. But this wasn’t about getting converts. It was about silencing one of France’s boldest critics of the pretensions of Islam’s far-from-impressive founder.

    In fact, you might ask yourself, what someone can learn by looking at the lives of the founders of the major religions. Can you make Judaism bad by describing the life of Abraham? No. How about Christianity and Jesus? Again no. He even has the respect of most atheists. And Buddha? Again no. (Hinduism roots are too deep in the past to discuss a founder.)

    But when you look at Islam, there you can make a case that the religion was polluted at its source, that the religion’s ills do flow from its founder. You may even conclude that these terrorists are behaving quite like he did.

    And that’s why attacking critics of Islam’s founder is of primary importance to its zealots. Its far more important than stimulating a bit of mild persecution of all French Muslims. And it is far more important than winning this covert or that convert. It is the ultimate Achilles heel of the religion.

    • Did you actually even bother to read the article I linked, Michael? It makes a considerable amount of sense. Attacking winter vacationers or what-have-you wouldn’t have the cachet of trying to attack free speech and expression, which is guaranteed to rouse fury, and outpourings of fury that help reinforce that fury in others, in a way that attacking innocent vacationers doesn’t. You wouldn’t get writers and artists everywhere saying “Je suis winter vacationer!”

      It’s a time-honored tactic, used by Stalinists in the early 20th century. It worked really well for them then, and what with all the mosques starting to get attacked, it looks like it’s going to work equally well for the terrorists now.

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