Last week I got my hands on a novel that has ruffled a few feathers in France. I hadn’t planned on giving it much attention with my summer vacation drawing to a close, but once I began reading it became impossible to put down. To my surprise, I finished the book in a single Saturday. During Lent I recommended the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo. This summer, amid the seemingly endless wake of Mohammedan attacks across Europe, I propose Submission as a thought-provoking read for Maccabean men.
Submission presents an indictment of liberal democracy and a disturbing glimpse into France’s Islamic future. Published on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it quickly became a bestseller in France and Germany. The author, Michel Houellebecq, has a history of ruffling a few feathers. After portraying Islam negatively in a prior novel and referring to Islam as the world’s “dumbest religion”, he was brought to trial on charges of “inciting racial hatred.” (Fortunately, he was later acquitted).
The Plot Synopsis:
The book follows the journey of François, a middle-aged academic, numbly drifting through Europe’s postmodern wilderness. François doesn’t enjoy teaching his literature classes at the Sorbonne and sees academia for the pointless intellectual abyss it has become. He has no wife or children, is estranged from his parents, and aimlessly bounces from one sexual encounter to another – encounters he doesn’t even enjoy. François believes in no God and feels politically apathetic. In sum, he typifies the modern European male: emasculated, alienated and adrift.
While the novel fleshes out the protagonist’s (often humorous) worldview, the reader begins to catch signals that France has changed. François is usually chowing down on Middle Eastern cuisine, many of his students are veiled, gunshots ring out on a regular basis and SWAT teams scurry about the streets of Paris. There are reports of teachers being attacked, mosques being desecrated and Jews fleeing en masse to Israel. The peculiar thing about this upheaval is that the French public seems largely apathetic and the media doesn’t bother to cover it. It seems people have simply grown weary of the sectarian violence and rooted their heads firmly in the sand. Bread and circus only, s’il vous plait.
In the 2022 elections, however, a dramatic political shift brings the clash of civilizations to a head. France’s sizable Muslim minority has always voted Socialist. (This is why today the French Left is happy to bring in millions of migrants, knowing full well the result will be incessant terror attacks and cultural annihilation- it’s momentarily politically expedient). Because of this alliance with the Socialists, no one takes the new Muslim Brotherhood Party seriously. When the votes are tallied, however, France is brought to a near state of emergency. The far-right, anti-immigration party has earned the most votes, accounting for around 22%. The Muslim Brotherhood has come in a close second, and the Socialist Party has also taken a good 20% of the vote, with the remaining electorate divided between the smaller parties.
Elections split between multiple parties are fairly common in European politics. The rival parties overcome this political impasse by negotiating temporary alliances and forming majority coalitions. In the novel, to everyone’s surprise, the moderate conservative party and the Socialists form a coalition around the Muslim Brotherhood, effectively nullifying the power of the reactionary right. The friendly and charismatic Mohammed Ben-Abbes becomes the new president of France.
The nature of the political bargain struck between the left and the Islamists is fascinating. The Muslims are happy to cede control of the economy, the various governmental departments and even the military to the rival parties. If you like your welfare state, you can keep your welfare state. What the Muslim faction demands is complete control over France’s ruthlessly secular education system. Ben-Abbes sells this plan well to the public. Catholics deserve schools funded by the government, as do Jews and Muslims. It’s time for people of faith to stop being marginalized! Non-Muslims will still be able to attend Muslim-run schools, naturally, it’s merely a matter of ensuring respect for our religious heritages.
For the Muslims, faithful Catholics are viewed as potential allies. As such, they are more than happy to fund their schools and pour millions into renovating churches. Moreover, Ben-Abbes is a Distributist, heavily influenced by Chesterton, Belloc and Catholic Social Teaching. His economic reforms will later enjoy widespread popularity among the French working class. The real enemy is godless secularism and decadent western culture. Controlling education is the key to slaying this two-headed dragon.
The Muslim leadership is quite prescient. It recognizes that France has already sacrificed its future on the altar of progressivism. The young French don’t marry, they have no children, they abort, contracept, and devote their political energy to stupid social causes. They have abandoned their Catholic patrimony and jettisoned their former empire and military prowess. As products of modern democracy and capitalism, they value individualism and the pursuit of their own pleasures above perpetuating their own society. Consequently, Muslims have no need to make war on these poor people. They’re extinguishing themselves! Muslims need only to continue having large families, preserve their faith, and maintain their patriarchal social order. Making public schools and universities Muslim-controlled ensures the cultural transmission of traditional values. With the schools in hand, it’s just a matter of patiently waiting out France’s demographic winter.
Thus it comes to pass. Universities become Islamic and non-Muslim instructors are let go, including François. The mass layoffs don’t provoke much outrage, surprisingly, because fired staff are given generous lifetime pensions. Indeed, the Muslims are eager to shell out whatever money it takes to keep the natives placated. (They’re able to do this, in part, because the Saudi petromonarchs are dumping vast sums of money into France’s Islamic schools)
Overnight, France accepts an Islamic future. François has no idea what to make of it all. He spends time in a monastery, symbolically in Martel, and toys with the idea of going to Spain. Part of him is drawn to the beauty of the mass and spiritual vitality of Our Lady. Nevertheless, no Christian spiritual breakthrough occurs. Being immersed in a monastic environment does seem to help him come to the realization that liberalism is unsustainable, however, and resisting patriarchy and virility will end in cultural extinction.
“The French Revolution, the republic, the motherland…yes, that all paved the way for something, something that lasted a little more than a century. The Christian Middle Ages lasted a millennium and more…the true divinity of the Middle Ages, the beating heart of its devotion, wasn’t God the Father, wasn’t even Jesus Christ. It was the Virgin Mary.”
When François returns to Paris he finds that the new president of the Islamic Sorbonne wants him back in the literature department. He wines and dines François, politely challenging him to explain why he’s an atheist. François finds that he really doesn’t have any solid grounds for rejecting the existence of God. After some intellectually stimulating discussions, the president loans François a bestselling book he penned on Islamic apologetics. François doesn’t have a religious bone in his body but as he reads the book he finds himself impressed with Islam’s simplicity and cosmological elegance. He also begins to feel liberated from his sexual perversions. Indeed, now that women are covered, he passes entire days without objectifying the women who cross his path.
Slowly but surely, Francois begins to picture himself assuming the life his president has offered; having three beautiful young wives who cook wonderful meals and tend to his every need, tripling his salary, living in luxury, teaching only courses he’s interested in, publishing whatever he wants. He contrasts this vision with the lonely, utterly meaningless life that secular Europe has provided him thus far as an atheist. Soon enough, the choice becomes clear.
The Moral of the Story:
What are we to make of France’s rapid cultural transformation and Francois’ conversion? Like any compelling story, interpretation is ultimately subjective. For this reader, however, the message was clear. If we abandon our Christian patrimony and forsake our duty to be husbands, fathers and spiritual leaders, we invite our own destruction.
While I believe the artistic merit of this book outweighs its flaws, the flaws should be noted. There are several very graphic sexual scenes in the book. If you struggle with sins of the flesh, you may want to abstain, or at the very least, skip ahead a page when you encounter these descriptions.