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In the Near Hereafter

eye on the news

In the Near Hereafter

Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel could foretell France’s future. March 30, 2015

Does life imitate art? Michel Houellebecq’s novel Soumission (Submission) was published on the same day as the attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Set in the year 2022 (the election year after next), Soumission tells the story of France’s election of a Muslim president. The manner in which he comes to power is eerily reminiscent of what is happening in France now.

According to Houellebecq’s political scenario, the deeply unpopular and ineffectual François Hollande, thanks to an opposition enfeebled by accusations of corruption, has managed to win a second presidential term—but by the end of his tenure, economic decline and social unrest have made the right-wing National Front the nation’s most popular party. Meanwhile, a Muslim political party has gathered strength. Under French election law, the two parties with the highest number of votes have a runoff—and, in Houellebecq’s fictional 2022, those parties are the National Front and the Muslim Party. So hated is the National Front by the other main parties that they advise their voters to vote for the Muslim Party, which duly wins the presidency, though it garnered only 21 percent of the votes in the first round.

In real life, Hollande is deeply unpopular and ineffectual, the opposition is enfeebled by accusations of corruption, and the National Front (according to polls) is the most popular party and would gain the most votes if there were an election tomorrow. The only ingredient lacking from Houellebecq’s scenario is a Muslim political party.

That has now been supplied: the Union des Démocrates Musulmans Français (UDMF), which has only 900 members—200 joined after the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the publication of Soumission—but 8,000 “sympathizers.” The UDMF will run candidates for eight of the 2,000 available seats in the forthcoming local elections. The party says that it does not want to Islamize France or to impose sharia law but only to give Muslims a voice, which the current political parties do not offer. It seeks to combat the failures of integration and to reverse the banning of the headscarf in schools. Its modest proposals at the moment are to make the French economy healthier by incorporating Islamic finance into it, to reduce unemployment by extending halal businesses, to strengthen the teaching about the colonization of Algeria in schools, and to grant foreigners the right to vote.

Two earlier Muslim political parties existed in France, both of which disappeared almost as soon as they formed; and the UDMF remains tiny. But political parties, like companies, have to start somewhere. No doubt many disappear ignominiously and others survive only in a small way, but a few succeed. The National Front was once as small as the UDMF.

Houellebecq’s book was not a political prediction, any more than was Brave New World or 1984. And his criticism was directed as much at the state of Western civilization in general, and at French civilization in particular, as at Islam. Still, he must be smiling.

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