Tag Archives: islam

Book Review: Submission

Submission, by Michel Houllebecq

Part 2 (Camp of the Saints being first) of my topical reading list for this fall. By sheer coincidence, I began reading it in Paris the day after the terrorist attack that resulted in hundreds of casualties there.

The novel essentially has two non-traditional plots. Francois, a middle-aged college professor in Paris, goes through a midlife crisis, having recently stopped banging his most recent and favorite student. (That’s one “plot.”) In the background, meanwhile, the real events happen, and we learn about them in bouts of exposition. The Muslim Brotherhood, a new party in France, finishes second in the presidential election, qualifying for the runoff against the far right National Front. The leftist parties, following a disrupted runoff election (but at those behest?) agree to a deal, throwing their support to the Muslim Ben Abbas in a power-sharing deal. (Something similar happens in Belgium, coincidentally the site of post-Paris terror.)

(spoilers below)

French society slows drifts toward a religious conservatism. Subsidies for stay-at-home moms drive women out of the workforce and remove unemployment. Suspiciously, crime in the heavily Muslim banlieus drops precipitously. Ben Abbas uses his influence to invite Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt (for now) into the EU, slowly reconstituting the Roman Empire that he ultimately hopes to rule. Most relevant, the Muslims take control of the educational sector, reforming education in line with Muslim beliefs, and the to plots begin to intersect.

Francois, removed from his post for not being Muslim, is later recruited to come back, and his main concern with his conversion is how many wives he would be allowed under the new practice of polygamy. The dean recruiting him has several, ranging from 15 to 40, while even the nerdiest elderly professor is provided with a young coed.

That, roughly, summarizes the story. Houllebecq spends a lot of time telling us about Francois’ love life, though mostly it reads like an old man’s dirty fantasies. (One fun part is the annual ritual wherein his last year’s fling tells him she met someone over the summer.) The political analysis is somewhat superficial. While Houllebecq admits he accelerated the predicted demographics of the 2040s into the 2020s, so I give him a pass on that, but he misunderstands present-day Europe badly. The sort of leftist elite that would rather elect a Muslim than a far-rightist would also NEVER cede the education of their children to someone else. The political elites that could barely get southern and eastern Europe into the EU would and could not get any Muslim countries admitted except perhaps Turkey. The refugee crisis and the response thereto, if extended into the next couple of decades, would make this resistance stronger, not weaker.

Houllebecq’s strongest talent is showing the Islamic takeover as non-threatening, even welcome for a society whose liberal decadence has left it defenseless from strong convictions. There’s an insidious inevitability to this story that doesn’t hit you until you think about it for a bit.

Mildly recommended. It’s a quick read.

Book Review: The End Of Faith

Finally got around to Sam Harris’ The End of Faith on a flight this weekend. It’s a quick-moving polemic that is at time the pinnacle of clarity and at others glosses over items worthy of much more attention. Faith is a problem, but Harris muddles the analysis several times, often going from precise thought experiments to skipping over necessary discussion.

Perhaps the best guidance to the book is the subtitle: Religion, Terror, And The Future Of Reason. The first two combine form Harris’ most powerful argument: religious dogma is exempt from rational analysis, which has enabled some terrible ideas to survive into the present day. Among these are people who reject medical intervention on religious grounds, rejection of stem cell research, and the religious contributions to the spread of AIDS. The worst of these ideas mix in Islamic terrorism, which is close to combining an afterlife-focused religious extremism with weapons of mass destruction. Thundering away at the danger of those whose irrational thought makes them devalue the real world in favor of another is Harris at his best and most focused. The most powerful passages here focus on the bad choices we may well have to face in our lifetimes. (Start thinking how many innocent lives may be taken in order to prevent the destruction of a major city.) He also has to be given credit for predicting, correctly, that democracy in the Middle East will come with plenty of strong religious rule. (To be fair, Harris condemns most religions, but isolates Islam as the most important current threat.)

Of course, the contrast to the other points he makes is noticeable, and the drop-off in both rigor of thought and quality of writing is jarring. His attempts to go over “alternative approaches” is particularly misguided, with little coherence I could discern. Sure, I side with Harris regarding the virtues of science, but his discussion thereof in the book is oddly meandering and pointless. The last chapter on mysticism and spirituality is particularly confusing – something Harris seems to notice and blame on the reader.

I can’t really recommend the entirety of this book, but Harris makes some excellent point about choices the world will have to make in the near future. It’s a shame that this discussion comes back with some much less interesting stuff.