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Michel Houellebecq’s Critique of Western Anomie

Oct. 28 2015

Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission—recently translated into English—depicts a dystopian near future in which France undergoes Islamization. The protagonist, François, is a cynical and unhappy professor at the Sorbonne, which has recently become a Muslim institution. Although the book raised predictable cries of Islamophobia, not to mention death threats against the author, Benjamin Haddad argues that it is an attack not so much on Islam as on modern, secular, and liberal European society:

Where Catholic spirituality fails, Islam offers François a compelling alternative. . . . Islam, an ideology in expansion, strong and confident, offers the narrator—and indeed the whole country—an accessible framework for a complete and easy life. And it turns out, it is what everyone has been waiting for. François converts because he is offered predictability, security, recognition, and status. Yes, the university grants him three wives. But even more importantly, they will be chosen for him. The burden of having to make decisions as a free man is, at last, taken away.

Houellebecq’s intellectual challenge to liberalism is much more troubling than the quite frankly preposterous fictional prospect of a Muslim takeover of France. That people will not willingly submit is central to liberalism’s survival: citizens must bear the responsibility of choosing and questioning, rather than relying blindly on external authority. We want to believe that only fear, violence, or lack of education—exterior factors of constraint—should prevent people from naturally wanting to be free. . . .

Submission therefore is a success—despite its many flaws—because it really does tell us something about the times we live in. As the English translation hits American bookshelves this week, Europe is grappling with self-doubt and is flirting with toxic populism and cynical resignation. Even with its shortcomings, the novel brilliantly manages to distill the intellectual questioning wracking the continent. Can European societies recover? Can Europe give a new sense of purpose, identity, and bond to its citizens, while still keeping with its liberal tradition? Or will Europeans turn to more totalitarian ideologies, and to populist demagogues, as they forsake the lonely, thankless, and exhausting individualist project demanded by modern liberalism?

Read more at American Interset

More about: Arts & Culture, European Islam, France, Liberalism, Literature, Secularism

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy