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?

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

 

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon