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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

 

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen