France’s Chief Rabbi Brokered a Compromise between Michel Houellebecq and Muslim Leaders

Perhaps France’s leading novelist, Michel Houellebecq is no stranger to controversy—especially when it comes to his pronouncements about, and literary depictions of, Islam in his country. Thus his prediction in an interview late last year that in France soon “whole areas will be under Islamic control,” and that non-Muslims will respond with violence, led Chems-Eddine Hafiz, the rector of Paris’s Grand Mosque, to file a complaint against him for “community violence incitement.” Michel Gurfinkiel provides some background, and explains how the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, convinced Hafiz to relent:

Mr. Houellebecq is arguably France’s best and most important contemporary writer. There is a widespread feeling that he deserved much more a Nobel Prize than the 2022 French laureate, Annie Ernaux. While both deal at length with social and societal issues, like class, sex, gender, and race, Mr. Houellebecq never gets stuck, unlike Ms. Ernaux, in Manichean postures, and devotes equal attention and sympathy, as the author, to all his characters.

Ms. Ernaux bought her ticket to fame—and ultimately the Nobel Prize—by subscribing to what America and the rest of the world, it seems, call woke orthodoxy. This includes a denial of Islamist threats to France in 2015 and support for anti-Israel campaigns. Mr. Houellebecq, on the contrary, did not shy away from tackling the Islamic and Islamist challenges to France and the West.

Houellebecq first found himself in legal troubles over similar statements in 2001, not long before the al-Qaeda attacks on America:

The case was then dismissed by the French court, setting a twenty-year-old precedent that Chief Rabbi Korsia did not fail to mention to Rector Hafiz when he suggested to him that he drop the complaint. All the more so since most of the French have doubled down, in the wake of the murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in 2015, and more recently in front of a spreading wokeism, on their traditional aversion to censorship.

Eventually, Mr. Houellebecq met the rector under Mr. Korsia’s tutelage, and agreed to reword his previous statements incrementally, when the interview will be published again as a book. Mr. Houellebecq may have learned one thing at least from the Islamic culture: taqiya, the permissibility to please adversaries if needed.

Read more at Middle East Forum

More about: European Islam, France, French Jewry, Rabbis


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy