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

February 13, 2023 | Michel Gurfinkiel
About the author: Michel Gurfinkiel is the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute and a contributing editor at the Sun. He served as editor-in-chief of Valeurs Actuelles from 1985 to 2006.

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.

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