The cover of the most recent issue of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo—published just before two gunmen massacred 12 at its Paris headquarters this week—didn't, as the publication often did, lampoon fundamentalist Islam. Instead, the target of Charlie's satire was the novelist Michel Houellebecq, whose sixth novel, Submission, was published on Wednesday, the day of the massacre.
The cover shows a grotesque caricature of Houellebecq, wearing a wizard's hat, under the headline: "The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq." "In 2015, I lose my teeth," says one. "In 2022, I do Ramadan." The reference is to the two things the novelist is famous for in France: his run-down appearance and his outspoken attitude toward Islam. True to form, Houellebecq skewers the faith in Submission, which imagines France falling under Sharia law in the very near future. But the novel also presents an uncomfortable message for the French establishment—they are perhaps not as different from their country's extremists as they'd like.
Submission—whose English translation is expected to arrive later this year—reportedly tells the story of Francois, a bored 44-year-old literature professor at the Sorbonne with an obscure academic expertise and a habit of sleeping with his students. The novel is set in 2022, when Francois becomes transfixed by that year's presidential election, whose two leading candidates are Marine Le Pen, the real-life leader of France's far-right National Front, and Mohammed Ben Abbes, the head of a fictional Islamic Party. In order to prevent Le Pen from winning, Ben Abbes cuts a deal with France's left-wing party and is subsequently elected president. Almost immediately, France is placed under Sharia law.