The Battle For France

At TAC, Scott McConnell has an excellent piece on “The Battle For France”:

Think what you will about America’s contentious identity politics; compared with France, the United States remains Mayberry, TV’s symbol of small-town innocence. We may have Black Lives Matter, massive resistance to a president seeking to enforce the country’s existing immigration laws, and urban riots. But in France the riots are bigger and last far longer. It has hundreds of thousands of people possessing French citizenship but evincing no discernible national loyalty. And there are few geographic barriers between itself and the sources of inundating immigration. No one can forecast with confidence the American future—whether it be a more or less successful assimilation of large streams of new immigrants or a transformed country where ethnic division is a norm underpinning every political transaction. But whatever the fate of Western civilization—whether it be a renaissance, or, as Pat Buchanan has predicted, its death—that fate will be revealed in Paris before New York or Chicago.

And that’s why France is the epicenter of today’s fearsome battle between Western elites bent on protecting and expanding the well-entrenched policy of mass immigration and those who see this spreading influx as an ultimate threat to the West’s cultural heritage, not to mention its internal tranquility…

McConnell discusses conservative public figures such as Éric Zemmour and Michel Houellebecq:

Michel Houellebecq was already there. The most renowned French novelist since Camus, this winner of the Prix Goncourt is a cultural reactionary with vaguely socialist economic leanings. One of his close friends, the left-wing economist Bernard Maris, considered Houellebecq one of France’s shrewdest critics of modern capitalism.

Still, the writer is no progressive. His 1998 breakout novel, The Elementary Particles, presented a withering picture of post-1968 family life, where hedonistic parents pursued self-actualization and largely abandoned the raising of their own children. This had been Houellebecq’s personal experience after his mother essentially left him and his brother with grandparents so she could explore exotic pursuits. Mark Lilla writes that he heard of the book from French friends who had had it pressed on them by their children; he had been surprised that this tale of adult sexual libertinism and the emotional carnage it wrought struck such a deep chord with French adolescents.

Submission, published on the very day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, is governed by a similar narrative voice. Its protagonist, François, is a modestly successful Parisian academic, an expert on the 19th-century novelist Huysmans. He is seemingly incapable of love or emotional commitment or finding much pleasure in life. He finds himself in the midst of a political crisis, set seven years into the future, as France totters on the edge of civil war.

The rough plot of Submission has been often described: a skillful moderate Muslim politician named Ben Abbes is elected president with the support of the establishment left and business-oriented right-wing parties, which have combined against the National Front’s candidate. For some French, there are unanticipated compensations to a soft Islamic regime—the prospect of polygamy for more successful men, for example. Also, implied but never stated, French women could get a respite from the sexualized and professional treadmill of Western postmodernity—in other words, from the duties and expectations of modern feminism. François eventually converts to Islam to protect his job at the Sorbonne. Perhaps the prospect of several young wives will be a kind of compensation for this lonely man.

But much of the novel involves scene setting before the victory of Ben Abbes. As the electoral showdown begins to take form, François encounters a young right-wing professor (named Lempereur) at an academic cocktail party. Out of practice in how to talk to right-wingers, he asks “You’re what? … Catholic? Fascist? Both?” Then the sound of distant gunfire shakes up the gathering. Leaving, the two professors walk past the Place de Clichy—seeing some fires, burnt cars, riot police in Kevlar. Nothing is reported on the news. François learns that Lempereur was in his youth involved in far right “identitarian” groups. The younger man explains that the far right is trying to stir the pot, produce provocations; the more there is open violence, the greater the National Front’s chances. He goes on to explain that the far right has been galvanized by a new group called “Indigenous Europeans,” which rails as much against “Muslim occupation” as against American companies and the new capitalists from India and China who are “buying up our heritage.” European nativists feel that “sooner or later we’ll see a civil war between the Muslims and everyone else. They conclude that … war had better come as soon as possible.” Though the demographic rationale for sooner rather than later needs no elaboration, Lempereur adds that the question is somewhat complicated by the French military, the strongest in Europe, capable of suppressing any right-wing insurrection. The political wing of the Indigenous Europeans, he explains, wants to delay a civil war until it can gain political control of the military through systematic mass enlistment.

This fictional conversation is not far remote from speculations taking place today among some Frenchmen. Parisian friends have told me that Lempereur is modeled on a real person. His Islamist counterparts want the same thing. Gilles Kepel, France’s foremost analyst of contemporary Islam, has explained that the recent wave of terror attacks launched in France, Belgium, and Germany have a doctrinal basis in the writings of the “third-generation jihad” theorist Abu Musab al-Suri. Terrorism is intended not only to kill, but also to provoke anti-Islamic sentiment and policies in order to turn the Muslim populations of Europe into a manpower reservoir for the jihadists. Both sides are alert to the demographic questions; everyone knows that the white France of Christian (and Jewish) background is, in relative terms, shrinking…

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