The problem isn't Islam, it's ISIS

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Michel Houellebecq's foul novel about an Islamist takeover of France in the near future, Submission, was published the day of the Charlie Hebdo murders. I received the English translation the same day as the Paris attacks. The guy has timing.

The title refers to French voters electing a savvy Franco-Islamist party, which unites right and left behind it, to defeat Marine Le Pen's nationalists. Islamicization of the school system (henceforth mandatory only till age 12) and even of the Sorbonne seems a small price to pay for social peace. The title also refers to Islam, which means surrender (to Allah's will) -- and surrender of the narrator, an enervated academic, who converts at the book's end. This in turn evokes Winston Smith's surrender at the end of Orwell's 1984: "He loved Big Brother."

But Winston Smith's capitulation is tragic because he strove to resist domination, he yearned for political and sexual freedom. Houellebecq's character has no fight in him: "I didn't even want to f--- her or maybe I kind of wanted to f--- her but I also kind of wanted to die, I couldn't really tell." In the end what attracts him is Muslim polygamy -- which the novel takes for granted: one wife who'll cook for him, plus a 15-year-old with "a tight little ass." Theirs is the submission that truly counts. Its misogyny is for me the book's defining trait.

The portrayal of French Muslims as shrewd and controlling is ludicrous -- if you think about their actual situation right now. But it's fiction, and its real point is rage at what it finds lacking in France today: faith, conviction etc. Set in 2022, it's not predictive, like sci-fi; it's fantasy, a trip into the novelist's mind.

There's a similar trip available into Mark Steyn's mind, in a National Post column this week about Paris. He out-Houellebecqs Houellebecq: "I'm so bloody sick of these savages shooting and bombing and killing and blowing up everything I like." As if people in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Kabul aren't bloody sick of the same list. Everybody's sick of the things that make them sick.

But he sees nothing in common. Paris is "an attack on one portion of 'humanity'" -- that'd be "us" -- "by those who claim to speak for another portion." Aha -- the venerable Clash of Civs. Personally I don't get the appeal of these massive abstractions but it seems to calm Steyn's troubled mind -- somewhat. He's especially aggravated by Muslim immigrants: "Most of those people don't want to participate actively in bringing about the death of diners and concertgoers and soccer fans, but at a certain level most of them either wish for or are indifferent to the death of the societies in which they live."

He doesn't say how he knows this. It's true immigrants tend to cluster, but they also tend to assimilate. If you want a reality check on how it's going here, I suggest you think of Nazem Kadri and his family in London, Ont. He's a bloody Toronto Maple Leaf. Is he indifferent to the end of all this Canadian stuff? Or Naheed Nenshi in Calgary? Or the 11 Muslim MPs just elected, none as Muslims?

What we have here, I'd say, is twin personal panic attacks, with which anyone can empathize. People everywhere fend off panic attacks daily. But positing massive civilizational menaces isn't the only way to cope.

How else? Try it without grand abstractions. The problem isn't Islam, it's ISIS. ISIS exists because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. No invasion -- no ISIS. Why did the U.S. invade Iraq? Because of 9/11. Why 9/11? Because the U.S. bombed Beirut in 1982 (said Osama bin Laden). The point isn't to decide who started it. It's: can you interrupt the cycle, which has nothing essential to do with Islam or religion. It's basically tit for tat. Of course ISIS comes garbed in religion but everything's garbed in something. This is a long-running dance of death in which religion happens to be implicated but isn't indispensable.

Many ISIS players are attracted by other things: violence, idealism, travel -- the Paris attackers had been petty thieves and drug dealers. It isn't all about piety or belief systems. "Our" greatest potential allies are Muslims themselves. It makes zero sense to drive them in the opposite direction, based on humungous theories.

But really, good luck with the panic attacks.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Dan Taylor-Watt/flickr

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