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By Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked by gunmen Wednesday, leaving a dozen people dead, including the editor in chief and well-known cartoonists. Authorities said the gunmen shouted “God is great” in Arabic during the assault.

The magazine has been the center of controversy before, notably for running satirical cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed.

The cover of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo features another figure well-known to French readers: Michel Houellebecq. The novelist, a provocateur and major prize-winner, has a new book out in France that has been accused of inciting Islamophobia.

Soumission is a novel set in France in the 2022, when, to counter the far right Le Pen, French voters elect a moderate Muslim president. Then the country quickly shifts into a Muslim-like state. In it, “women abandon Western dress and leave work, non-Muslim teachers are forced out of their jobs and polygamy is reinstated,” according to the Telegraph.

Houllebecq spoke to The Paris Review about the book in an interview published Monday. “Yes, the book has a scary side. I use scare tactics,” he admits.

“Like imagining the prospect of Islam taking over the country?” the interviewer, Sylvain Bourmeau, asks.

Houllebecq replies, “Actually, it’s not clear what we are meant to be afraid of, nativists or Muslims. I leave that unresolved.”

Later the author continued, “Look, the Enlightenment is dead, may it rest in peace…. only the Muslims are in an actually schizophrenic situation. On the level of what we customarily call values, Muslims have more in common with the extreme right than with the left. There is a more fundamental opposition between a Muslim and an atheist than between a Muslim and a Catholic. That seems obvious to me.”

The interviewer, who had been asking about racism in his work, pressed Houellebecq to address those accusations. “When I was tried for racism and acquitted, a decade ago,” he said, “the prosecutor remarked, correctly, that the Muslim religion was not a racial trait. This has become even more obvious today. So we have extended the domain of ‘racism’ by inventing the crime of Islamophobia.”

A police guard has been installed at Houellebecq’s French publisher Flammarion. A U.S. publication date for Soumission — “Submission” in English — has not been announced.

Photo: Ambulances and police officers gather in front of the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, 2015 in Paris, France. Heavily armed gunmen shouting Islamist slogans stormed a Paris satirical newspaper office on January 7 and shot dead at least 12 people in the deadliest attack in France in four decades. Police launched a massive manhunt for the masked attackers who reportedly hijacked a car and sped off, running over a pedestrian and shooting at officers. (Michael Bunel/NurPhoto/Zuma Press)

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