Thursday, September 26, 2002

John Derbyshire in National Review Online takes on the much-maligned Michel Houellebecq, whom I once referred to as a
"frowzy French asshole." Houellebecq, who seems to me to be entirely too schizophrenic to be taken seriously at all, let alone offending one's tender sensibilities, is in trouble in France for calling Islam a stupid religion. France, as everyone from Derbyshire to Michael Graham notes, is a nation of tender sensibilitities -- or so I'm told; hell, I've hardly been out of the South -- but I find it hard to look at this case from across the shore with my usual sympathy for the writer in question or my hatred for the interceding authorities.

It's totally unacceptable, of course; all people should be totally free to call Muslims or Christians or atheists stupid. And yet I'm strangely indifferent where this case is concerned, probably because it all has the odd whiff of unintended but no less gratefully accepted free publicity. I have this innate sense that the courts will come down on his side for cultural reasons, and I can't imagine Houellebecq ever seeing the inside of a jail.

Look at Sartre.

Look at Baudrillard -- whom for years I've always imagined was a hoax -- who said of the 9/11 victims: ''In terms of collective drama, 'we can say that the horror for the 4,000 victims of dying in those towers was inseparable from the horror of living in them -- the horror of living and working in sarcophagi of concrete and steel.''

Do we really yearn for a future in which French intellectuals can no longer be the laughing-stock of the world? If France starts telling its published intellectuals that they no longer have the freedom to bury their heads in their ass as much as their grandfathers buried theirs in the sand when Hitler arrived in 1936, then the terrorists will have truly won.

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