The scenario seems quite feasible. A Muslim political party gains enough votes in the general election in a democratic European country to serve as the key element in the new government. At the same time massive Saudi-Arabian funding is channeled into the greatly depleted coffers of the country’s leading academic institutions. Et voila! The result is Muslim domination of society.

This is the premise behind Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel Soumission, published in France earlier this year. The title, meaning Submission, is the translation of the word Islam, but more of that later.

In the novel, which happened to be published in France on the same day as the murderous attacks by Muslim extremists on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo journal and the kosher supermarket in Paris, Houellebecq describes the rather dull life of a minor academic at the Sorbonne at a time somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

Alongside his descriptions of various locations in and around Paris and other parts of France, as well as his account of his vapid academic work, the narrator gives lurid accounts of his sporadic sexual encounters, whether with female colleagues, former students or paid sex workers. He seems to be unable to work up much enthusiasm for anything or anyone, is used to being told by former lovers that they have ‘met someone else,’ and is torn between his need for sexual congress and his inability to form a close bond with any woman.

Among the strategies to which he resorts in an attempt to dispel his general sense of alienation and unease is a period of retreat in a monastery, but that, too, does little to dispel his sense of general dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile, in the course of the general election the Muslim party gains the ascendancy, and its very capable leader is appointed Prime Minister. It transpires that the academic regime at the Sorbonne is now subject to the laws of Islam. No woman may occupy a teaching post, female students must be covered from head to toe, and male members of the teaching staff are required to convert to Islam and take at least one wife. Those men who are over-occupied with academic life or are unable to find a wife for themselves are helped by matchmakers to make their selection from among the nubile young students.

Although the protagonist has been dismissed from his post and awarded a generous pension, he is envious of the enormous salaries paid to those staff members who have agreed to meet the demands of the new authorities in order to remain in their position. He attends one or two academic receptions and is impressed by the Middle Eastern delicacies on offer, which is hardly surprising since he has been living on a diet of takeaway food or pre-cooked TV dinners from the supermarket. What also strikes him at these events is the total absence of women.

In fact, it finally hits him that short skirts and low necklines seem to have completely disappeared from the streets of Paris, a fact he notes with regret.

A meeting with a senior member of staff, at his luxurious home, during which he is apprised of the fact that the man has at least two wives, one a teenager and the other, older, one a superb cook, seems to constitute the tipping point. His friend expounds on the superiority of Muslim philosophy and the supremacy of family values in Islam, with women owing complete submission to men, and men owing submission only to Allah.

The idea sounds appealing to our rather inadequate male, and so it comes as no surprise to the reader to find that in order to be eligible for the generous salary and prestigious academic position that is offered to him, and to be provided with at least one wife, the nameless protagonist is prepared to undergo the simple ceremony marking his conversion to Islam.

The progression is logical, the ideas propounded convincing, and it would seem to be the author’s contention that it is only a matter of time before all Europe succumbs to the overwhelming logic of male supremacy and the unification of all countries (including those of the Middle East and North Africa) under one set of laws, one language and one religion.

Complete subservience of women to men? Somehow I don’t see that happening in this day and age. At least I fervently hope so.