BBC, Aug. 23, 2002
The action against Mr Houellebecq, 44, is being launched on 17 September by plaintiffs including Saudi Arabia’s World Islamic League and the Mosque of Paris.
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Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris mosque, said Muslims felt insulted by comments in the novel Plateforme, in which a character admits to a “quiver of glee” every time a “Palestinian terrorist” is killed.
The author’s lawyer, Emmanuel Pierrat, said the case is “very similar” to that of British novelist Salman Rushdie – and has said that Mr Houellebecq could be assassinated.
Mr Houellebecq recently won the world’s richest literary prize, the Impac award, worth 100,000 euros (£62,500), for his book Atomised.
His latest novel, Plateforme, is said to praise prostitution and has a denouement based on an attack on a tourist resort by suspected Muslim terrorists.
But it is an interview with the literary magazine Lire during last year’s launch of the book that prompted the legal action.
Mr Houellebecq reportedly said in Lire that reading the Koran is “so depressing” and that Islam is “the stupidest religion”.
Mr Boubakeur said such comments flouted laws on religious tolerance and provoked racial hatred.
“If I were Jewish I would bring a case for 10 times less than this,” he added.
But Mr Houellebecq’s lawyer says the prosecution’s arguments were all based on the novel and the discussions around it.
He said that though there were parallels with the plight of Salsman Rushdie, condemned to death in 1989 for allegedly blaspheming against Islam in his book The Satanic Verses, there were also differences.
“Here we only run the risk of an assassination, not a fatwa,” Pierrat said.
“But the two cases are very similar – because those who feel offended are Muslims, and because it’s a question of literature.
“Both Salman Rushdie and Michel Houellebecq are great writers – we are not dealing with small-time provocateurs,” he added.
Mr Houellebecq’s publisher Flammarion has distanced itself from the author and wrote to the Paris mosque apologising for the novelist’s words.
The writer, who lives in Ireland, has said he will not be speaking to reporters ahead of the trial – but has not gone into hiding.
He plans to explain his thought processes to the court, and a number of French literary figures will speak in his defence.
Mr Houellebecq, who is regarded as one of France’s brightest literary talents, faces a year in jail or a 52,000 euros (£33,000) fine if he loses the case.