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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK
French author denies racial hatred
Mr Houellebecq
The author has won the Impac prize and Prix Novembre
A prize-winning French author on trial for calling Islam "the dumbest religion" has denied charges of inciting racial hatred.

Michel Houellebecq told a Paris court that his words had been twisted.

"I have never displayed the least contempt for Muslims," he said, but added, "I have as much contempt as ever for Islam".


The Koran has only one author and its overall style is mediocre

Michel Houellebecq
The controversial writer is being sued by four Islamic organisations over his comments about his book, Platform, in an interview last year with the literary magazine Lire.

The novel is also cited in the case being brought by the largest mosques in Paris and Lyon, the National Federation of French Muslims (FNMN) and the World Islamic League.

France's Human Rights League has also joined them, saying that Mr Houellebecq's comments amount to "Islamophobia".

The case has become a cause celebre, which, like the Salman Rushdie affair in the UK, raises questions about the appropriate limits, if any, to be placed on freedom of expression.

'Contempt' for Islam

Mr Houellebecq told the court that he felt contempt - not hatred - for Islam, and that it was nonsensical to call him an "anti-Muslim racist".

Platform cover
Platform has been a best-seller in France

"The whole tone of the interview was one of contempt, not hate", he said, adding, "I am always changing my point of view".

The author said he opposed not just Islam but all monotheistic faiths, and that it was his right as an author to criticise religions.

He told the court he felt the Koran was inferior to the Bible as a literary work.

"In literary terms, the Bible has several authors, some good and some as bad as crap. The Koran has only one author and its overall style is mediocre," said Michel Houellebecq.

In a written submission, lawyers for the Paris mosque said: "The fact that a famous author can be allowed to proclaim clearly his hatred for Islam in a magazine like Lire constitutes incitement to religious hatred."

Dalil Boubakeur from the mosque told the court: "Islam has been reviled, attacked with hateful words. My community has been humiliated."

If found guilty, Mr Houellebecq faces up to a year in prison and a 52,000 euro fine.

Blasphemy

In the Lire interview, Mr Houellebecq was quoted as saying "the dumbest religion, after all, is Islam".


What I think as an individual seems to be of no importance here

Michel Houellebecq

"When you read the Koran, you're shattered. The Bible at least is beautifully written because the Jews have a heck of a literary talent," he told the magazine.

Mr Houellebecq's lawyer, Emmanuel Pierrat, argues that the case effectively re-establishes the notion of blasphemy, despite the fact that France is a secular state and has no such law.

Mr Houellebecq, who recently won the Impac literary prize, is used to the controversy - and the attendant publicity - arising from his frank and sometimes nihilistic novels.

He has neither retracted his comments nor defended the main character in his novel Platform, who admits to a "quiver of glee" every time a "Palestinian terrorist" is killed.

Last year Mr Houellebecq said he had "a gift" for insults and provocation.

"In my novels, it adds a certain spice. It's rather humorous, no? What I think as an individual seems to be of no importance here," he said in an interview.

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The BBC's Matt Prodger
"Michel Houellebecq has called Islam 'the stupidest of religions'"
See also:

12 Sep 02 | Reviews
22 Aug 02 | Arts
13 May 02 | Arts
13 May 02 | Arts
25 Mar 02 | Arts
08 May 00 | Middle East
13 Feb 00 | Middle East
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