Canal Plus Airs Interview With Controversial Author Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq

The author, whose new novel was the cover subject on Charlie Hebdo's issue published the day of the Paris terrorist attack, responds to criticism.

France's Canal Plus has aired an interview with Michel Houellebecq, the controversial author whose new novel has been called Islamophobic and who was the subject on the cover of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on the day it was attacked by terrorists.

Canal Plus conducted the interview on Thursday, a day after the Charlie Hebdo attacks but before the connected attack on a kosher deli in Paris, in which another gunman killed four people. The interview finally aired Monday night.

"Yes, I am Charlie," said a tearful Houllebecq in the interview with Le Grand Journal host Antoine de Caunes. Canal Plus had twice bumped the interview from the airwaves before finally deciding to show it last night.

"We weren't able to broadcast it on the first day because the topic was so strong that it was just not the right timing," de Caunes tells The Hollywood Reporter.

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It was pushed from Thursday to Friday, and then cut from Friday because of the ongoing hostage situations at two locations in France in which three gunmen were killed in separate police actions aired on live television.

"Between the two stories it was very bloody and it was just not the right moment again," he says. It was a very emotional interview, adds de Caunes.

Houellebecq was visibly shaken when talking about the death of his friend, economist and author Bernard Maris, in the attack on the Hebdo offices. "We were supposed to take part in a discussion at the end of March because he was about to publish a new book," he said.

"I don't want to talk about my book at the moment," said the author, who stopped his promotional tour for his new novel, Submission, and has since left Paris. The book, published on the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, imagines a near future in which an Islamist candidate wins France's presidential elections and introduces Sharia law. "I am not in good shape," he said.

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Houellebecq's book, however, continues to do well. Submission remains atop the Amazon best-seller list in France. Houellebecq maintained that his book is not Islamophobic. It has ignited debate in France and was called "intolerant" by Prime Minister Manuel Valls before its publication.

"The judgment of my peers is what matters in my mind. I don't care what Manuel Valls says," Houellebecq said, responding to the criticism. "I don't want people to tell me, 'You are free' then talk about responsibility. There is no limit to the freedom of expression."

The author, who has spoken out against Islam in the past, said he has a more nuanced view of the Koran now.  "A moderately honest interpretation of the Koran could not lead to jihadism. It takes a very dishonest interpretation of the Koran to arrive at jihadism," he added.

His possibly incendiary remarks were one of the reasons de Caunes wanted to exercise caution with airing the interview, though he never doubted it would air. "It was just a question of timing to be honest," he tells THR. "I didn't want to amalgamate what Houllebecq talks about in his book. It my opinion it is not a book against Islam, even though he made strong statements against it years ago. I didn't want the topics to be mixed up so I had to be very cautious."