“What is certain is that it has changed the mode of war,” best-selling Italian writer Umberto Eco said about the recent attacks on Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead and several injured.
“There is a war going on and we are up to our ears, like when I was little and I lived my days under the threat of bombings that could come at any moment,” he said in an interview with Corriere Della Sera, likening recent terrorist attacks to life during World War II. “With this type of terrorism, the situation is exactly the one we experienced during the war.”
While the direct motive behind the terrorist act, attributed to three French nationals, has not been determined, the attack coincided with the release in France of controversial writer Michel Houellebecq‘s new book Submission. The current issue of Charlie Hebdo features a caricature of Houellebecq on its cover, poking fun at France’s phobias around Islam.
Submission imagines a France in the near future led by a Muslim party where women leave the workplace en masse, universities turn Islamic and polygamy becomes legal. The book has been both widely panned and sometimes praised as thought-provoking by French critics.
Eco questioned the use of the word “Muslim” to define all extremists. “I do not think it right that you say generically ‘Muslims,’ as it would not be correct to judge Christianity on the basis of the methods used by Cesare Borgia,” he told Corriere. “But of course you can say this about ISIS, which is a new form of Nazism, with its methods of extermination and its apocalyptic mission to conquer to world.”
While no direct links to ISIS have yet been made, an hour before the Paris attack, Charlie Hebdo tweeted a cartoon of an ISIS leader with the caption “Best wishes.” Following the assault, the terrorist organization released a statement praising the gunmen.
Eco has not yet read Submission, but points out that drawing arms over a book is nothing new. “There have been plenty of incidents in the course of human history,” he said. “Even the fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses was linked to a novel. Men have always massacred over a book: the Bible versus the Quran, the Gospel against the Bible and so on,” said Eco. “Great wars were triggered by the monotheistic religions over a book.”
Instead of acknowledging Houellebecq’s fictional vision of the future, Eco turned to lessons from the past. “Thirty years ago, I wrote an article for La Repubblica in which I said that we were no longer facing an emigration as Italians going to America or Switzerland, but in a global migration, which is much bigger in space and time,” he said. “Even then I wrote that until it came to a new equilibrium, a lot of blood would be shed. Western civilization, which has or has not the strength to sustain itself, is facing a massive migration, as happened centuries ago to Ancient Rome.”
Eco is the best-selling author of novels including The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum. His new novel Numero Zero will be released Friday in Italy.