Houellebecq play on Islamic rule withdrawn over 'security risk'

ZAGREB - A play by best-selling French author  Michel Houellebecq -- whose book imagining France under Islamic rule stirred  controversy -- has been pulled from a Croatian arts festival due to security  fears, organisers said Thursday.

Houellebecq's drama "The Elementary Particles" ("Les Particules  elementaires") had been due to be staged at this year's Dubrovnik Summer  Festival.

But a statement from the organisers said the play had been cancelled "after  the interior ministry assessed that its playing would present a security risk".

Croatian artists however condemned the decision to pull the play as  "scandalous".

The assessment was made following a request by Dubrovnik authorities, who  had concerns because Houellebecq "allegedly has a negative view towards Islam  and makes negative statements towards Islamic believers," festival chief Ivana  Medo Bogdanovic said.

But she told AFP that the play "is not dealing with religious issues but  rather with the crisis of Western liberal societies in the context of love and  relations between a man and a woman".

The Dubrovnik county head Nikola Dobroslavic said he sought a security  assessment because "we were warned that he (Houellebecq) was controversial and  was making insulting comments about Islam".

"We did not want to accept or finance a programme that might offend our  fellow-citizens," he was quoted as saying by the state-run HINA news agency.

Houellebecq's latest book "Submission", which imagines a Muslim-governed  France in 2022, was released in France in January.

The novel provoked a fiery debate, with critics accusing the author of  stirring up Islamophobia and helping the cause of France's far-right National  Front.

In 2001, Houellebecq prompted outrage by stating in an interview that "the  most stupid religion is, let's face it, Islam".

Prominent Croatian theatre director Mani Gotovac said that the decision to  pull his play was "scandalous and alarming".

"The authorities are censoring work that speaks about the love of a man and  a woman, which has played in Paris for years ... it is a disaster," she said in  a statement.

Her view was echoed by the play's Croatian director Ivica Buljan, who  stressed the authorities were "fearing the courage expressed by the theatre".

Almost 90 per cent of Croatia's 4.2 million population are Catholics, while  Muslims account for around 1.5 per cent.

Although Muslims in the Balkans are mostly moderate, some 600 people from  Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia have joined jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to  estimates.