Jon Henley in Paris and Gwladys Fouchť Wednesday October 23, 2002 The Guardian A Paris court yesterday cleared Michel Houellebecq, the enfant terrible of French letters, of provoking religious and racial hatred by calling Islam "the most stupid of religions".
The judges ruled that the remarks by the bestselling author, whose latest novel Platform was published in Britain last month, were neither "elegant nor subtle", but that they were directed at Islam not Muslims, and were not an incitement to discrimination.
Houellebecq, who lives as a virtual recluse in Ireland, was not in court to hear the verdict, which followed a case last month brought by the League of Human Rights and Muslim groups including the Paris and Lyon mosques.
The head of the Mosque of Lyon, Kamel Kabtane, said after the verdict that justice had "sided with the ones who want to humiliate Islam. I am not surprised given the way the trial was going. Islam now can be insulted freely."
During an interview last year, Houellebecq, 45, said that the "badly written" Koran made him "fall to the ground in despair".
The remarks caused uproar in France, which is home to the largest community of Muslims in Europe, sparking a debate about the right to freedom of speech versus the need for religious sensitivity.
During the trial, Houellebecq said he has never despised Muslims, but has felt contempt for Islam. Special report France
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