The writers have withdrawn from literary and human rights organization’s American Center gala as their objection to award the French satirical magazine.
Six writers have withdrawn as literary hosts at the PEN American Center gala on May 5. This is after the PEN American Center decided to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. This has added a new twist to the ongoing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.
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The six writers include Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Taiye Selasi and Rachel Kushner. They would not be seen at the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan anymore. Charlie Hebdo’s editor in Chief Gerard Biard and a staff member of the magazine, Jean Baptiste Thoret were the one scheduled to accept the award.
Ms. Kushner in an email to the PEN’s leadership stated in email to NYTimes that she was withdrawing out of discomfort with what she stated the magazine’s cultural intolerance. Apart from this Mr. Carey also in an email stated that the award to Charlie Hebdo stepped beyond the group’s traditional role of protecting freedom of expression against government oppression.
Moreover Mr. Carey also added that this was PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which has not been recognizing its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.
According to the president of PEN, Andrew Solomon there were only six writers who had withdrawn as the literary hosts and the several other hosts who will be coming from all over the globe are still participating. Mr. Solomon also revealed that he did think that giving the award to Charlie Hebdo might be controversial but he didn’t feel that it would have generated these particular concerns from these particular authors.
Previously Mr. Cole has stated that the magazine has offended many parties bit in recent years it has specifically targeted the Islamic minority in France. Moreover this month the cartoonist Garry Trudeau drew criticism from a number of media commentators.
However Mr. Solomon claims that the group’s statement in support of Charlie Hebdo in the immediate aftermath of the attacks had actually led to an increase in new memberships. He stated that many people stated that they wanted to join PEN for quite some time and the tragedy was a catalyst.
Apart from this some of the PEN members that are not involved with the gala also agreed. One such member was the sort story writer Deborah Eisenberg who also wrote to the PEN leadership in order to criticize the award.
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However a former PEN president, Salman Rushdie who had to live in hiding for many years after a fatwa in response to his novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ stated that the six writers were wrong about their decision. He stated that PEN as a free speech organization cannot defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures then the organization has no purpose.