Writers Boycotting PEN Awards Show Contempt For Free Speech

Writers Boycotting PEN Awards Show Contempt For Free Speech

Six prominent writers are boycotting a major U.S. literary awards show over plans to give satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo a freedom of speech award.

The authors include The English Patient writer Michael Ondaatje and Peter Carey. They were scheduled to attend the PEN Literary Gala in New York on May 5th.

Their argument, which rings rather thin, is that PEN - known for defending jailed writers - is stepping beyond its traditional role.

Islamists stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in January, killing twelve people during the attack. The motivation was the magazine drawing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Authors Rachel Kushner, Teju Cole, Taiye Selasi and Francine Prose are also against PEN handing the Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, as they are not comfortable with the magazine's "cultural intolerance".

The boycott has been criticized by author Salman Rushdie, a former president of PEN who was in hiding for years over Islamist threats in response to his novel The Satanic Verses.

He said his friends were "horribly wrong" and he hoped nobody ever came after them.

The self-centered and aloof view of the boycotting authors goes against one of our fundamental freedoms, the freedom of speech. To be involved in our nation we expect citizens to be tolerate of the speech of others, regardless of their particular beliefs or convictions. Everyone is free to share and we insist on the right of everyone to do so.

The intent of the cartoons, simple drawings on paper, was not to "ostracise or insult Muslims, but rather to reject forcefully the efforts of a small minority of radical extremists to place broad categories of speech off limits." according to a review by PEN.

This is the precise type of speech our laws were designed to encourage and the actions of the extremists in trying to stifle our rights should be vigorously defended. One way we can do this is to sing from hilltops the names of the people killed in the massacre and celebrate their lives.

That is what PEN is doing and we should applaud them for it.

To abstain for the awards reflects both a deep lack of knowledge about American core values and a level of affectedness that is deplorable. Their decision to not attend is ignorant and cowardly.

The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo exhibited fine American values and we should celebrate them for doing so.

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