Charlie Hebdo and PEN: free speech deserves protection, not necessarily an award

May 6, 2015

Last night two members of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, received – under thundering applause –  the “James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award” from American PEN. It followed a raging 10-day debate over free speech, blasphemy and Islamophobia in the social media and op-ed pages worldwide. It started when six prominent writers, including Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje and Francine Prose, pulled out from the gala dinner to protest what they saw as Charlie Hebdo’s racist and Islamophobic content.  Some 200 PEN members signed a letter of protest saying that the award crossed a line between “staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.” [“To the section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized,” they wrote, “Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.”]

Others, such as Salman Rushdie,vigorously defended Charlie Hebdo and the prize. PEN quickly found new table hosts, including the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, and the writers Azar Nafisi and Neil Gaiman.

Even The Economist on 5 May stepped into the debate with a historical analysis of Charlie Hebdo [“Since it was founded in 1970, with its roots firmly on the political left, Charlie Hebdohas prided itself on a defiant spirit of irreverent provocation. This fits a long tradition of savage French satire, dating back to the bawdy anti-royalist pre-revolutionary cartoons mocking Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI. Many of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are tasteless, silly and offensive. So silly, in fact, that its circulation had dropped to just 45,000 or so before the terrorist attacks. Most of its targets are political. It gave Nicolas Sarkozy, a former centre-right president, a particularly hard time. These days, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, is a favourite figure of ridicule. Indeed, an analysis by Le Monde newspaper shows that, between 2005 and 2015, 336 of their 523 covers were political, and only 38 religious. Of the latter, 21 concerned Christianity, including an image of a toothy Virgin Mary, her legs apart, giving birth to baby Jesus. Just seven portrayed only Islam.”]

But I think that is not really the issue here. We all (well 99%) agree with the statement of Charlie Hebdo editor Gérard Biard: Being shocked is part of democratic debate ..Being shot is not. SoI stand by my ‘Je suis Charlie’ position [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/charlie-hebdo-attack-intolerance-extreme/], but this does not mean that the magazine should get an award. Many (dead) journalists do not get awards. Awards normally have a bit of ‘role model’ function (in addition to recognizing courage and giving support). The lone protester in front of the building where the ceremony took place held a handwritten sign that in my view captures the issue well: “Free speech does not deserve death / Abusive speech does not deserve an award.”

It is pity that the controversy overshadowed the PEN’s Freedom to Write Award 2015, given to the Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who has been imprisoned since early December after writing about corruption allegations against the family of Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev. [http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/freedom-write-award]

among the many sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/06/nyregion/after-protests-charlie-hebdo-members-receive-standing-ovation-at-pen-gala.html?_r=0

The Economist explains: The new Charlie Hebdo controversy | The Economist.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/paris-magazine-attack/award-french-magazine-charlie-hebdo-divides-prominent-writers-n353901

4 Responses to “Charlie Hebdo and PEN: free speech deserves protection, not necessarily an award”

  1. NGUYÊN HOÀNG BAO VIÊT Says:

    Nous sommes tous Charlie. Joignez vos voix aux nôtres *.
    Naufragés de la Liberté d’expression et survivants des enfers, nous continuons à joindre Charlie Hebdo, à nous lever à leur place.
    Nous sommes tous Charlie, nos Amis et Collègues assassinés. Nos écrivains, poètes et journalistes sont pris en otage partout dans le monde. Ne les oublions pas. Ils sont nos porteurs de rêves et d’aventures, témoins des réalités humaines. Ils ont été agressés, torturés, emprisonnés, portés disparus ou contraints à l’exil à cause de leurs écrits ou leurs paroles. Ils ont été bâillonnés, réduits en silence. Ultime forme de censure: tuer l’auteur dont les mots, les paroles, les chants et les dessins dérangent, avec une trentaine d’assassinats durant une année, selon PEN International. On se souvient que le 2 novembre 2013, l’intolérance et le fanatisme ont causé la mort tragique et douloureuse de notre consoeur Ghislaine Dupont et de notre confrère Claude Verlon de Radio France Internationale (RFI) au Mali. Depuis leur mort, le sang ne cesse de couler pour d’autres collègues. Et la plume et le crayon continuent d’être confisqués, brisés, bannis. Des auteurs et des reporters surtout ont été mis à mort en toute impunité pour la plupart des cas.

    Exprimons donc notre indignation, écrivons notre solidarité avec Charlie Hebdo, avec les écrivains et les professionnels de l’information contre l’ombre du menace, de la complicité et de la complaisance. Elevons notre voix même brisée, pour allumer une bougie, si fragile soit-elle, contre la nuit glaciale de l’indifférence, du silence et de l’oubli. Prions pour toutes les victimes de cette attaque barbare et criminelle contre Charlie Hebdo, contre la liberté d’expression et de la presse.
    Exprimons notre profonde sympathie, nos sincères condoléances à leurs proches, leurs amis et collègues rescapés du massacre.
    Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt (Comité des Ecrivains en prison du Centre Suisse Romand de PEN International).
    Genève le 8 janvier 2015.
    ————————————————————-
    We are all Charlie. Please join your voices to ours.*
    As castaways from Freedom of expression and survivors of many hells, we continue to join Charlie Hebdo, to stand up in their stead.
    We are all Charlie, our murdered friends and colleagues. Around the world, our writers, poets and journalists are held hostage. Let us not forget them. They are bearers of our dreams and adventures, witnesses of human realities. They have been attacked, tortured, imprisoned, reported missing or forced into exile. They were gagged and reduced to silence. The ultimate form of censorship is to kill those whose words, speeches, songs and even drawings disturb. In the last 12 months, PEN International has recorded thirty murders. Remember: on the November 2, 2013, in Mali, intolerance and fanaticism killed our two colleagues Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon who worked for Radio France Internationale (RFI). Since they died, blood has constantly flowed from other colleagues. And pens and pencils of all kinds continue to be confiscated, broken, or banished. Writers and reporters notably have been shot with impunity.

    Let us express our indignation, write our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, with all the writers and information professionals working against the shadow of threats, complicity and connivance. Let us raise our voice, even it is broken, to light a candle against the iceberg-cold night of indifference, silence and oblivion.
    Let us pray for all the victims of this barbaric attack against Charlie Hebdo, against freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Let us express our deepest sympathy, our sincere condolences to their famiies, their friends and colleagues who are survivors of their massacre.
    Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt Nous sommes tous Charlie. Joignez vos voix aux nôtres *.
    Naufragés de la Liberté d’expression et survivants des enfers, nous continuons à joindre Charlie Hebdo, à nous lever à leur place.
    Nous sommes tous Charlie, nos Amis et Collègues assassinés. Nos écrivains, poètes et journalistes sont pris en otage partout dans le monde. Ne les oublions pas. Ils sont nos porteurs de rêves et d’aventures, témoins des réalités humaines. Ils ont été agressés, torturés, emprisonnés, portés disparus ou contraints à l’exil à cause de leurs écrits ou leurs paroles. Ils ont été bâillonnés, réduits en silence. Ultime forme de censure: tuer l’auteur dont les mots, les paroles, les chants et les dessins dérangent, avec une trentaine d’assassinats durant une année, selon PEN International. On se souvient que le 2 novembre 2013, l’intolérance et le fanatisme ont causé la mort tragique et douloureuse de notre consoeur Ghislaine Dupont et de notre confrère Claude Verlon de Radio France Internationale (RFI) au Mali. Depuis leur mort, le sang ne cesse de couler pour d’autres collègues. Et la plume et le crayon continuent d’être confisqués, brisés, bannis. Des auteurs et des reporters surtout ont été mis à mort en toute impunité pour la plupart des cas.

    Exprimons donc notre indignation, écrivons notre solidarité avec Charlie Hebdo, avec les écrivains et les professionnels de l’information contre l’ombre du menace, de la complicité et de la complaisance. Elevons notre voix même brisée, pour allumer une bougie, si fragile soit-elle, contre la nuit glaciale de l’indifférence, du silence et de l’oubli. Prions pour toutes les victimes de cette attaque barbare et criminelle contre Charlie Hebdo, contre la liberté d’expression et de la presse.
    Exprimons notre profonde sympathie, nos sincères condoléances à leurs proches, leurs amis et collègues rescapés du massacre.
    Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt (Comité des Ecrivains en prison du Centre Suisse Romand de PEN International).
    Genève le 8 janvier 2015.
    ————————————————————-
    We are all Charlie. Please join your voices to ours.*
    As castaways from Freedom of expression and survivors of many hells, we continue to join Charlie Hebdo, to stand up in their stead.
    We are all Charlie, our murdered friends and colleagues. Around the world, our writers, poets and journalists are held hostage. Let us not forget them. They are bearers of our dreams and adventures, witnesses of human realities. They have been attacked, tortured, imprisoned, reported missing or forced into exile. They were gagged and reduced to silence. The ultimate form of censorship is to kill those whose words, speeches, songs and even drawings disturb. In the last 12 months, PEN International has recorded thirty murders. Remember: on the November 2, 2013, in Mali, intolerance and fanaticism killed our two colleagues Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon who worked for Radio France Internationale (RFI). Since they died, blood has constantly flowed from other colleagues. And pens and pencils of all kinds continue to be confiscated, broken, or banished. Writers and reporters notably have been shot with impunity.

    Let us express our indignation, write our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, with all the writers and information professionals working against the shadow of threats, complicity and connivance. Let us raise our voice, even it is broken, to light a candle against the iceberg-cold night of indifference, silence and oblivion.
    Let us pray for all the victims of this barbaric attack against Charlie Hebdo, against freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Let us express our deepest sympathy, our sincere condolences to their famiies, their friends and colleagues who are survivors of their massacre.
    Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt (Writers in Prison Committee of PEN Suisse Romand Centre)
    Geneva 8 January 2015. English translation by Mavis Guinard (Nous sommes tous Charlie. Joignez vos voix aux nôtres *.
    Naufragés de la Liberté d’expression et survivants des enfers, nous continuons à joindre Charlie Hebdo, à nous lever à leur place.
    Nous sommes tous Charlie, nos Amis et Collègues assassinés. Nos écrivains, poètes et journalistes sont pris en otage partout dans le monde. Ne les oublions pas. Ils sont nos porteurs de rêves et d’aventures, témoins des réalités humaines. Ils ont été agressés, torturés, emprisonnés, portés disparus ou contraints à l’exil à cause de leurs écrits ou leurs paroles. Ils ont été bâillonnés, réduits en silence. Ultime forme de censure: tuer l’auteur dont les mots, les paroles, les chants et les dessins dérangent, avec une trentaine d’assassinats durant une année, selon PEN International. On se souvient que le 2 novembre 2013, l’intolérance et le fanatisme ont causé la mort tragique et douloureuse de notre consoeur Ghislaine Dupont et de notre confrère Claude Verlon de Radio France Internationale (RFI) au Mali. Depuis leur mort, le sang ne cesse de couler pour d’autres collègues. Et la plume et le crayon continuent d’être confisqués, brisés, bannis. Des auteurs et des reporters surtout ont été mis à mort en toute impunité pour la plupart des cas.

    Exprimons donc notre indignation, écrivons notre solidarité avec Charlie Hebdo, avec les écrivains et les professionnels de l’information contre l’ombre du menace, de la complicité et de la complaisance. Elevons notre voix même brisée, pour allumer une bougie, si fragile soit-elle, contre la nuit glaciale de l’indifférence, du silence et de l’oubli. Prions pour toutes les victimes de cette attaque barbare et criminelle contre Charlie Hebdo, contre la liberté d’expression et de la presse.
    Exprimons notre profonde sympathie, nos sincères condoléances à leurs proches, leurs amis et collègues rescapés du massacre.
    Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt (Comité des Ecrivains en prison du Centre Suisse Romand de PEN International).
    Genève le 8 janvier 2015.
    ————————————————————-
    We are all Charlie. Please join your voices to ours.*
    As castaways from Freedom of expression and survivors of many hells, we continue to join Charlie Hebdo, to stand up in their stead.
    We are all Charlie, our murdered friends and colleagues. Around the world, our writers, poets and journalists are held hostage. Let us not forget them. They are bearers of our dreams and adventures, witnesses of human realities. They have been attacked, tortured, imprisoned, reported missing or forced into exile. They were gagged and reduced to silence. The ultimate form of censorship is to kill those whose words, speeches, songs and even drawings disturb. In the last 12 months, PEN International has recorded thirty murders. Remember: on the November 2, 2013, in Mali, intolerance and fanaticism killed our two colleagues Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon who worked for Radio France Internationale (RFI). Since they died, blood has constantly flowed from other colleagues. And pens and pencils of all kinds continue to be confiscated, broken, or banished. Writers and reporters notably have been shot with impunity.

    Let us express our indignation, write our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, with all the writers and information professionals working against the shadow of threats, complicity and connivance. Let us raise our voice, even it is broken, to light a candle against the iceberg-cold night of indifference, silence and oblivion.
    Let us pray for all the victims of this barbaric attack against Charlie Hebdo, against freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Let us express our deepest sympathy, our sincere condolences to their famiies, their friends and colleagues who are survivors of their massacre.
    Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt (Writers in Prison Committee of PEN Suisse Romand Centre)
    Geneva 8 January 2015. English translation by Mavis Guinard (Writers in Prison Committee of PEN Suisse Romand Centre)

  2. daanbronkhorst Says:

    In general, it’s no good advice to criticize prizes awarded by other organizations. Did Malala merit the Nobel Prize? Or the European Union? What about Aung San Suu Kyi, who turned out to be so indifferent towards ethnic minorities? Why did Amnesty award the Ambassador of Conscience Award to Nelson Mandela, even though they were always unwilling to adopt him as a prisoner of conscience?

    If an awarding institution of some standing comes with a reasonable explanatory statement, why not accept that. It’s just one prize by one institution. There are always people who disagree, with good reason. But a prize is the honour bestowed one some by some, and why would we try and discredit that.

    Daan

    Hans Thoolen on Human Rights Defenders —06/05/2015 13:41:32—Post       : Charlie Hebdo and PEN: free speech deserves protection, not necessarily an award URL

    • Hans Thoolen Says:

      Dear Daan, you are right of course and as you say “There are always people who disagree, with good reason.” …and I thought I had good reason.


  3. […] investigative journalist learned the news in Kurdakhani prison that she won the PEN award [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/charlie-hebdo-and-pen-free-speech-deserves-protection-not-n…]. Initially accused of inciting suicide, new bogus charges of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship […]


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