Posts Tagged ‘PEN American Center’

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

Have human rights defenders encountered the end of their shaming powers?

May 25, 2014

It is late in the weekend but perhaps you still find time for an interesting long read by Suzanne Nossel, the Executive Director of the PEN American Center. She wrote this for Foreign Policy and it was reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post of 25 May. The article is a good overview with what has gone wrong recently with an increasing number of world leaders showing not to care much about human rights (accusations), an attitude which she dubs “imperviousness”. I am personally not convinced that this is an unstoppable tendency but we seem indeed to be in quite a dip compared to say a decade ago when it comes to the restraining power of the human rights movement. So the depressive conclusion of this relatively long piece is not too unexpected:  “The traditional tools of human rights activism — exposes, media attention and pressure from mostly credible Western governments — are falling short when it comes to some of the major challenges of the day. It is as if an expanding group of leaders has built up antibodies and these leaders can now resist where they previously would have succumbed. While it’s not time to give up on the traditional treatments, human-rights defenders need to get into the lab quickly and develop some new tactics before the virus of imperviousness spreads even further.” It would be interesting to get views from others on this question.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/2014/05/25/Impervious-to-shame/stories/201405250049#ixzz32l7PrPqD

Why so many rulers are impervious to shame – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

PEN Prize to Honor Jailed Turkish Translator Ayşe Berktay

May 21, 2013

(Ayşe Berktay in Bakırköy Women’s Prison – Photo courtesy Ali Berktay)

On 15 April 2013 PEN American Center  named Ayşe Berktay, a translator, writer, and activist in Turkey, as the recipient of its 2013 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Berktay, a leading advocate for peace, women’s rights, and Kurdish rights in Turkey, was arrested on October 3, 2011, and is currently being tried for “membership in an illegal organization” for her pro-Kurdish cultural advocacy. One of at least 130 writers currently in prison or on trial in Turkey, many on false terrorism-related charges, she could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Read the rest of this entry »