Art And Culture

6 Novelists Withdraw From PEN Annual Gala

6 Novelists Withdraw From PEN Annual Gala6 Novelists Withdraw From PEN Annual Gala

Six writers have withdrawn from the PEN American Center’s annual gala on May 5 in protest against the free-speech organization’s decision to give the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award.

The writers who have withdrawn from the event are Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi, reports the New York Times.

In its decision to honor Charlie Hebdo, PEN America cited the satirical publication’s “dauntlessness in the face of one of the most noxious assaults on expression in recent memory.” An attack on Jan. 7 by Islamist militants on the magazine and its staff killed 12 people, including some of its top cartoonists and editors. In a statement, PEN added:

“The day after the attack, the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine vowed to continue publication, releasing their next edition on time with a print run expanded from 40,000 to over eight million under the mantra ‘All is Forgiven,’ donating all proceeds to the families of the victims. The Charlie Hebdo attacks dealt a blow to the bedrock principle that no act of expression, no matter how provocative or offensive, can justify violence.”

Charlie Hebdo had long pilloried political and religious figures, but it was the publication’s depiction of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that had drawn intense scrutiny — as well as death threats from militant groups. Many Muslims consider any depiction of their prophet — even positive ones — to be offensive. Critics of the magazine say Charlie Hebdo was being deliberately provocative.

Kushner, in an email to the New York Times, said she was withdrawing from the May 5 PEN gala because she was uncomfortable with Charlie Hebdo’s “cultural intolerance” and promotion of “a kind of forced secular view.” Those views were echoed by the other writers who pulled out of the event.

Carey told the NY Times that PEN, in its decision, was going beyond its role of protecting freedom of expression.

“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” he said in an email to the newspaper.