Charlie Hebdo gets the disputed award at PEN gala

PEN giving the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo a Freedom of Expression Courage Award made the PEN gala the most controversial in recent history

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The argument between writers still goes on over the honouring of Charlie Hebdo at the PEN Literary Gala in New York on Tuesday.

The magazine was targeted because of its frequent parodies of the Prophet Muhammad and eight of Charlie Hebdo staff were killed in January in Paris at an attack.

Six writers boycotted PEN giving Charlie Hebdo a freedom of speech award, saying PEN's role was to protect freedom of expression against government oppression but instead PEN celebrated the magazine's "cultural intolerance".

They also said PEN, known for defending imprisoned writers, was stepping beyond its traditional role.

PEN president Andrew Solomon said: "The defence of people murdered for their exercise of free speech is at the heart of what PEN stands for.”

Charlie Hebdo's editor in chief, Gerard Biard and Jean-Baptiste Thoret accepted the award at the New York gala.

While accepting the award, Biard said "Growing up to be a citizen is to learn that some ideas, some words, some images, can be shocking," he said. "Being shocked is a part of democratic debate. Being shot is not."

In addition, to six writes who boycotted the event, 204 writers signed a letter of protest against the award.

In their letter they said “PEN is not simply conveying support for freedom of expression, but also valorizing selectively offensive material, material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”

The 204 writers also added “It is disheartening to see that PEN America has chosen to honor the work and mission of Charlie Hebdo above those who not only exemplify the principles of free expression, but whose courage, even when provocative or discomfiting, has also been fastidiously exercised for the good of humanity.”

The Iranian-born novelist Porochista Khakpour, a table host, told that she had no plans to applaud even as she affirmed her support for PEN's mission.

Roz Chast, the best-selling author and New Yorker cartoonist, said that she found the Hebdo illustrations "sort of stupid and ham-handed," and "kind of obvious, kind of, 'duh. "But if I didn't support their right to publish them I wouldn't be here."

TRTWorld and agencies