Salman Rushdie criticises writers boycotting Charlie Hebdo tribute

Six writers believe it’s wrong to reward the publication for free speech, since they feel its depiction of Islam was often offensive

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Writer Salman Rushdie criticises six novelists to boycott PEN’s New York literary gala honouring the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Two French brothers attacked Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris and shot 12 people dead back in January 2015 for publishing satirical cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo's editor-in-chief, who escaped the attack because he was in London on the day, is due to accept a freedom of expression and courage award at the gala hosted by the Pen American Centre on behalf of his colleagues from Charlie Hebdo on May 5. But the decision of honouring killed Charlie Hebdo cartoonist has caused huge disagreements between literatures’ biggest names. Mr Rushdie clashes with the six writers who refused to come to Pen’s New York gala. Rushdie is an Iranian writer, who spent years in hiding after a death fatwa was issued against him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. Peter Carey, a two-time Booker Prize winner, sent a letter to The New York Times and said “The award went way beyond Pen's role of protecting writers against government oppression.” Carey also added: "All this is complicated by Pen's seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognise its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population." While Salman Rushdie disagreed with Carey, he had support from a Nigerian-American novelist, Teju Cole, who wrote an article for The New Yorker headlined “Unmournable Bodies” and accused Charlie Hebdo magazine of racist and Islamophobic provocations. He stated: “In recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans, variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a massacre.” Rushdie addressed the six writers who refused “honouring” murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, including Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Francine Prose and Taiye as “six pussies” in search of a character on his Twitter account. Rushdie said, "This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority, "It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well-funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence,” in a statement he sent to AP. Pen executive director Suzanne Nossel said: "They've all been in touch with us to say they didn't feel comfortable attending."

TRTWorld and agencies