Citing Ridicule of Islam, Writers Protest Charlie Hebdo 'Courage' Award

A number of prominent literary figures are publicly protesting the decision by the PEN American Center to honor the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo with its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award, arguing that it is not courageous to ridicule an oppressed minority.

Writers Michael Ondaatje, Peter Carey, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, and Taiye Selasi are among those who have stated that they are withdrawing from serving as “table hosts” during the award ceremony at the PEN Literary Gala to be held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on May 5. 

Twelve people were killed in the January 7 attack by alleged Islamic extremists on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, sparking international outcry as well a highly-publicized march, which featured a number of world leaders who were there to denounce the terrorists’ assault on the freedom of expression.

In an email exchange published by the Intercept between PEN executive director Suzanne Nossel and award-winning short story writer Deborah Eisenberg, Eisenberg questioned PEN’s decision to uphold the magazine despite its “tasteless and brainless” attacks on Muslims.

Following the official announcement in March, Eisenberg wrote: 

Eisenberg also challenged Charlie Hebdo’s alleged commitment to “equal opportunity offense” toward all organized religion, given their editorial record and history of suppressing anti-Semitic jokes.