Why I Signed the PEN Protest Letter

charliehebdo31

In Charlie Hebdo, Christianity gets shafted too.

As you have no doubt heard by now, six writers who were to have served as “table hosts” at the PEN American Center’s 2015 Gala recently backed out in protest of PEN’s decision to present the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo. Some of them have written an open letter to PEN explaining their position – a letter that has since been signed by 145 writers (including me) and counting.

Here’s the crux of the dispute:

Both PEN and the dissenters agree that freedom of speech is crucial to defend; that the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo‘s staff on January 7, 2015 was an unspeakable crime; and that the murder of 10 of the journal’s staff members and contributors was an act of terrorism, committed by religious fundamentalists whose deed was utterly inexcusable. When the attack occurred, PEN decried the murders immediately and continued to issue statements in support of the journal and its decision to continue publishing. The dissenters agree.

What the dissenters object to is PEN’s decision in March to make Charlie Hebdo the recipient of a prestigious PEN award. As PEN sees it, the journal’s surviving staff deserve this honor because of the heinousness of the attack against them and the courageousness of their decision to go on publishing the journal despite the attack. The dissenters, on the other hand, object that honoring the journal with this award implies a more profound and wide-ranging seal of PEN approval on the work of the journal as a whole than is appropriate. Some of the things that appear in the pages of Charlie Hebdo, when considered in the cultural context of 21st century France, make the dissenters uncomfortable. Everyone knows by now that the magazine prints racially charged caricatures of Muslims. It also prints caricatures of Jews (looking rather like the Muslims but with different clothes), as well as Catholics and other religious and political groups. Charlie Hebdo is indeed an “equal opportunity offender,” as people have taken to saying in its defense. But as the writers of the protest letter point out, “in an unequal society, equal opportunity offense does not have an equal effect.”

It’s well known that a large number of Muslims in France belong to an impoverished underclass – a legacy of France’s colonial past – and there is widespread discrimination against them. Publishing popular images mocking their features and beliefs in a context where right-wing French politicians speak openly against them with impunity contributes to a climate that makes their standing in French society precarious, to say the least. While Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish such images, and while it is certainly appropriate for PEN to support its right to do so, PEN’s singling out the journal to be emphatically honored above many other embattled practitioners of free speech sends a message that the organization is unconcerned with the situation of Muslims in France. And that’s a message I object to.

To be sure, this entire argument (on both sides, actually) is based on a relatively superficial analysis of the satires Charlie Hebdo publishes. For an intelligently nuanced close reading of the journal’s work, see the analysis Caleb Crain published yesterday on his blog. But close reading is largely beside the point in a debate of this sort. Political symbols are not matters of nuance, of delicate calligraphy – they are swabbed on walls with push-brooms dipped in buckets of paint. And the message on this particular wall as seen, say, from the Middle East, probably looks something like this: “PEN Says Mocking Muslims Is Courageous.” Peace-loving Muslims around the world, hearing of PEN’s lionizing of Charlie Hebdo, might reasonably conclude that the organization has no interest in them or (in the case of those who are disadvantaged minorities in France and other countries) their own lack of outlets for free expression. By merely appearing to side with the forces that oppress, say, an impoverished Muslim living in the banlieues of Paris, we contribute to his oppression. And the thought that an organization like PEN would show so little concern for this population is just disheartening to me. PEN’s position aligns it with the point of view of privilege. I can’t speak for everyone who signed the PEN protest letter – people’s reasons for signing no doubt vary – but for me, it comes down to this: I just don’t want anything done in my name that appears to further harm an already disadvantaged population. As a PEN member, I want PEN to be respectful – at the very least – of those who lack privilege and power.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 11.01.19 AMMeanwhile, I have been shocked at the way the first dissenters to go public were attacked. Salman Rushdie called them “pussies” (he later apologized for his choice of words, but the harm was already done); Simon Schama called them “stupid” (no apology so far). I’ve heard them criticized as “sententious” and “sanctimonious,” as though articulating a counter-position implied a failure of tone. Would critics of the dissenters have preferred to see the protest letter written as satire? Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 11.00.21 AMIn fact, I wonder whether “sententious” isn’t the new “shrill,” especially given that the first of the letter writers to go public with her objections was a woman. I am also alarmed to see critics of the dissenters implying both subtly and directly that by objecting to the PEN award, the dissenters are aligning themselves with “the assassin’s veto.” Um, no. This is a highly inaccurate accusation, a bullying accusation, words intended to intimidate and shut down discussion and dissent.

Fortunately voices of support have been raised as well, e.g. that of Jacob Silverman, who follows Teju Cole’s lead in suggesting that Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning might have been more suitable recipients of this award. Well, back when I still sat on the PEN board as Chair of the Translation Committee (2011-2014), I proposed that PEN issue a statement in support of Chelsea Manning, only to be shot down by a fellow board member: “Why would we support him [sic]? He’s a criminal. He stole government property.” To this day, PEN has never said a peep about her heroic actions. Seen from that perspective, the choice of Charlie Hebdo appears utterly safe, even State Department-friendly. It will ruffle no feathers in our own government nor in the governments of our major allies. Other choices might have been riskier – courageous, even.

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Comments

  1. Daniel Green says:

    Just exactly how do you know what PEN’s action looks like to Muslims? The presumption that those of you condemning Hebdo’s work know what Muslims are feeling–which Muslims by the way?–is the most infuriating part of this whole sanctimonious exercise.Is it really your place to be speaking for them?

    The fact of the matter is that Hebdo didn’t mock Muslims. It mocked religious authority as embodied in the image of Muhammad. Mocking figures of authority is supposed to make people “uncomfortable.” This is what satirists do. If you can only defend free expression that makes you comfortable, then you really don’t have much belief in free expression at all.

    • Huri Uzel says:

      I am a Muslim and I also happen to be friends with some of the authors who have signed the open letter. I did have conversations with them about the subject and they did care about my opinion. So I cannot speak for all Muslims or all signers but I can confirm that some signers did speak to some Muslims about the subject. In that sense, the presumption seems to be Dr. Green’s.

      As far as speaking for Muslims is concerned, before accusing the authors, Dr. Green may want to consider the gendered/ethnic/religious/national aspects of access to PEN and global literary circles. In the present context, I am just happy that my colleagues who are in positions of power actually care about the systematic oppression we experience in France.

      Dr. Green probably did not bother to spend their time reading the text above (because it was written by a woman supporting Muslims?) but the signers are not against the freedom of expression at all. They are against a special endorsement of a politically problematic journal and approach in satire, and they ground their arguments not only in affect but also in history and politics.

    • Andy Scott says:

      She DOESN’T “only defend free expression that makes [her] comfortable.” Read the post: “Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish such images, and it is certainly appropriate for PEN to support its right to do so.” It’s ironic that you can’t win an argument about respecting the freedom of expression without distorting or lying about your interlocutor’s free expression. Saying that Hebdo publishes bigoted images (they do) does not amount to saying that they should not be allowed to publish bigoted images (they should). The issue at hand is whether they should be awarded for doing so (they shouldn’t).

      • Hilda says:

        Hebdo was not being awarded the prize for publishing so called bigoted images. It was being awarded the prize for standing up in defense of freedom of expression, for not cowering in the face of violence from thugs and savages. It was a way of telling all those Muslim terrorists and anyone else who attempts to shut down speech, that freedom of speech will not be stifled and any violence used to attempt squashing speech will not cower the defenders of freedom of expression.

        You either believe in freedom of speech or you don’t. There is no exceptions or excuses.

        • Huri Uzel says:

          “Savages,” huh? I just love it when racism becomes so obvious in language.

          Yes, “you either believe in freedom of speech or you don’t. There is no exceptions or excuses.” Then why did the French government prevent Muslim groups from protesting the journal before this atrocious violence happened? Because “savages” don’t deserve freedom of speech anyway?

  2. Thanks for this, Susan. As Garry Trudeau put it in his eloquent speech, “Satire punches up.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/the-abuse-of-satire/390312/).

    I am dismayed that some people don’t seem to understand the distinction between supporting Charlie Hebdo’s RIGHT to publish what they will and declining to support the granting of this award. Clearly the damn has broken among New Yorkers who no longer want their commitment to free speech to become conflated with crude bigotry.

  3. Daniel Green says:

    Free speech can always be “conflated” by people who don’t like it. That’s what happened to Hebdo.

  4. Natasha says:

    It’s just all a bit complicated isn’t it. Speaking of ‘gendered/ethnic/religious/national aspects of access to PEN and global literary circles’, here’s a French Muslim woman addressing, Emmanuel Todd, yet another patronising white man telling her what she thinks about Charlie Hebdo.

    http://www.lesinrocks.com/inrocks.tv/sophia-aram-a-emmanuel-todd-merci-de-prendre-la-defense-des-musulmans/

    Her response? ‘Stop worrying about us. The great majority of the Muslim and immigrant population of France are very happy to live in a secular country, where freedom of speech is not something to be negotiated on the altar of condescension. And guess what, for quite a lot of us, that’s actually the very reason we have chosen to live here. Calm down and treat us like adults. That’s the best way to respect us, M. Todd.’

    I’m happy to translate the rest for those who don’t understand French. It’s about time that real live French Muslim women’s voices were heard in this debate.

  5. Natasha says:

    First of all, I’m not interested in discussing the limits of free expression in France. I live here, and write a great deal about this issue, and obviously (since I write about it) both know and care a great deal about it too. The award is not being given to France or the French government, so I think your point is what is known as ‘hors sujet’.

    I have actually read the excellent piece by Arthur Asseraf right to the end, when he concludes that ‘it is hardly a “French” tradition of freedom of speech that is under attack, since the context for these events exceeds the geography of the hexagon. We can condemn the deaths of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, but not because French values of freedom of the press are inherently superior or unique….The murders this week are not attacks against French freedom of speech, a tradition which has its own dark history, but it is one of many attacks on freedom of speech everywhere. The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are no more or no less heroes than the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed.’ I think he really nails it with that very easy to understand sentence.

    • Huri Uzel says:

      I fail to see how our personal interests are of any relevance for the discussion. Although they are absolutely hors sujet, thank you very much for generously sharing yours.
      Neither the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were produced and consumed in a vacuum nor did the atrocious massacre happen in such a way. These events cannot be understood without reference to the broader historical and political context. Hence the limits of the freedom of expression in France and the experiences of French Muslims are of obvious relevance . What I am trying to do is actually known as empirically grounded analysis and activism.
      Although undoubtedly interesting, your interpretation of the Asseraf piece still fails to explain why the protest against a PEN award for Charlie Hebdo is, in any way, an attack on French secularism as implied by your citation of Aram, your chosen “real live French Muslim woman.”

  6. Natasha says:

    I’m genuinely bewildered as to how you conclude that I claim that what Sophia Aram says is ‘attack on French secularism.’ And I didn’t interpret Asseref, I quoted him. It’s pretty straightforward what he says. I’ll quote him again: ‘The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are no more or no less heroes than the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed.’

    • Huri Uzel says:

      I never said that you claim what Sophia Aram says is an “attack on French secularism.” On the contrary, I am pretty sure that she would not be the representative French Muslim of your choice had she chosen to attack it. Based on the fact that you brought her words to a discussion on the ethical and political implications of giving a PEN award to Charlie Hebdo, I assumed that you think her content with French secularism is, in some way, in support of the award and that was the only connection I managed to build. If there is another connection, I would be most grateful if you could share it with us.

      There were many sentences in the Asseraf piece (of course, you may call him “Asseref,” because it is some strange non-Western name anyway) and you chose to cite some. On that level, it is an interpretation. As far as the citation is concerned, neither the text above nor its supporters argue that the attack on Charlie Hebdo is fundamentally different from other attacks on journalists elsewhere—they are all complicated events that take place within specific social, historical, and political contexts. Still, this does not mean Charlie Hebdo’s work is not politically and ethically problematic. Besides, if we are supposed to interpret the attack on the level suggested by Asseraf (after a lengthy discussion on the social and political context in which they work) and approve of the PEN decision on those grounds, it is worth questioning why Charlie Hebdo does not share the award with the other journalists who have been killed elsewhere.

  7. Natasha says:

    It was a typo for heaven’s sake. You really are stooping pretty low if you are point scoring at that level.

    I am very sorry, but you are misreading Assaraf’s piece. He specifically says that you cannot interpret the attacks through the lens of colonialism. ‘Claiming that this is all about the colonial past runs the serious danger of glamorizing jihadists as anti-colonial freedom fighters resisting imperialism. The geopolitical crisis that they are a part of cannot be read through a colonial lens.’

    Your question as to why they do not share the award with other journalists who have been killed is spurious. You could say that about every prize ever given.

    I suggest you actually watch the Sophia Aram video before you actually try and talk about it. It tends to help. It’s painfully obvious that you haven’t!

  8. Natasha says:

    But you do need to know French to be able to watch it, which perhaps you don’t.

  9. Huri Uzel says:

    If you make only one typo and that happens to be a non-Western name, it is likely to be interpreted in a certain way.

    None of us is glamorizing the Charlie Hebdo killings as an act of post-colonial resistance. In fact, we are not even talking about the murderers except for condemning them. We are primarily interested in the experiences of other Muslims in France, including the people who felt offended by the magazine and were not even allowed to exercise their right to protest before this atrocious violence happened. And the context that makes them particularly vulnerable is unquestionably a consequence of the history of colonialism, among other things.

    My question is a response to your favorite sentence: “The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are no more or no less heroes than the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed.” If they are not, what makes is it that makes Charlie Hebdo PEN’s chosen heroes? Asking such straightforward questions that sound “spurious” to some can actually help us expose how hegemonic power dynamics are reproduced.

    Thank you very much for your very helpful suggestion but I said nothing about the Aram video except for your citation and its place within your line of argumentation.

  10. Natasha says:

    You say that “We are primarily interested in the experiences of other Muslims in France”. Who is this regal “we”? I’m sure your interest is genuine, but it’s severely hampered by the fact that you don’t speak French and I’m guessing know little about France. The most depressing aspect of the debate that’s raged over the last ten days is that it has to a large extent been waged with such stubborn ignorance. Art Spiegelman put it well: “The problem is cartooning is as much a literary form as it is a visual form, and it requires a great degree of sophistication to grapple with it. It builds on symbols, metaphor, irony, and one has to have a fair amount of cultural context to know what you’re looking at. It’s easy therefore to misread and misunderstand, and I found that some of my cohorts and brethren in PEN are really good misreaders.”

    All you are bringing to this debate, in the end, is the notion that you, and the French Muslims for whom you seem to claim to speak, are potentially “offended” (as you put it) by Charlie Hebdo, even though because you don’t speak French your knowledge and understanding of it is by definition virtually non-existent.

    As far smarter people than you and me have said over and over again this week, being offended is the price you pay for living in a democracy.

  11. Natasha says:

    “A Muslim writer in South Africa does not, by default, know more about whether Charlie Hebdo is racist than a black writer in France. (I am thinking in particular of the Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou’s strong support, in French, for the magazine.) And while perhaps even this point could be argued either way, what is certainly not contentious is the idea that a marginalized voice in America, or Australia, or even England, knows less about whether Charlie Hebdo is racist than a marginalized voice in France. (On this point, I am thinking of the former head of the organization SOS Racisme’s disgust at the “incredible” intellectual dishonesty of this response to a publication he counts as an ally and friend.)”

    https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/against-cosmo-conscientiousness/

  12. Huri Uzel says:

    I have no idea what your guesses are based on. I actually lived in France for some time (without even speaking proper French, not unlike some immigrants there), and had my share of the intersection of ethnic and gendered discrimination. I also happen to have many friends living there, including scholars and working-class Muslims, with whom I regularly discuss. Moreover, there is a whole academic literature on France produced in English, which I happen to be following. Nevertheless, none of this matters. You still have not responded to my very simple question: If the journalists at Charlie Hebdo are no more or no less heroes than the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed, why is PEN giving an award to the Charlie Hebdo staff only?

    I don’t claim to speak for anyone. Unlike you, I am not trying to delegate anyone to represent “real, live Muslim French women” either. The “legal” “we” above refers to the people above who both denounce the Charlie Hebdo massacre and criticize the PEN decision. (I also used “we” to refer to the Muslims who experienced discrimination in France.)

    Many of us who criticize the PEN decision are not against the argument that most offensive expressions should also be protected under the freedom of expression and this is important for democracy. (I won’t say all expressions, because there are limits for many people, which are often drawn at pedophilia, gendercide, Nazism or homophobia.) Hence we, as you can see above, condemn the Charlie Hebdo killings. Nevertheless, if we are to build our arguments on the concepts of democracy and freedom of expression, I wonder why the fact that some French Muslims clearly expressed that they were offended by Charlie Hebdo and wanted to exercise their democratic right to protest the journal yet were prevented by the government from doing so is irrelevant for a discussion on the ethical and political implications of the PEN decision. Is being silenced also a price you pay for democracy?

    I am sure the Spiegelman citation must be appealing for those who desperately try to adopt a similar condescending tone but actually art criticism and critical theory has moved far beyond his description. Rather than fetishizing elitist conceptualizations of “true interpretation,” there is an ever increasing interest in subaltern and minoritarian readings as well as the performative power of images. In that sense, even though accusing the PEN protesters of ignorance about the cultural context might be overgeneralizing yet somewhat tolerable, accusing the French Muslim groups who wanted to demonstrate against the journal is simply ridiculous. But, of course, as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Spiegelman must know “the French context” better than those Muslim people who live there. Also, talking about contexts, do I need to mention that for many contemporary Muslims, visually representing Muhammad is, in and of itself, offensive?

    P.S.: Using words like “hors sujet,” “spurious,” and “stubborn ignorance” and accusing people you don’t know of things you have no proof for doesn’t make you sound like more of an expert. They rather reveal your lack of ability that prevents you from engaging in a conversation based on arguments, as you have demonstrated over and over.

  13. Huri Uzel says:

    I certainly agree, nobody knows the French cultural context better than a white American male celebrity whose work has been recognized with an award by the French government.

  14. Natasha says:

    Goodness, if I’m condescending by using the word spurious, what on earth does that make you, spinning all your pretty academic jargon?

    I would love to direct you to pieces written in France, by French people, Muslim and non Muslim, from a minority position and from a non-minority position, about Charlie Hebdo. I offered you Sophia Aram’s take (not specifically about the award, but about Charlie Hebdo) but you don’t understand French, so it doesn’t really help. Here’s Alain Mabanckou: http://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/il-n-y-a-pas-de-france-sans-arrogance_1675426.html#e1gCpUetF774ae4S.01 Again, not a lot of use if you don’t read French. If you won’t accept an American cartoonist’s defence of PEN, and you can’t read French, we are just going to go round in circles.

    I quoted Spiegelman, to whom you object. There are so many others I could have quoted instead. I don’t think it would change anything. You would no doubt decry any support of the award from an English language writer as being written from the same position of privilege. But what is the difference between Spiegelman’s privileged American opinion and that of the six writers who signed the letter? They are all being written from the same position of American privilege. Why is Spiegelman’s any less valid than that of the writers who signed the letter?

    As for your question as to why why PEN chose to give the award to Charlie Hebdo instead of the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed recently, I honestly don’t know. Why did Pussy Riot receive it last year, instead of another journalist or group of journalists who might well have deserved it equally? I don’t know that either. It’s just the nature of prizes that not everyone can win, except of course in Alice in Wonderland.

    • Huri Uzel says:

      Your use of words like “hors sujet,” “spurious,” and “stubborn ignorance” simply aim to silence and dismiss your interlocutors whereas with what you label as “pretty academic jargon” (again in a condescending and this time anti-intellectualist manner) I actually try to convey a meaning.

      We don’t need to speak French, you can always reiterate the arguments that you believe to be supporting your beliefs. If you choose to do so, it would be great if you could also make the connections clear, since the topic of our discussion is the PEN letter.

      I have no problem respecting any person’s point of view, whether I accept their arguments or not. You are the one trying to do gatekeeping and randomly accusing people of ignorance. Hence I was trying to show how interesting it is that you accuse the signers and their supporters of not knowing “the French context” while you are happy to accept Spiegelman’s expertise (and his dated views on visual arts).

      I am well aware that not everyone can win an award, thank you. But since we are not talking about Olympic Alpine skiing, it is worth questioning why the lives and deaths of the Charlie Hebdo staff should be worthy of recognition by PEN unlike the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed.

      • Natasha says:

        Actually I think you really do need to speak French if you’re going to put forward a valid argument as to why Charlie Hebdo was undeserving of the award.

        • Huri Uzel says:

          Do people also need to speak French to put forward a valid argument as to why Charlie Hebdo deserves the award? Is the award committee composed of experts on France? If so, are they also experts on Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, and Algeria?

          • Natasha says:

            Well, put it this way: PEN doesn’t legislate on content or quality when it acts to protect writers at risk, or when it gives this award, so no, they actually don’t need to. Read Andrew Solomons’ response in the New York Times in case you’re in any doubt about this. But the writers who signed the letter are protesting the award based precisely on the content and quality of the magazine, which actually requires them to have read it, which would in turn necessitate a rather good grasp of French.

          • Huri Uzel says:

            So you mean the decision to give the award to Charlie Hebdo and not to the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed is not based on the content and quality of the magazine?

  15. Marianne Adams says:

    “well known that a large number of Muslims in France belong to an impoverished underclass – a legacy of France’s colonial past – and there is widespread discrimination against them. Publishing popular images mocking their features and beliefs in a context where right-wing French politicians speak openly against them with impunity contributes to a climate that makes their standing in French society precarious, to say the least. While Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish such images, and while it is certainly appropriate for PEN to support its right to do so, PEN’s singling out the journal to be emphatically honored above many other embattled practitioners of free speech sends a message that the organization is unconcerned with the situation of Muslims in France. And that’s a message I object to.”

    This is an awfully the most paternalist point of view.
    Charlie Hebdo criticizes religion, never individuals, and especially religion when used as a weapon by some to oppress others. Satire is never politically correct. You have the right to be offended, you don’t have the right to killed because you’re offended.
    By signing this ill advised letter, you’re harming those who fight theocracy and oppression all other the world. You’re betraying the Iraq blogger flogged for blasphemy, you’re betraying the homosexual killed in Nigeria, the raped pregnant teen in the Bible Belt, the rebellious wife in a Hasidim community.

    • Huri Uzel says:

      Nobody is claiming that anyone had any right to murder the Charlie Hebdo staff. This is called “the straw man fallacy.”

  16. Natasha says:

    I know that there are many people in France, Muslims and others, who find Charlie Hebdo offensive and ‘are not Charlie’. I know that there are also many people in France, Muslims and others, who adamantly believe in upholding the principle of free expression, even when offence has been caused.

    We have the luxury of living in a world where what people write and draw and sing won’t always be to our taste, sometimes to the degree that we will be deeply offended by things that people write, say or draw. But living in a world which privileges freedom of expression – even if not absolute freedom of expression, as we all know – is a challenge as well as a privilege, and this challenge is at the heart of what we are discussing. The British writer Kenan Malik puts it very well: “The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. That is why free speech is essential to minority communities, and to those without power. Once we constrain the right to offend, we constrain also the ability to challenge power, and hence to challenge injustice.”

    For what it’s worth when I protest against Raif Badawi being imprisoned and flogged, it’s never occurred to me to check whether or not I agree with what he writes. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I protest because I believe that no one should be imprisoned and flogged for writing a blog, just as I believe that no one should be murdered for drawing pictures. I protest simply because I believe in upholding his right to write. I would have been thrilled if Raif Badawi had been awarded the prize last night. I was thrilled that Charlie Hebdo was awarded the prize. Both, as far as I can see, are truly courageous – they carried on doing what they did in spite of the very real risks they knew they were taking.

  17. Huri Uzel says:

    Both in the original letter, and in our comments that support it, we have not said one word against Charlie Hebdo staff’s freedom of expression. Hence it may be helpful to focus on the ethical and political implications of the PEN award.

  18. Natasha says:

    Huri Uzel says:
    May 6, 2015 at 3:16 pm
    So you mean the decision to give the award to Charlie Hebdo and not to the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed is not based on the content and quality of the magazine?

    No, it’s not. Read Andrew Solomons. He should know.

    And I repeat, how can anyone who can’t read French read the magazine to judge that it should not have received the award, based on its content and quality?

    • Huri Uzel says:

      Because, on the most basic level, any visual depiction of Muhammad is considered as blasphemy by most contemporary Muslims. But beyond that, a more serious problem is the broader political context in which the magazine worked—a context where the government curtailed Muslim groups’ right to protest in order to protect what Solomon and Nossel call Charlie Hebdo’s “right to be disrespectful.” What is the PEN award supposed to mean for the French Muslims who are not allowed to exercise their freedoms?

      I don’t think the piece by Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel explains why the staff of Charlie Hebdo and not any of the other journalists who have been killed deserve the award. Since you love block quotes, I would be most grateful if you could copy and paste the relevant section.

  19. Natasha says:

    Blasphemy’s offensive. What can I say. I’m very glad to Iive in a country where it’s legal. We know what happens in countries where it isn’t.

  20. Huri Uzel says:

    Thank you very much for demonstrating the correlation between political conservatism (in this case racism in the guise of liberal democracy) and the lack of ability to engage in logical reasoning and argumentation. We need more obvious examples like this to prove the importance of formal logic and critical reading education at early age.

  21. Natasha says:

    I love it when people have to resort to ad hominem attacks (You’re racist! You’re stupid!) because the’ve run out of more intelligent ways to prove their point.

  22. Huri Uzel says:

    First of all, I did not call anyone “stupid” but given the logical argumentation issues that preceded this post, this interpretation is not surprising.

    I have not run out of “intelligent ways” to prove my point. My arguments are listed above quite clearly, and you have not responded in a satisfactory manner. Your personal preferences concerning political systems and your fear-mongering attempts based on Sharia are not only irrelevant in the context of this particular discussion but they are also politically and ethically problematic.

    In any case, I have always believed in the importance of formal logic and critical reading education, and I am grateful to you for demonstrating this point.

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