(this article is being updated as more PEN writers join)
Contrary to media accounts claiming that only 6 PEN members have objected to the group’s decision to bestow Charlie Hebdo with an award, the actual number is currently
145 204 PEN members (6 writers scheduled to be table heads at this year’s event have withdrawn, and the list includes writers who have served as table heads at prior events). Below is the letter drafted by several of the objecting writers, along with the current full list of signatories:
* * * * *
April 26, 2015
In March it was announced that the PEN Literary Gala, to be held May 5th
2015, would honor the magazine Charlie Hebdo with the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award in response to the January 7 attacks that claimed the lives of many members of its editorial staff.
It is clear and inarguable that the murder of a dozen people in the Charlie
Hebdo offices is sickening and tragic. What is neither clear nor inarguable
is the decision to confer an award for courageous freedom of expression on
Charlie Hebdo, or what criteria, exactly were used to make that decision.
We do not believe in censoring expression. An expression of views, however
disagreeable, is certainly not to be answered by violence or murder.
However, there is a critical difference between staunchly supporting
expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding
In the aftermath of the attacks, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were
characterized as satire and “equal opportunity offense,” and the magazine
seems to be entirely sincere in its anarchic expressions of principled
disdain toward organized religion. But in an unequal society, equal
opportunity offence does not have an equal effect.
Power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering
almost any form of discourse, including satire. The inequities between the
person holding the pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen cannot,
and must not, be ignored.
To the section of the French population that is already marginalized,
embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of
France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage
of devout Muslims, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as
being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.
Our concern is that, by bestowing the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award on Charlie Hebdo, 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.
In our view, PEN America could have chosen to confer its PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award upon any of a number of
journalists and whistleblowers who have risked, and sometimes lost, their
freedom (and even their lives) in service of the greater good.
PEN is an essential organization in the global battle for freedom of
expression. It is therefore particularly 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.
We the undersigned, as writers, thinkers, and members of PEN, therefore
respectfully wish to disassociate ourselves from PEN America’s decision to
give the 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo.
Hosam M. Aboul-Ela
Ali Jimale Ahmed
Lauren K. Alleyne
Charles Ramírez Berg
Barrie Jean Borich
Blanche McCrary Boyd
Rita Nakashima Brock
Ami Sands Brodoff
Karen Brown Brooks
Myriam J. A. Chancy
Bell Gale Chevigny
Rita Zoey Chin
Emily M. Danforth
Brent Hayes Edwards
Brian T. Edwards
Hedi El Kholti
Jennifer Cody Epstein
Marlon L. Fick
Peter H. Fogtdal
Linda Nemec Foster
Jonathan T. Hine Jr.
T. Geronimo Johnson
Uzma Aslam Khan
Robert Spencer Knotts
Ruth Ellen Kocher
C. M. Mayo
James McGrath Morris
Joyce Carol Oates
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Alexis M. Smith
Emily Gray Tedrowe
Roy A. Teel Jr.
Jasmine Dreame Wagner
Sung J. Woo
G. K. Wuori
Photo: Marechal Aurore/Sipa/AP