PEN America’s decision to award the French satiricial weekly Charlie Hebdo a “Freedom of Expression Courage Award” continues to cause controversy, as more than two dozen writers—including Joyce Carol Oates, Junot Díaz, and Teju Cole—have signed a letter protesting the award. On the opposite side stands Salman Rushdie, who believes Charlie Hebdo deserves the award, especially in light of the attack on the publication earlier this year, in which 12 editors and cartoonists were murdered.
“It is the role of the satirists in any free society to challenge the powerful and the sacred, pushing boundaries in ways that make expression freer and more robust for us all,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN Executive Director. “In paying the ultimate price for the exercise of their freedom, and then soldiering on amid devastating loss, Charlie Hebdo deserves to be recognized for its dauntlessness in the face of one of the most noxious assaults on expression in recent memory.”
The dissenters argue in their letter that Charlie Hebdo should not be rewarded for its controversial cartoons, as they ridicule a “section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized.” They continue:
Francine Prose, one of the initial six dissenters, elaborated on the issue on Facebook, where Salman Rushie and other writers weighed in. “Why is it so difficult for people to make fine distinctions? The writers opposing the PEN award support free speech, free expression, and stand fully behind Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish whatever they want without being censored, and of course without the use of violence to enforce their silence,” Prose writes.
Meanwhile, Joyce Carol Oates has taken to her preferred platform, Twitter, to offer a deeper explanation of her perspective:
The PEN Literary Gala will be held on Tuesday, May 5, at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.