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Award for French Magazine Charlie Hebdo Divides Prominent Writers

More than 200 writers have objected to the award of a Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Image: Gerard Biard
Charlie Hebdo's editor-in-chief, Gerard Biard, in Washington in May.ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP - Getty Images

A battle is raging among prominent writers over the honoring of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo at an award ceremony Tuesday.

Eight Charlie Hebdo staff members were among 12 people killed in a terror attack on Jan. 7 in Paris. The magazine was targeted because of its frequent parodies of the Prophet Mohammad. Its no-holds-barred humor at the expense of religion makes some defenders of free speech uncomfortable.

That includes some prominent members of PEN America, an international literary and human rights organization. According to the latest count, more than 200 have objected to awarding Charlie Hebdo its James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award.

In a letter, the writers — including Joyce Carol Oates and Michael Ondaatje — described the attack as "sickening and tragic" but distanced themselves from the award: "There is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression."

PEN disagreed. "We do not believe that any of us must endorse the content of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons in order to affirm the importance of the medium of satire, or to applaud the staff’s bravery in holding fast to those values in the face of life and death threats."

Other writers, including Salman Rushdie, the target of an Iranian fatwa after the publication of his book "The Satanic Verses," concurred, saying the protesters were "horribly wrong."


— Seán Federico-O'Murchú