Francine Prose expanded on her thoughts in the CBC interview, in a piece for Comment is Free. Her expanded thoughts make my skin crawl.
When I learned that PEN had decided to award the Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, I was dismayed. I had agreed to serve as a literary table host and I wondered what I would do when the crowd around me rose to its feet to applaud an award being given – in my name – to what I felt was an inappropriate recipient.
She still doesn’t understand what Charlie is. She thinks it’s a right-wing racist rag.
Let me emphasize how strongly I believe in the ideals of PEN; for two years I was president of the PEN American Center. I believe in the indivisibility of the right to free speech, regardless of what – however racist, blasphemous, or in any way disagreeable – is being said.
Why is she pairing racist with blasphemous?
I believe that Charlie Hebdo has every right to publish whatever they wish.
But that is not the same as feeling that Charlie Hebdo deserves an award. As a friend wrote me: the First Amendment guarantees the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, but we don’t give them an award.
She likes that disgusting and dead-wrong comparison so much she uses it again. I repeat: Charlie Hebdo is not comparable to neo-Nazis!
The bestowing of an award suggests to me a certain respect and admiration for the work that has been done, and for the value of that work and though I admire the courage with which Charlie Hebdo has insisted on its right to provoke and challenge the doctrinaire, I don’t feel that their work has the importance – the necessity – that would deserve such an honor.
So that’s a reason to back out of the ceremony? That’s a reason to cringe at the thought of people applauding Charlie? That’s a reason to throw Charlie under the bus weeks after ten members of its staff were slaughtered?
Perhaps my sense of this will be clearer if I mention the sort of writers and whistleblowers whom [sic] I think would be appropriate candidates: Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, the journalists who have risked (and in some cases lost) their lives to report on the wars in the Middle East. Or the extremely brave Lydia Cacho, who has fearlessly reported on government corruption in Mexico, along with the dozens and dozens of Mexican journalists who have been murdered for reporting on the narco wars.
No, that’s not clearer, because being able to think of people you would prefer to see get the award is not at all the same thing as backing out of a commitment to be a host at the award ceremony. Not even close. You’re not just sitting out the award because you don’t like Charlie, you’re canceling an appointment to be there because you don’t like Charlie.
I have been deeply shocked to read and hear some critics say that the position I have taken, along with other writers, amounts to an endorsement of terrorism. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I also don’t feel that it is the mission of PEN to fight the war on terrorism; that is the role of our government.
That, frankly, is an idiotic thing to say. The “war on terrorism” is Bush-era propaganda, and has nothing to do with writers and journalists and cartoonists being in solidarity with colleagues who are murdered by theocratic terrorists. The fact that the Kouachi brothers fit the label “terrorist” is not a good reason to cancel an appointment to host at the PEN awards ceremony. It certainly is the mission of PEN to publicize and resist violent attacks on writers, journalists and cartoonists.
Our job, in presenting an award, is to honor writers and journalists who are saying things that need to be said, who are working actively to tell us the truth about the world in which we live. That is important work that requires perseverance and courage. And this is not quite the same as drawing crude caricatures and mocking religion.
Wait. What? So a novelist who writes fluffy comedies, for example, is not eligible for a PEN award? PEN covers only writers and journalists who do serious, truth-telling work? Poets, mystery writers, fantasy writers – they’re all out? Fiction is out? Satire is out? (Prose herself has written satirical fiction. Is she ineligible?)
The bitterness and rage of the criticism that we have received point out how difficult people find it to think with any clarity on these issues and how easy it has been for the media – and our culture – to fan the flames of prejudice against Islam.
Is it ok if I criticize the Vatican? Or is that forbidden too?
The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists – is one that feeds neatly into the cultural prejudices that have allowed our government to make so many disastrous mistakes in the Middle East. And the idea that one is either “for us or against us” in such matters not only precludes rational and careful thinking, but also has a chilling effect on the exercise of our right to free expression and free speech that all of us – and all the people at PEN – are working so tirelessly to guarantee.
As I said yesterday – bullshit. Complete bullshit. Avijit Roy wasn’t a white European. Washiqur Rahman Sabeen Mahmud wasn’t a white European. Taslima Nasreen isn’t a white European. Salman Rushdie isn’t a white European. This stuff is insulting garbage.