The CBC talked to Francine Prose about her hostility to Charlie Hebdo today.
Prose tells As It Happens host Carol Off that despite her objections, she supports the magazine’s right to free speech.
“Free speech is indivisible. If you believe in free speech you believe in any sort of free speech — that you can say anything you want. And that’s absolutely what I believe in and I would include in that everything Charlie Hebdo has done.”
But she says that doesn’t mean Charlie Hebdo deserves the award.
No, it doesn’t; she’s right about that much. They are two separate things.
“We defend the right of neo-nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois but that doesn’t mean we give them an award.”
I’m not even sure I do defend the right of neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, because that’s direct intimidation. I’ve always had reservations about that.
Prose says that there are other journalists who are more deserving of the award.
“This is an award that should be given to equally brave journalists…There are journalists being killed in the Middle East. There are journalists being killed every day in Mexico, who are doing work that needs to be done because people need to hear about the truth they are reporting and what’s happening in other parts of the world. I don’t quite understand the absolute necessity of the work that Charlie Hebdo did.”
Nobody said it was an absolute necessity. That’s not the issue.
Then they get to Salman Rushdie’s tweet, which I saw this morning and wish he hadn’t worded the way he did.
Salman Rushdie @SalmanRushdie
.@JohnTheLeftist @NickCohen4 The award will be given. PEN is holding firm. Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character.
Sigh. Please don’t do that. Please don’t use epithets for women to signify cowardice. Please don’t.
I didn’t say anything about it this morning because it was a distraction. But Prose did, and on this I agree with her.
Rushdie tweeted: “The award will be given. PEN is holding firm. Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character.”
In response, Prose, tells Off that the writers are standing up for what they believe in — and says Rushdie’s tweet is sexist.
“I think it’s a sexual insult…And think it was careless and I think Salman regrets it. It was in a tweet. But nonetheless I think it’s an unfair word to use…Why is our behaviour a sign of weakness? We’ve all caught a great deal of flack for this. If we wanted to be weak we could have just said, you know what I have another engagement I forgot about that night.”
Fair point. I think it’s cluelessness rather than cowardice.
Rushie, who spent years in hiding after a fatwa was issued against him, had a message for the authors speaking out against the award.
“What I would say to both Peter (Carey) and Michael (Ondaatje) and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”
But Prose tells Off her message is that a central question needs to be asked about why the award is being given to Charlie Hebdo now.
“I think it very conveniently feeds into the larger political narrative which is the narrative of white Europeans being killed by Muslim extremists…”
Oh, please. What’s convenient about it? What’s “white” got to do with it? Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman and Sabeen Mahmud weren’t white or European. The larger political narrative is that authoritarian Islamist fascists want to silence secular voices, so they’re murdering journalists and cartoonists and bloggers and activists, and not just white ones. By turning their backs on Charlie, the six writers are turning their backs on Avijit and Washiqur and Sabeen too.
I’m not coming out in favour of terrorism obviously. (But this idea) is such a popular one in the media and politically. That fear has been used so well to justify various political policies of our government and other governments. The popularity of that narrative, and the easiness of that narrative, and also the emotionality that surrounds it means it’s a very different story than other stories that could have been honoured and awarded.
Bullshit. Callous, stupid bullshit. Tell that to Raif Badawi and to Ensaf Haidar.