Six writers have withdrawn from a PEN American Center event over its decision to honor French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo with its Freedom of Expression Courage award. The literary and human rights organization announced Sunday that the writers were disappointed by Charlie Hebdo’s representation of Muslims and its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
The writers -- Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi -- have withdrawn from the gala, which is scheduled to be held on May 5 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The Paris-based magazine was attacked in January by Islamic extremists who killed 12 people. Editor-in-chief Gerard Biard, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a Charlie Hebdo staff member who survived the attack because he arrived late for work, are scheduled to accept the award.
"I was quite upset as soon as I heard about (the award)," Prose, a former president of PEN American, told the Associated Press during a telephone interview on Sunday night, adding that while she was in favor of "freedom of speech without limitations" and "deplored" the attack on the publication, giving an award signified "admiration and respect" for the magazine’s work.
"I couldn't imagine being in the audience when they have a standing ovation for Charlie Hebdo," Prose said.
Kushner reportedly cited her discomfort with the magazine’s “cultural intolerance” and promotion of “a kind of forced secular view,” as the reason for her withdrawal from the event, according to an email sent Friday to PEN’s leadership.
Andrew Solomon, the current president of PEN American, stated that several people were offended by some of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, but added that PEN believed strongly in the "appropriateness" of the award for the French magazine.
"It is undoubtedly true that in addition to provoking violent threats from extremists, the Hebdo cartoons offended some other Muslims, as their cartoons offended members of the many other groups they targeted," Solomon wrote, in a letter sent to PEN trustees on Sunday. "But, based on their own statements, we believe that Charlie Hebdo's intent was not to ostracize or insult Muslims, but rather to reject forcefully the efforts of a small minority to place broad categories of speech off limits, no matter the purpose, intent or import of the expression.
"We do not believe that any of us must endorse the contents of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons in order to affirm the principles for which they stand, or applaud the staff's bravery in holding fast to those values in the face of life and death threats," Solomon reportedly said.