145 writers sign letter protesting PEN award to Charlie Hebdo

May 2, 2015 • 10:49 am

About a week ago, six writers who are members of PEN, an organization that promotes and supports freedom of literary expression, refused to attend and be “table hosts” at a PEN banquet. This was a protest against PEN’s giving a “freedom of expression award” to Charlie Hebdo after the brutal murders of its outspoken writers and artists. Now, according to the New York Times, the Shameful Six have been joined by 139 other writers who are equally misguided.

The Intercept gives the text of the letter and a list of the 145 signers. Here’s an excerpt from the letter. I’ve highlighted the inevitable “however,” which alway tells us in such matters that the writers have paid lip service to the principle but then will argue that in this case the principle doesn’t really apply:

It is clear and inarguable that the murder of a dozen people in the Charlie Hebdo offices is sickening and tragic.

. . . However, there is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were characterized as satire and “equal opportunity offense,” and the magazine seems to be entirely sincere in its anarchic expressions of principled disdain toward organized religion. But in an unequal society, equal opportunity offence does not have an equal effect.

Power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire. The inequities between the person holding the pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen cannot, and must not, be ignored.

To the section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage of devout Muslims, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.

Our concern is that, by bestowing the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award on Charlie Hebdo, PEN is not simply conveying support for freedom of expression, but also valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.

. . . We the undersigned, as writers, thinkers, and members of PEN, therefore respectfully wish to disassociate ourselves from PEN America’s decision to give the 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo.

This letter proves three things: that the writers either can’t read French or don’t understand France, that they don’t fathom what Charlie Hebdo was all about, and that their notion of “punching down” doesn’t make sense. Charlie Hebdo not only satirized Catholicism (isn’t that punching up?), but also the French government and the many racist elements in French politics, particularly the odious Le Pens. Isn’t that punching up? And really, how “marginalized” are two angry Muslims with an arsenal? With their recourse to weapons and willingness to use them, I’d hardly consider jihadists “marginalized” or “powerless.” Finally, as I’ve said many times, Charlie Hebdo was on the Left insofar as it combatted racism and fought for the rights of immigrants and foreign minorities. They just didn’t like bigotry or religion, and mocked them mercilessly.

These signers are, pardon my French, useful idiots. Their criticism of the magazine’s “valorizing selectively offensive material” is a euphemism for “Charlie Hebdo said stuff that offended people”—and that’s precisely what a freedom-of-expression award is for. What do they want: a recipient that had the courage to offend nobody??

I don’t recognize most of the signers (perhaps that exposes my ignorance of the humanities), but here are ones I do know: Eve Ensler, Michael Cunningham, Kathyrn Harrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Danzy Senna, and Wallace Shawn. You can see the full list at the letter link, and shame on them all.

But there are also two eloquent and spirited reactions to these misguided writers. One is by the ever-admirable Nick Cohen in the Spectator, “Charlie Hebdo: The literary indulgence of murder.” Cohen (whom I’m going to award, along with Jeffrey Taylor, the PCC Award for Rationality) is particularly incensed with writer Francine Prose’s critique in the Guardian of the PEN award, but also levels a strong attack on the hypocrisy of “liberal” writers who, cowering before Islamic thugs, abandon the very Enlightenment principles butressing traditional Leftism (my emphasis):

Prose, [Peter] Carey, the London Review of Books and so many others agree with Islamists first demand that the world should have a de facto blasphemy law enforced at gunpoint. Break it and you have only yourself to blame if the assassins you provoked kill you

They not only go along with the terrorists from the religious ultra-right but with every state that uses Islam to maintain its power. They can show no solidarity with gays in Iran, bloggers in Saudi Arabia and persecuted women and religious minorities across the Middle East, who must fight theocracy. They have no understanding that enemies of Charlie Hebdo are also the enemies of liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims in the West. In the battle between the two, they have in their stupidity and malice allied with the wrong side.

Most glaringly they have failed to understand power. It is not fixed but fluid. It depends on where you stand. The unemployed terrorist with the gun is more powerful than the Parisian cartoonist cowering underneath his desk. The marginal cleric may well face racism and hatred – as my most liberal British Muslim friends do – but when he sits in a Sharia court imposing misogynist rules on Muslim women in the West, he is no longer a victim or potential victim but a man to be feared.

When I read the literary attacks on PEN’s award to Hebdo, I wondered whether it was worth staying on the middle-class left. Prose’s piece on its own was enough to make me leave in disgust. It seems a corrupted, cowardly, lying and selfish movement bereft on any spirit of camaraderie; and dishonest to its bones.

But then I recollected that PEN stood firm. It politely thanked its various luminaries for their protests and then said it would ignore them.

I, too, am deeply embarrassed at the reaction of much of the middle-class Left, particularly writers and cartoonists, like Garry Trudeau, who appeal to that moiety. But I reserve my right to be a Leftist and also decry the hypocrisy and cowardice of those who are supposedly on my side.

Finally, although I consider Adam Gopnik too soft on religion (we’re having a friendly discussion of this issue at the moment), I admire his supporting the right to mock faith in his New Yorker piece, “PEN has every right to honor Charlie Hebdo.” Unlike his thick-headed literary confrères, Gopnik clearly distinguishes making fun of faith from demonizing faith’s adherents. One would think that would be a no-brainer, but for 145 writers it’s clearly not. Gopnik:

It is not merely that an assault on an ideology is different from a threat made to a person; it is that it is the opposite of a threat made to a person. The whole end of liberal civilization is to substitute the criticism of ideas for assaults on people. The idea that we should be free to do our work and offer our views without extending a frightened veto to those who threaten to harm us isn’t just part of what we mean by free expression. It’s what free expression is. The Charlie Hebdostaff kept working in the face of death threats, and scorning an effort to honor that courage gives too much authority to those who want that veto. The killers were not speaking for an offended community and explaining why, after all, someone might easily miss the point of the cartoons. They were responding to an insult with murder. The honored cartoonists, in turn, are not markers in an abstract game of sensitivities. They were elderly artists whose last view in life was of a masked man with a machine gun. If that is not horror, then nothing is horror. If that is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. If writers won’t honor their courage, then what courage can we honor?

. . . How can we tell insults to ideology from threats to people? Well, as I’ve written before, that is why we have critics, courts, and laws. Hell, it’s why we have writers. It’s the work they do. And it’s the reason why they gather at galas, where they can argue.

I hold those truths to be self-evident, but apparently they can’t be emphasized too often in today’s climate of identity politics.

100 thoughts on “145 writers sign letter protesting PEN award to Charlie Hebdo

  1. Excellently put. French writers must be horrified by the insular stupidity of their US, UK and Oz counterparts. I’m embarrassed that these letter-signing writers are too lazy to find out the truth of the situation.

  2. Ditto, Jerry. My piece written a few days ago, and sorry for going slightly over-length.
    Islam: how it made the European left stupid and spineless
    Let’s look at what Islamo-fascism does.
    Can you agree that:
    1) A woman’s word in court is worth half that of a man
    2) Gays should be stoned to death
    3) The penalty for apostasy is death
    4) There should be no separation between religion and state
    5) Public lashings are a just punishment for questioning any part of the Koran
    6) Female genital mutilation is acceptable
    7) Women should not be allowed to drive
    8) All scientific discoveries reside in the Koran
    No? I thought not. And many of these atrocities are enshrined in the law of the 49 Muslim countries. Why? Because Islam does not have any concept of the separation of religion and state in any of its religious texts. And believe me, I’ve read the monotheisms’ holy texts and the Koran stands out as a condensed litany of psychopathy, barbarism and murderous threats to kill the infidel. And that, in all likelihood would be us. That’s just a fact. Anyone who denies that is talking dangerous nonsense or is dangerous.
    Why does the European left, people like Ken Livingstone, and the majority of the political class refuse to acknowledge that Islam itself might be to blame for the atrocities committed in its name? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the only Empire left standing is the U.S. And the theocrats in the Middle East and the Dar ul-Islam occasionally indulge in anti-Americanism, citing historical U.S. economic exploitation of the regions’ resources. True enough. And the useful idiots in the European left think that their old enemy’s enemy is their friend. If any one of them lived in a country run on sharia law they would be dead within months.
    The Chinese have been suppressing Tibet and torturing their people for decades. Where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? The U.S. has economically dominated South America for a century or so. Where are the Cuban terrorists? Where are the South Korean decapitators?
    Beliefs have consequences. But the European left refuses to criticize the real ideas of Islam. And right wing fascists like the EDL and Pegida step into the gap. And a loop is created. If you criticize Islam you are racist. And a cognitive dissonance develops in the mind of European liberals and leftists. You cannot criticize a set of ideas like Islam: it is a form of hate speech. Then, sooner or later you cannot criticize any set of ideas. So all ideas become of equal value and equally impervious to critique.
    And there will be nobody left to protect you. Naturally, even when the Islamo-fascists shoot you down, the intellectual class may not stand by you.
    When PEN awards a prize for free speech to the editor of Charlie Hebdo why would 145 authors, support PEN? But, there is no weaselly contrary conjunction or ‘but’ on this issue. People were murdered because of some cartoons. That is the end of the moral discussion. As Sam Harris said.
    Elements of the European left, with honourable exceptions like Nick Cohen, have become so infected with the capitulation to and fellow-travelling with the Islamo-fascists that they are sullying the name of Socialism.
    It is time to stand up and call out Islam for the disgusting way it treats women, apostates and gays and for its rotten history on democratic rights. And to support real liberal Muslims in the UK and across the world, as shown by the millions of ‘little people’. Who in the Arab Spring demonstrated their rejection of sharia and wish for democracy. x

    1. Bravo. But many of the most enthusiastic and bravest participants of the Arab Spring were adherents to the numbered list you have. They were (rightly) fighting the various oppressive regimes that descended from colonial occupation, but many of them would happily replace that form of government with an oppressive regime of their own.

    2. Dermot,

      I agree with pretty much everything you say. Except this:
      “what Islamo-fascism does … A woman’s word in court is worth half that of a man”

      Unfortunately, it goes beyond that:
      Here is the story of twentysomething Ameneh Bahrami a citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
      She lost her eyesight (at age 26) after having had acid poured in her face by a spurned suitor. She then demanded from an Iranian court to exact revenge by blinding the perpetrator (also with acid). At first, the court said that since she was a woman, and hence only had half the worth of a man, she could only destroy one eye of the perpetrator. She eventually gained permission to destroy both eyes of her perpetrator: Since she had sustained additional injuries to her face and her hands the court reasoned that she may destroy both eyes but she must leave the rest of his face undamaged. Bahrami demanded financial compensation from the perpetrator. The court granted her a compensation of 130,000 Euros – half of what a man would have received. She continues legal action to receive the full amount a man would have received.

      Leave aside the an eye-for-an-eye aspect of the judicial punishment. (The perp was also sentenced to 12 years of prison.) My point here is that the court told her point blank that as a woman she only had half the worth of a man. Part of this story is told here (includes interview with the victim).

      1. How horrific, Peter B. Btw. the link unfortunately goes to ‘page not found’.

        Imams explain that women’s word is worth only half of that of a man like this. Women, being the guardians of the home, have so much to think about, that in court they need the presence of another woman in order to help them concentrate on the matter in hand. So, like the Jewish ultra-Orthodox who thank God that they weren’t born a woman, they claim that this elevates woman. That’s the exegesis.

        If, as a writer one lists the Islam-inspired atrocities and stupidities, the problem is not what to include, but what to exclude. Because today the Islamic holy texts – in contrast to Christian scripture’s effect on Christians’ practice in Northern Europe – still have such an influence on Muslim practice in the Muslim countries, especially at the state level and in the teachings of so many clerics. And the Koran contains 109 verses recommending violence. That number excludes the Hadith which render practical and bureaucratize the murderous ideology, much like Himmler did for Hitler. The Hadith stand in the same relationship to the Koran as the Wannsee Conference does to Mein Kampf.

        Allele akhbar. x

        1. Try again with the link.

          The faulty link looks like this after the three w: nytimes.com/2015/04/22/world/middleeast/iran-our-man-in-tehran.html”D?_r=0

          If you just delete all the characters after the last letter “l” and hit Enter you will get to the site.

  3. there is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression

    I’m not sure why that would be, or where we draw the line; the letter doesn’t help me understand any better.

    Very disappointed to see Wallace Shawn on the list. I think he needs to lay off the iocaine (or does he?). I do not think CH’s cartoons mean what he thinks they mean …

  4. “We the undersigned, as writers, thinkers, ”

    A little less writing and a little more thinking might help.

    1. Yes. They have, imo, failed to think clearly on the issue.

      One of the groups that suffers the most in France is Jews. There is a marked rise in anti-Semitism there that mirrors the rise of far-right politicians. Charlie Hebdo mocked Orthodox Jews too. They didn’t respond with murder, so these 145 writers don’t consider them a group worth supporting. Their criteria for supporting a group could do with some more thought.

      1. I’m not suggesting that ‘Charlie Hebdo’ shouldn’t have criticized orthodox Jews. That would, of course, be a violation of the principle of freedom of speech. It’s the criteria of the 145 that’s illogical and hypocritical and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

    2. “We the undersigned, as writers, thinkers,”

      How pretentious.

      Particularly as they don’t appear to have thought about this issue very much at all, but rather to appear to be parroting the usual line: Islam = Muslims = Oppressed people = Must not be criticised or offended in any way.

      1. You forgot to add, in a monotone: “Danger Will Robinson…danger…danger!”, *waves arms up and down*.

  5. It would be easier to take if you were correct that all of them could not read French or understand France but it is much worse than that. 145 writers who do not understand freedom of speech is a killer.

    How does making comics or statements about religion violate the acceptable? It is a simple question without an answer.

    1. This debate about whether something is ‘racially offensive’ or ‘attacking down’ or not is political hand waving. There are plenty of people who can be offended by any particular position. Consider all the debate as to whether CH is ‘racist’ or not. People cannot even define the term with objective accuracy.

      Free speech must be defended as a whole, NOT selectively supporting only the parts one agrees with. Sooner or later every one of is will be on the ‘wrong’ side of some position.

      It’s true that picking on some groups may be in poor taste, but it’s still valid under the principles of free speech.

      Here’s another article on the subject


      1. Thanks for that link. In that article there is another link, to an article by Katha Pollit, which is also very good.

  6. promoting anti-Islamic sentiments?

    You mean it is wrong to criticise a religion where some of its adherents murder people because they were ‘offended’?

    Au contraire, if a religion murders its enemies, that religion should be criticised, not protected.

  7. Thank you for the article on this!

    Quote from the 145 letter:

    valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world

    Here we see a few perspectives common to these illiberal leftists:

    1. The least charitable interpretation of the award. No, the award isn’t about freedom of expression in the face of extremism, it’s about making people hate Islam and Arabs.

    2. No one has the ability to think critically and no one has agency – this can only lead to extremism on the part of both “sides”. So, just shut up and everything will get better.

    PCC said:

    But I reserve my right to be a Leftist and also decry the hypocrisy and cowardice of those who are supposedly on my side.

    Were I hip, I would “this” this. But I hate “thissing” things, so I’ll just say bravo PCC!

    I’ll also say I don’t think these people are on my side. To me they’re becoming indistinguishable from the radical right, inasmuch as they seem to dislike reality and to the extent that their ideology drives everything.

    1. Agree completely.

      Your last paragraph is a scary reality. I frequently find the far left as frightening as the far right these days in their blind adherence to doctrine. They seem just as incapable of the ability to think critically.

      1. I suppose we just have to distinguish between the liberal left and the identity-politics left.

        For those who can read French passably well (or are content with having Google translate the website into their mother tongue), here’s an informative interview with Stéphane Charbonnier (“Charb”) of Charlie Hebdo (from 2012) in which he defends the magazine’s position. As to the 2 lefts, he remarks:
        “Je crois qu’il y a deux gauches en France en ce moment : celle qui prend les musulmans pour des citoyens responsables, capables d’avoir de l’humour, de prendre du recul, de la hauteur sur les choses. Et celle qui se montre paternaliste et qui considère les musulmans comme des victimes ou des êtres fragiles, qu’il faut à tout prix “préserver”, ne pas choquer. C’est le cas, par exemple, de l’extrême gauche et je trouve ça très condescendant vis-à-vis de la communauté musulmane. Il est évident que, pour moi, il ne faut pas infantiliser les musulmans.”

        My so-so translation:
        I think there are two lefts in France at the moment: a left that considers Muslims as responsible citizens, capable of having a sense of humor, of seeing things in perspective, and a paternalist left which views Muslims as victims and fragile beings who need, at any price, to be “preserved” and should not be shocked … I find this very condescending toward the Muslim community. To me it’s obvious that we should not infantilise Muslims.

    2. “To me they’re becoming indistinguishable from the radical right, inasmuch as they seem to dislike reality and to the extent that their ideology drives everything.”

      Well said!

  8. “the Koran stands out as a condensed litany of psychopathy, barbarism and murderous threats”

    There is no open acceptance of this by the left wing of politics in the UK. They must all know the truth but even amongst union activists, real socialists, it is not acceptable to speak against islame.

    Until both the government and the citizenry understand the danger of islame above all other organised religions, we are all in danger of death. I would happily disband all “churches” but even I will admit some do some good sometimes, all except islame. Islame is a belief system designed for use in tyranny.

    Islame is designed to constrain all humans within a stone-age tribal hegemony which exists only under a dictator. Luckily the inability of muslims to adhere to only one branch of their evil brainwash is preventing them from actually achieving their ultimate aims, this internecine war is, to a great extent, safeguarding the rest of us because they are genuinely more interested, most of the time, in killing each other than in uniting to attack the global population. In truth it might well be better for us if they managed to openly attack us as a single force: at least we would know the truth and would be able to smite them! That would wake the beast that is China (at any historical point with any shade of government) and that allied with the other behemoth, India would supply the spine and the guts to wipe islame from the planet.

    I am just theorizing, you understand, not actually suggesting a global war, not really …

    1. When do the aliens get involved? You can’t have a decent apocalyptic conflagration without aliens strafing from above the atmosphere.

    2. I can’t understand why the socialist left allies itself so strongly with autocratic theocracies.
      Socialism is based on the philosophy of materialism and the notion that people can influence the way their society develops.
      Not that things are the way they are because god made it that way.
      That is the essence of socialism, that people can make society.
      Islam and its theocracies are the exact opposite of what socialism is and what it is based on.
      A lot of the so called left seem to have forgotten or forsaken its proper foundation.
      Not all socialist necessarily, but whether it is the fundamentals of free speech, or whatever, the deep reasons have been lost to kneejerk jingoism.

      1. Thank you for explaining my position more clearly than I did. It is extremely frustrating to be in a meeting about equality and to be constantly reminded that we much give equal consideration the the ordinary muslims in the UK who do not agree with the violence commited by their brethren. Rarely enough somebody points out the fact that they do not actually condemn it either but that will be immediately cut down.

      2. Well said. Fundamentalist Islam is, unambiguously, a radical right-wing ideology. That the PC left bends over backwards to accommodate it (in the name of tolerance and multiculturalism) is deeply troubling and deeply depressing. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

    3. Me being Jeff Rankin being hip: “This” and to which I would add “islame” …. “I see what you did there!”

    4. I may be wrong but I think most people here oppose both the leftists who won’t hear a word against Islam and the conservatives who would like to “wipe Islam from the planet”.

      WEIT tends to be pretty onboard with cats, evolutionary biology, cowboy boots, atheism, etc. Genocide, not so much.

      1. Is this putting me in my place? or perhaps, telling me I am not welcome in The Group?
        As a newcomer, I am unaware of your unwritten, or even previously written, rules so I apologise for any crushed toes.

        I did not advocate war and I actually do know and work with plenty of muslims who are perfectly nice people against whom I bear no ill will. Having said which, I know and socialise with, several others who are openly theist; they are of varied faith and sect and I am equally disdainful of their churches but it has been many decades since their cohorts visited mass slaughter upon the rest of us.

        They seem to have embraced the ideal of Live and Let Live (except the catholics): islame, officially, has not accepted that philosophy and its adherents formally agree with the idea of conversion for all, by the sword if necessary, they do not speak against the killing, in their name, of other muslims as well as others.

        I have visited the homes of many muslims and I have never witnessed there true equality between men and women, I have been assured by many friendly muslims that I and others like me (non-muslims) are considered less than human, that they will always put their “faith” before all else except, possibly, family.

        Of course “we” are all sickened by the official left wing of politics which does cuddle up to islame, terribly afraid of losing the muslim vote and ridiculously afraid of crossing some line and offending any single muslim by dropping any hint of their own true feelings.

        Of course “we” are opposed to wiping any particular segment of humanity off the planet and of course “”we” all equally detest the Conservatives, all of whom stumble to do exactly the same with all faiths and to espouse their own worship of god (the real one) so that we all know what terribly nice chaps they all are.

        I seem to have offended your sensibilities, I’d like to say I am sorry but I’m too old to apologise for such a minor upset and anyway I am also too old to disguise my true loathing of organised religion and faith.

        Many, when asked what they would do with a time machine, bring the old chestnut about travelling back to kill Hitler before he was a danger. Many realise that other despots of the twentieth century killed far more than he, I wonder who first imagined a god and used the concept to cow other, weaker minds, bend them to his will and begin the process of derailing the maturity of an entire species but of course I realise there’s no point in going back to end that miserable git because another would inevitably replace him and all his women would inevitably support his insane ideas and inculcate the irrational into their children for the next few centuries, becoming willing virtual slaves accepting oppression as a “natural” way of life and literally happily giving their lives to murder any who disagree: sound familiar?

        If only we could simply ban it …

        … sorry, free speech, I know but when are we to have that right?

  9. From Cohen (quoted above):

    “They can show no solidarity with gays in Iran, bloggers in Saudi Arabia and persecuted women and religious minorities across the Middle East, who must fight theocracy. They have no understanding that enemies of Charlie Hebdo are also the enemies of liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims in the West.”

    Just thought it was worth repeating.

  10. I find these protests against free speech by using free speech to be offensive. We shouldn’t stand up to bullies when they attack us at work or school because those bullies have, probably, had a terrible upbringing and by fighting back against bullies we are fighting against all people who have had a terrible upbringing.
    A few violent Islamic people murdered 12 people because they were offended and now supposed allies of those they murdered are defending the allies of the organised and heavily armed murderers.
    The hypocritical left is showing violence can solve problems (the serious ones like being mocked and criticised by cartoons), so how many people do we have to murder or buildings burned before they start to acknowledge that protests on free speech provoke violence so should stop?

    1. Thanks for that. It’s really interesting.

      One of the points I liked was that it was ‘Charlie Hebdo’ that was attacked, which consistently stood up for the rights of marginalised Muslim immigrants, rather than far-right organisations and publications who abused Muslim immigrants constantly. That puts the attack squarely in the realm of religion, carried out because a group of fundamentalists feel unable to ignore something they considered offensive to their religion.

  11. We believe in freedom of speech,however our fingers are crossed behind our backs.
    I thought that punching up meant speaking truth to power. How can one be so obtuse as to not get that the islamic terrorists are the power After all, aren’t half of the organizations of the world cowering before them? Oh, we mustn’t give offence, that would get us killed hurt the sensibilities of our brown brothers.

    1. I don’t think, with most of them, that it is a fear of being literally attacked. I think it is a fear of giving offence because it is not allowed to give offence to anyone for anything: we must agree with everyone and remind ourselves constantly that everyone has the right to free speech but not at the cost of offending anyone especially anyone who is religious, especially anyone who is religious in a “different” faith because that might, as you say, hurt their feelings. Of course their feelings are never truly hurt except when politically expedient because they don’t consider anything said by infidels to be worthy of consideration.

      I believe you are correct but I believe “they” are even more pusillanimous that you imagine.

  12. Stand and be counted…as f*ckwits!

    again, haven’t read anything by anyone on that list. I wonder, do they send copies of their manuscripts to their editor and to the Ayatollah?

    1. Quite.

      I thought it funny that a bunch of nobodys should raise their collective voice in such a ridiculous manner, I wonder if they all stamped their feet as well.

  13. Perhaps somebody here can enlighten me.

    What, exactly, is it about Islam that’s so wonderful and deserving of praise and respect that we should all be horrified at those who disrespect it?

    What tenets, principles, accomplishments, saints, or whatever are so noble that we shouldn’t dare do anything that might be considered insulting by Muslims?

    Is there anything that rises above “Don’t hurt the poor barbarian’s fweewings lest he rip your head off and shit down your neck”?


    1. Yes please! and in addition to that explanation, would those same kind people give us the appropriate list of “goodthink” so I don’t go against the official party policies.

    2. But it’s the religion of peace! (That’s what we’re being told after every Islamic terrorist attack, as if they’re trying to train some sort of Pavlovian response in the rest of us.)

    3. Ben, it seems that part of the explanations was given above by Dermot (post # 4):
      “Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the only Empire left standing is the U.S. And the theocrats in the Middle East and the Dar ul-Islam occasionally indulge in anti-Americanism, citing historical U.S. economic exploitation of the regions’ resources. True enough. And the useful idiots in the European left think that their old enemy’s enemy is their friend.”

      I’m afraid, in part, it’s not more sophisticated than that: my old enemy’s enemy is my friend. And as Nick Cohen argued there seems to be also callous disregard for women, homosexuals and other minorities …

  14. It seems as if this is how their logic works: given that Muslims are marginalized [grant this for the sake of discussion], any critique of Muslims does nothing to rectify that injustice, which means it therefore maintains the status quo of injustice.

    This means, though, that once one has suffered some injustice, one can do no wrong and be criticized for nothing. Reductio ad absurdam.

  15. I recognize few of the signatories but suppose most are in academia (as am I). I’m sorry to see so many of them falling for this shallow argument that criticizing ideas is unfair to those who have adopted those ideas, if they happen to belong to a minority group. By that logic, one cannot criticize any idea no matter how faulty, because it might be unfair to someone somewhere who is otherwise disadvantaged.

    1. That is surely what the American right would happily enshrine in law. The moment they allowed the ridiculous replacement of their perfect motto with the use of a religious belief abhorred by their own founders and added god into their pledge of allegiance, they gave the right to all to be protected, in their idiocy, from rational thought and realistic comment.

  16. These people are idiots, fixated on an idea that the west is ‘wrong’, despite flourishing in its culture.
    And, on my limited understanding of the French situation, those at Charlie Hebdo would be as aware of any western wrongness as these nongs, but with sophistication and intellignce, which these types lack.
    My country hasn’t actually colonised anywhere, like France, so I wonder what their feeble rationalisation would be if it had happened here.

  17. And guess who wrote the article in the Intercept; Glenn Greenwald, serial apologist for Islamic terrorism. What ever kudos were his due for his work with Eric Snowden in exposing the excesses of the NSF, he has frittered away with his support of terrorists and his visceral hatred of Israel. He ignores the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that an out of the closet gay man like him could visit and have some expectation of leaving other then feet first.

    1. There is nothing impressive about Greenwald’s reporting on Snowden. Much of what he reported was untrue (he took everything Snowden said at face value, and Snowden has told many lies) and most what was true had been previously reported by others.

      Bob Cesca at the Daily Banter has done an admirable job of exposing Greenwald’s poor and dishonest reporting on this topic. Another good takedown is found in this New Republic article: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116253/edward-snowden-glenn-greenwald-julian-assange-what-they-believe

      1. Thanks for the link. The final summary of the article “Surveillance and secrecy will never be attractive features of a democratic government, but they are not inimical to it, either. This the leakers will never understand.” was perfect. I’ve never understood this “the govt. must have no secrets” attitude.

        1. When governments have had secrets, they’ve inevitably abused them. And that’s especially the case when it’s the police that have secrets, and the secrets are about the citizens.

          Indeed, that’s the very defining characteristic of the most oppressive and hated regimes in history — the ones with the police that knew everything about the people and could and did use that information against the people in a court of law whenever they felt like it.

          …and when those courts are also secret, like FISA….


          1. There’s nothing I disagree with there, BUT I recognize the fact it is sometimes necessary for governments to have secrets. And necessary for those in government to determine what those secrets should be.

            The problem with the Greenwald’s, Snowden’s, and Assange’s of the world is that it seems they would never agree no matter what rules and regulations were put in place to limit the misuse, and abuse of such secrets.

          2. Government secrets should be limited to four types:

            * specific codes to unlock things or authorize actions or the like; * operational plans of active military operations; * details of active police investigations; * and private civilian information uncovered during police investigations that wasn’t presented in court.

            Everything else — and I do mean everything — should be publicly available.

            “We the people,” remember? A government that keeps secrets from the people is not, by definition, of or by the people, even if it claims to be for them.


  18. “To the section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage of devout Muslims, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.”

    What a misguided paragraph dressed up as empathy for an oppressed group.

    I’m pretty sure that in this instance the terms “marginalized, embattled, and victimized” should be attached to the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo rather than France’s devout Muslim population.

    Charlie Hebdo, as far as I can tell, never attacked Muslims as people, it attacked Islam – a powerful and privileged religion.

    If devout Muslims really can’t handle their religion being satirised without feeling “marginalized, embattled, and victimized” or without experiencing “humiliation and suffering”, then they need to either leave their religion (at least in its current form) or – and I’m truly sorry to say this – leave Europe.

    1. How dare you suggest those poor downtrodden migrants leave Europe?

      Are you suggesting they should assimilate and accept European customs and laws?

      Can you not accept that they should be free to settle wherever the hell they like and convert that place to their ideals, their laws (sharia) and their customs, clothing and social arrangements?

      How dare you? Are you a racist?

  19. Sometimes I wonder if Islamic militants aren’t the Jack Henry Abbotts of the current stable of leftist Artistes.

  20. This is one of those moments, when reading of the unbridled stupidity and ignorance displayed by a Francine Prose and her cohorts, one finds refuge in the Readers’ wildlife photographs that grace these pages.

    And in the over a 1000 guardian reader’s comments who show Prose and her pathetic fellow travelers without ground to stand on.

  21. Terribly sad that educated people don’t get the concept of satire and the importance of Charlie Hebdo. As a French citizen, I say blasphemy is MY RIGHT.

  22. Sign this letter, it will make you look pathetic, uninformed, weak minded and anti free speech..job done? not quite, shame!
    Charlie Hebdo at the very least knew what free speech meant and paid dearly for it..
    I know none of you or of you but what have you 145 chumps done lately to deserve this type of recognition and would you die for it.
    Your ‘however’ is an insult.
    I say this in their memory, Charlie Hebdo, I support PEN and the professor with this post.

    1. @Keith Cook or less

      “I know none of you or of you but what have you 145 chumps done lately to deserve this type of recognition and would you die for it. “

      I know one thing about the first author in the list of shame of 145. Chris Abani, who boasts on his website’s profile picture, “Chris Abani might be the most courageous writer working right now.” The thesaurus does not list enough synonyms for delusion, hypocrisy and contempt to populate my response to that. x

  23. In the 21st century, no one expects 145 “liberals” to support the Spanish Inquisition, but apparently they would. After all, I am sure those tortured and killed by the Inquisition said something that really, really, upset the inquisitioners. They provoked their own deaths.

  24. To the section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage of devout Muslims, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.

    Many Muslims have been and are being marginalized, embattled, and victimized by the fundamentalists among them. But apparently those aren’t real Muslims, the ones who count.

    The gist of this argument seems to be that even though Charlie Hebdo may have been spot on in its satire and punching up at the right target, the Little People aren’t capable of appreciating that. They’re not intelligent or intellectual enough to understand what’s going on nor will they ever grow up enough to consider larger issue on their merits — including the dangers of fundamentalism.

    No, like toddlers all they will see is that someone did a bad thing to hurt them. Reasons, nuances, arguments, and being right means nothing in the face of this obstinate and eternal childhood.

    1. I wonder, too, how much of it is infantalising the masses. That it’s not simply that the minority will take it the wrong way, but that the population that oppresses the minority will.

  25. Useful idiots does seem to be the right phrase in this case…

    It’s quite sad how these criticisms get locked up in our pre-existing political convictions. I remember when Charlie Hebdo was attacked being on a philosophy group where the anti-“free speech” crowd were leftists concerned about any criticisms of Muslims feeding into the right wing portrayal of Muslims. The portrayal that Charlie Hebdo did was seen to be a part of that right wing paranoia, irrespective of whether it actually was, and it was attacked on those grounds.

    It’s a reminder that people’s conceptions of what they deem free speech is what they deem agreeable speech. But more than that, it was a reminder that we are now all all-too-easily insensitive to context and that we’ll reason from our own prejudices irrespective of how they apply in a particular context.

    As someone who thought he was on the left, it’s very surreal to be accused of furthering the UKIP agenda (especially as I’m an Aussie) by articulating that fundamentalism is a problem. The words “does not follow” seem apt, but it’s beyond that when I’m effectively having words and motives put in my mouth that are radically contrary to my position.

    1. It’s depressing, but since the left have pretty much won the socio-political arguments of the 60s, since the debates about sexuality, race, gender-differences, etc. have swung pretty decisively in their favour, and the default, respectable position on all these issues is essentially liberal, they now realise they have something to lose. For the first time in, arguably, thousands of years, the overweening social climate is basically liberal, and it has been for most of the latter half of the C20. The liberal-left are in a position of relative power, and freedom of speech is the enemy of the powerful. If you ever want to see who has the power in a society, just have a look at who opposes free speech.

  26. Note to PEN: whatever you do, don’t give next year’s award to Ayaan Hirsi Ali!


  27. This reminds me of the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, when the professional opinion-makers stood together in solidarity, supporting the war. It was a struggle to understand their thinking, since all the evidence seemed to point the other way.

    Eventually I concluded that thinking wasn’t involved. Everyone took their place in line: I’m to the right of X and the left of Y.

    These are not at all the same sort of people, but a similar tendency may be in play. It’s uncomfortable to disagree with one’s friends.

  28. I’m going to be awfully judgemental here and say that having your monstrous, invisible friend criticised simply does not count as ‘humiliation’ and ‘suffering’, and thus those words, when used in this context, are just wrong.

    Even if I didn’t believe that, I’ve yet to see a single expression of genuine humiliation or suffering – rather I’ve seen an entire religion react in the same way that Daily Mail readers react when they read about the European Union safeguarding the human rights of burglars, ie. with an arrogant, puffed-up, sanctimonious outrage(though DM readers at least don’t want to murder their opponents, much)

    Humiliation and suffering are very strong words and they ought to be used when they actually have some fucking application to the situation.

    These petitioners are not liberals. They have excluded themselves from being described as such by their emetic defence of ultra-right-wing religious values. They are the illiberal left.

    1. Well I’ll be buggered!

      I agree with all you say. I must have been mistaken when I earlier thought you were attacking me.

      What excellent news.

      Good night.

  29. It is my position that we in the Humanities bear primary responsibility for this profoundly dangerous & misguided foolishness.

    What frustrating timing! Although I have a great deal to say about this — & have been considering starting a bl*g on the topic — this week needs to be devoted to my thesis. (Once I’ve knocked off another chapter, I’ll comment, email Prof. CC about it — or finally start that bl*g).

    1. I think the way people like these 145 “authors and thinkers” view the situation is in no small part because of the naïve egalitarianism, or relativism, of postmodern philosophy. Legitimate free speech has been enjoying the privilege of being thought a “good idea” for too long. Time to knock it down to size and defend some ideas that aren’t as attractive. Those poor, reviled ideas, like punishing blasphemy with death.

    2. Please do get back to us when things slow down for you. I (and probably several others) have been looking for voices like yours from the Humanities. (We have a few here, but they’re vastly under-represented for the reasons Musical Beef mentions.)

  30. The roll of shame:

    Chris Abani
    Hosam M. Aboul-Ela
    Leslie Absher
    Elizabeth Adams
    Ali Jimale Ahmed
    Lauren K. Alleyne
    Sinan Antoon
    Judith Appelbaum
    Nicole Aragi
    Michael Archer
    Tony Ardizzone
    Sarah Arvio
    Gabeba Baderoon
    Deborah Baker
    Russell Banks
    Susan Bell
    Naomi Benaron
    Helen Benedict
    Christopher Benfey
    Cara Benson
    Charles Ramírez Berg
    Susan Bernofsky
    Eric Bogosian
    Robert Bononno
    Barrie Jean Borich
    Blanche McCrary Boyd
    Adam Braver
    Donald Breckenridge
    Rita Nakashima Brock
    Ami Sands Brodoff
    Karen Brown Brooks
    Edward Burlingame
    Janet Burroway
    Viola Canales
    Helene Cardona
    Peter Carey
    John Casey
    Bryn Chancellor
    Myriam J. A. Chancy
    Hayan Charara
    Bell Gale Chevigny
    Rita Zoey Chin
    Angie Chuang
    Catherine Chung
    Jane Ciabattari
    Carmela Ciuraru
    Patricia Clark
    Tony Cohan
    Teju Cole
    Michael Cunningham
    Emily M. Danforth
    Tod Davies
    Annabel Davis-Goff
    Siddhartha Deb
    Jason Diamond
    Junot Díaz
    Stephen Dobyns
    Geoff Dyer
    Erin Edmison
    Brent Hayes Edwards
    Brian T. Edwards
    Marshall Efron
    Deborah Eisenberg
    Susan Eisenberg
    Hedi El Kholti
    Trey Ellis
    Eve Ensler
    Elizabeth Enslin
    Barbara Epler
    Jennifer Cody Epstein
    Ali Eteraz
    Percival Everett
    Joshua Ferris
    Marlon L. Fick
    Boris Fishman
    Stona Fitch
    Frances FitzGerald
    Peter H. Fogtdal
    Seánan Forbes
    Ashley Ford
    Linda Nemec Foster
    Lauren Francis-Sharma
    Edwin Frank
    Judith Frank
    John Freeman
    Ru Freeman
    Nell Freudenberger
    Molly Friedrich
    Joshua Furst
    Gretchen Gerzina
    Keith Gessen
    Francisco Goldman
    John Guare
    Conner Habib
    Jessica Hagedorn
    Brian Hall
    Theodore Hamm
    Lis Harris
    Kathryn Harrison
    Jonathan T. Hine Jr.
    Edward Hoagland
    Laura Hoffmann
    Nancy Horan
    Marya Hornbacher
    Sandra Hunter
    Megan Hustad
    Randa Jarrar
    T. Geronimo Johnson
    Paul Kane
    John Keahey
    Uzma Aslam Khan
    Dave King
    Gilbert King
    Robert Spencer Knotts
    Ruth Ellen Kocher
    Nancy Kricorian
    Amitava Kumar
    Rachel Kushner
    Amy Lawless
    Zachary Lazar
    David Leavitt
    Jonathan Lee
    Katherine Leiner
    Ben Lerner
    Ted Lewin
    Ed Lin
    Michael Lindgren
    Julie Livingston
    Craig Lucas
    Doug Magee
    Ann Malaspina
    Janet Malcolm
    Charlotte Mandell
    C. M. Mayo
    Patrick McGrath
    Clarissa McNair
    Deena Metzger
    Thais Miller
    Kyle Minor
    Rick Moody
    Skye Moody
    Lorrie Moore
    Dolan Morgan
    James McGrath Morris
    Bradford Morrow
    Judith Nies
    Idra Novey
    Stephen O’Connor
    Joyce Carol Oates
    Alfa-Betty Olsen
    Michael Ondaatje
    Peter Orner
    Duvall Osteen
    Raj Patel
    Chris Pavone
    William Pierce
    Francine Prose
    Marcus Rediker
    Adam Rex
    Clay Risen
    Roxana Robinson
    David Roediger
    Paul Rome
    Mark Rotella
    Jess Row
    Gina Ruiz
    Luc Sante
    Steven Schroeder
    Sarah Schulman
    Taiye Selasi
    Elissa Schappell
    Danzy Senna
    Vijay Seshadri
    Kamila Shamsie
    Jeff Sharlet
    Wallace Shawn
    Matthew Shenoda
    Nancy Shiffrin
    Russell Shorto
    Elisabeth Sifton
    Charles Simic
    Tom Sleigh
    Holly Goldberg Sloan
    Alexis M. Smith
    Jill Smolowe
    Linda Spalding
    Scott Spencer
    Betsy Sussler
    Emily Gray Tedrowe
    Roy A. Teel Jr.
    Michael Thomas
    Ted Thompson
    Kathleen Tolan
    Joanne Turnbull
    Chase Twichell
    Padma Venkatraman
    Jasmine Dreame Wagner
    Eliot Weinberger
    Jon Wiener
    Elizabeth Winthrop
    Sung J. Woo
    G. K. Wuori
    Matvei Yankelevich
    Dave Zirin

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *