Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Boycott Mightier than the PEN?

The organization known as PEN America found itself in the midst of controversy recently because of a decision to present a freedom of expression award to the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. A few months ago extremists brutally murdered several of the Charlie Hebdo staff for creating and publishing satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. 145 authors, including Canada's Michael Ondaatje chose to boycott the PEN gala. They wrote a letter condemning the murders but identifying the disrespectful and arguably hateful nature of the cartoons. The PEN charter includes the following commitment:

PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible. PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organised political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.

The emphasis is mine, but I have little doubt that this is an important aspect of the decision of these authors to boycott the PEN event. You may recall that after the murders I stated that the "je suis Charlie" slogan was one I couldn't support because of the affront to Islam that Charlie Hebdo perpetrated. For that matter, the magazine created offensive cartoons targeting the Roman Catholic church as well.  It certainly seemed to be mendacious, not to mention crude. 

While there has been a counter-protest I am pleased that there was a boycott. None of those Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists deserved to die. They shouldn't be lauded as champions of free expression either.

Your thoughts?


Frank said...

I saw a recent interview on Charlie Rose with an editor and a cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo.
At one point a comment was made that as far as they were concerned "nothing is sacred" (ie. everything is "fair game" to be a target; no 'sacred cows')
Maybe, that's the problem. In our evolutionary zeal to secularize, perhaps we've simply chosen to diminish any sense of what could be considered as "the sacred". Maybe we need to re-discover a sense of reverence to re-introduce respect and dignity in our discourse with one another.
After all, if you insist on poking a sleeping bear in the eye with a stick, why should you be surprised at the consequences? Argue and assert all the fundamental rights you want, but with rights also come responsibilities.

David Mundy said...

Well said Frank.

Judy McKnight said...

Frank is right - only a very foolish person would poke the bear in the eye, especially knowing what the consequences might be, from past experiences... a little respect goes a long way.