In the wake of protests by a number of members and supporters, literary organisation, the PEN American Centre has announced that the ironically awkwardly named “2015 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award”, which was originally to be presented to French ‘satirical’ magazine, Charlie Hebdo, will now be shared with popular theocratic death-cult, ISIS.
After the original announcement, six high profile members of PEN, including Peter Carey, withdrew from their official roles at the award gala in protest. This was followed by an open letter signed by many writers criticising the award, stating “There is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.”
However, noted literary giant and go-to martyr Salman Rushdie defended PEN’s decision in inimitably eloquent style on twitter, saying the dissenters were, “Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character.”
The (un)Australian spoke to PEN board representative, Nieve Thóin who explained the organisation’s decision to revise the award.
“To be clear, the protest hasn’t changed our minds. What happened is we realised we’d sort of painted ourselves into a corner.
“Giving an award to Charlie Hebdo seemed like a no-brainer – we didn’t even bother with reasons when their name came up. I mean, it’s Charlie Hebdo! Who wouldn’t go for that? The last thing we expected was to have to be justifying it to any our own members, let alone the world.
“So when this all blew up, it caught us completely by surprise, and Andrew [Solomon, PEN America President] was left having to scratch together some justifications.
“And he was doing some lovely stream of consciousness work – ‘There is courage in refusing the very idea of forbidden statements, an urgent brilliance in saying what you have been told not to say in order to make it sayable,’ and ‘If we only endorsed freedom of speech for people whose speech we liked that would be a very limited notion of freedom of speech. It’s a courage award, not a content award.’
“But then we actually thought about what he was saying, and we couldn’t avoid the fact that ISIS completely fitted the same criteria, arguably better than Charlie Hebdo. They’ve certainly been attacked more for saying things people don’t like. And you can’t deny a lot of them have been killed for sticking to their guns, so to speak. It just seemed rather churlish to not recognise their efforts.”
The (un)Australian understands Salman Rushdie is leading a boycott of the new award.