The debate over Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that was attacked by terrorists in January, re-entered the spotlight today, after six prominent authors announced that they would not attend the Pen American Center's annual gala in May because the magazine would be awarded the foundation's Freedom of Expression Courage Award. The authors — who include Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, and Rachel Kushner — are reportedly uncomfortable with celebrating a magazine that is best known for its attacks on Islam.
The controversy has spread beyond the rarefied air of the literary award circuit to reignite debates about freedom of expression and religious tolerance. A polite example of this back-and-forth can be found at The Intercept, which has published a letter to PEN by the writer Deborah Eisenberg questioning the award, and a response by PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel defending it.
But others have been less civil, most prominently Salman Rushdie, who was famously the subject of an Iranian fatwa calling for his death. He asserted on Twitter that the objecting writers are "six pussies."
He later told The New York Times, "If PEN as a free speech organization can't defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name. What I would say to both Peter [Carey] and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them."