Home > Iran, Islam, Religion > When Writers Muzzle Free Speech

When Writers Muzzle Free Speech

The discussion continues over PEN members* signing their names to a shameful refusal to award the PEN American Center’s Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. As a reminder to those of you who have since been washed over by successive waves of news, twelve Charlie Hebdo staff members were slain in Paris last January 7th over the publication’s cartoons deemed offensive by irate Islamists. These, Kalashnikov in hand, showed their displeasure in the swift and bloody Islamist manner we are learning to expect and recognize.Charlie image
The controversy has raged on: What latitude does free expression give us? Can any faith claim infallibility and demand total respect not only from its followers but from everyone regarding its tenets, its holy book, its founder? Honestly,

to me, this discussion should not even exist. I would pick the late Chistopher Hitchens over Tariq Ramadan any day. You are offended, my friend? Too bad. I too am daily offended by your posturing and your absurd demands for my respect, my acceptance of your rants, of your ugly treatment of women (subjugated in Islamic countries and alas too often complicit, in Western ones, in nurturing the male-only culture) and by the proclaimed goals of the most extreme of its faithful to establish globally the repulsive sharia law and Islamic caliphate.
Back to the PEN American Center brouhaha over the award to Charlie Hebdo, an award strongly supported by author Salman Rushdie (who, you remember, himself had to live in hiding for years to escape the miserable mullahs’ wrath following the publication of The Satanic Verses, considered offensive to the prophet by Islamic self-appointed critics.) Had Charlie Hebdo focused on being been anti-Islam only, I would condemn it, at least in my mind; although my presence or my voice have no importance whatsoever, I generally don’t participate in any discussion, sign any petition, or march in any demonstration. But I do write and so will write here that Charlie is anti everything, the word most often used to describe it being “irreverent.” It was and is using strong words, rudimentary drawings and tasteless–though often extremely funny–humor to ridicule one and all.
Free expression is a complicated concept, inevitably leading to one or the other member of the public feeling insulted or offended, especially when being insulted or offended is part of the DNA. Look at Iran, my country of origin, where an awful theocracy keeps playing games so complicated it drifts ever further from any kind of palatable arrangement with the West, with neighbors, with foes and friends, yet remaining thin-skinned enough, including in its exile community, to constantly demand apologies for perceived slights.
At the PEN American Center, the authors signing their names to the refusal to give the award to Charlie Hebdo have gone into long, convoluted and holier-than-thou explanations of their decision. Shame on them. I would posit that any time we have to justify an action with long arguments, that action probably didn’t deserve being taken in the first place. As a fan of Rushdie the tremendous writer—but less of Rushdie the public persona—I cannot help seeing him as the absolute winner in the squabble with the pc and rather confused signers of that petition.

*Kudos to novelist Jennifer Cody Epstein who has since removed her name from the petition. May others come to their senses and follow.

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  1. June 11, 2015 at 3:29 am

    Kudos to anyone who is a writer who is not so chickenshit as to value a life lived in fear over a life lived in the struggle against ignorance. Bravo to all who did not sign the chickenshit refusal and bravo to all who would rather have free speech and free thought than life itself.

  2. Robert
    June 11, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Well done…

  3. Jonathan Agronsky
    June 11, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    Saideh, I share your outrage at the cowards and hypocrites of PEN who condemn the satirists who literally died defending their right to freely express their opinion.

    • June 11, 2015 at 11:11 pm

      thanks for understanding and sharing, Jonathan

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