Does Charlie Hebdo really deserve the Freedom of Expression Courage Award?

To protest the freedom of expression award is to support the extremists. Hebdo knew the risk and continued to publish.

Caleb Powell May 02, 2015
On August 2nd, 2006, the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s front page depicted a sobbing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The caption read,
Mahomet débordé par les intégristes.”

(Muhammad (PBUH) surrounded by fundamentalists)

The thought bubble added,
C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons.”

(It’s tough being loved by morons.)

The target?

Sociopaths who, rather than committing acts of charity in the name of Islam, choose evil and violence. Charlie Hebdo mocked these extremists, yet never condoned or incited violence – the only legitimate limit on speech. In 2011, radicals firebombed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, yet Hebdo continued to publish, culminating in the infamous massacre of January 7th and the aftermath at a Jewish market.

Did the magazine cease?

No. They ramped up circulation, from 60,000 to print runs in the millions. Back issues have become collector items.

On May 5th, 2015, at a literary ceremony, PEN will give Charlie Hebdo the Freedom of Expression Courage Award. PEN’s self-declared mission is to,
“Defend writers and protect free expression in the United States and around the world”.

Charlie Hebdo epitomises this sentiment.

Nevertheless, as reported by NPR, six authors “in protest against the free-speech organisation’s decision to give the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award” refused to attend the ceremony. These six, Peter Carey, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, and Taiye Selasi, as well as cartoonist Garry Trudeau, unleashed bathos toward the “oppressed”.

Then, on April 30thThe New York Times reported the list of free speech “conditionalists,” led by Junot Diaz, has grown to over a hundred. Why?

Prose called Hebdo a “racist publication”.

Teju Cole said the magazine “has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations”.

But is this accurate?

Racism is the “belief that one race is superior to another”. Charlie Hebdo stood and stands with the homosexuals in Iran, the “blasphemers” in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the Raif Badawis of the world and murdered bloggers Avijit Roy and Oyasiqur Rahman in Bangladesh. The journal supports the right for any Muslim to challenge imams, politicians, and the culture and to say,
“I disagree with this interpretation, here’s why...”

“I think apostasy and blasphemy laws and suicide bombings are wrong in all cases,”

“Muslim women have equal rights.”

In 2015, such Muslims as Osama Hajjal, an Algerian, published a cartoon of a burqa-clad woman watching her husband join others frolicking in the ocean as she sits by herself on a beach.


Death threats.

Another Algerian, Kamel Daoud, wrote Mersault, Counter-Investigation, a novel from the point of view of the murdered Arab’s brother in Camus’s novel, The Stranger.


Death threats.

Parvez Sharma, the gay Muslim whose Hajj is the subject of the documentary A Sinner in Mecca.


Death threats.

Meanwhile, Ondaatje, Carey, Diaz, Trudeau, and ilk, comfortable in the West, have excised their vertebrates by standing, however obliquely, with the same religious bigots who would kill Charlie Hebdo. To protest the freedom of expression award is to support the message of extremists. Do not criticise… or else! Charlie Hebdo knew the risk and continued to publish.

Fortunately, many writers support PEN’s stance. Laura Miller, in a spot-on article at Salon, quoted Kenan Malik,
“What is really racist is the idea only nice white liberals want to challenge religion or demolish its pretensions or can handle satire and ridicule.”

Katha Pollitt, at The Nation, wrote,
“I don’t agree that Charlie is racist, and not just because Muslims are not a race. Charlie is against all forms of authoritarian religion.”

Those who protest rely on incorrect premises. The message of Charlie Hebdo is the opposite of racist. But out of political correctness, fear, or ignorance, the PEN-six and their supporters clumsily bend to the will of the fanatics, and betray the mostly Muslim writers and dissidents who write for universal peace as they face threats, assassinations, and imprisonment because they support coexistence and tolerance of agnostics, atheists, apostates, homosexuals, Jews, Christians, and all religious minorities.
Caleb Powell

The writer worked overseas for eight years, in East Asia, the Middle East, and South America. He's published work in various places, including Poets & Writers, The Rio Grande Review, and The Stranger. He now lives in the Pacific Northwest with his family. He Tweets">@sonofmizrahi 

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


anon0912 | 9 years ago | Reply An award ? i don't think so.Its within his rights to draw cartoons but in Islam its considered rude to draw the Prophet.Thats called being insensitive to a religion with a billion followers and the outrage of many people is understandable when you hold something that close to your heart but its important to protest peacefully.I seem to remember a red bull ad where Jesus could walk on water after drinking red bull because it gave him wings which caused a pretty similar reaction.I think this movement was a more political one which aimed to rally more support for the war on "terror".
Fahad Raza | 9 years ago | Reply Bigotry at its best. I think those protesting the award see clearly that publication who incite intolerance towards Islam and its values in particular are seen as saviors of free speech. What if Charlie Hebdo showed Moses (PBUH) butt whipping Netanyahu for his crimes and atrocities against the Palestinians ? Would they have been given such award ?
Faraz Talat | 9 years ago Charlie Hebdo didn't incite violence against Muslims. Let us not substitute facts with rhetoric. They satirized a religious ideology; though that may be distasteful to the extreme, is still protected under 'free expression'.
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