NEW YORK – Salman Rushdie on Monday defended the PEN American Center’s plans to honour the magazine Charlie Hebdo, saying the decision of six writers to skip the PEN gala in protest will encourage intimidation.
Rushdie said in an email to The Associated Press that PEN is “quite right” to honour the Charlie Hebdo artists killed during a January shooting at the magazine’s Paris offices. Rushdie is a former president of the PEN American Center, a literary and human rights organization. He was forced into hiding for years over death threats related to his novel, The Satanic Verses, which Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned as anti-Muslim.
“The Charlie Hebdo artists were executed in cold blood for drawing satirical cartoons, which is an entirely legitimate activity. It is quite right that PEN should honour their sacrifice and condemn their murder,” Rushdie wrote.
Canadian Michael Ondaatje, Peter Carey and four other authors have told the organization they will not attend its May 5 event, the highlight of PEN’s annual World Voices Festival, where the magazine will receive a Free Expression Courage Award. They cited what they called Charlie Hebdo‘s offensive cartoons of Muslims. The writers were among dozens of those serving as table hosts for the gala.
Ondaatje declined an interview request on Monday.
“This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority,” Rushdie wrote. “It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organized, well-funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.
“These six writers have made themselves the fellow travellers of that project. Very, very bad move.”
Sunday’s announcement by PEN that the six table hosts had withdrawn set off a wave of responses and counter responses. Francine Prose, a former PEN president and one of the writers protesting the Hebdo honour, wrote on her Facebook page Monday that she was “disheartened by the usually sensible intelligent Salman Rushdie’s readiness to call us ‘fellow travellers’ who are encouraging Islamist jihadism.”
“I do hope that the audience at the PEN gala will be shown some of the cruder and more racist cartoons that CH publishes, so they will know what they are applauding and honouring,” Prose added.
© 2015 The Associated Press