CBLDF Joins NCAC Response to Charlie Hebdo PEN America Award Controversy

May 8, 2015
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(c) Charlie Hebdo

(c) Charlie Hebdo

Dozens of authors have registered their protest of PEN American Center’s presentation of its Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo staff. In response, the National Coalition Against Censorship issued a statement — which CBLDF signed — doubling down on their support of Charlie Hebdo’s right to free expression.

In the wake of the controversy, nearly 100 authors signed a statement opposed to PEN’s presentation of the award to Charlie Hebdo staff, and several authors withdrew from hosting this week’s gala. Some big names in comics stepped in to take their place: art spiegelman, Alison Bechdel, and Neil Gaiman took part in the event to show their support. Gaiman himself has been shocked at the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, telling CBLDF’s Charles Brownstein:

The thing that fascinates me most about Charlie Hebdo in particular — which completely baffled me, took me by surprise — was it’s the first time I have ever seen not just the “we’re for free speech, but…” brigade coming out, but the “we’re not for free speech” brigade coming out—the people who are like, “You know, yes, these people were massacred, but they were writing offensive things. They were drawing cartoons that people were offended by,” as if the correct response to being offended is to murder somebody.

Garry Trudeau, himself no stranger to controversy and censorship on the cartooning pages, has been one of the most recent Charlie Hebdo detractors, arguing that Charlie Hebdo routinely attacks “a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons.” Trudeau’s statements were widely condemned by many.

While the NCAC statement does not specifically support or protest the PEN award, what it does is clearly state NCAC (and CBLDF’s) ongoing support for Charlie Hebdo’s staff and right to free speech:

Like much of art and imagery, there is no “correct” description: the cartoons are subject to multiple, possibly conflicting interpretations. And while one might prefer that satire “punches up,” determining which way is “up” can be difficult. There is considerable power in threatening violence, and as it turns out the slain Charlie Hebdo staff members and two police officers were ultimately the losers in the power struggle with violent extremists.

NCAC further applauded Charlie Hebdo’s refusal to be silenced and the importance of free expression:

We condemn threats of violence and, even more vehemently, acts of violence. Regardless of one’s view of the cartoons, there is honor in the refusal to be silenced in the face of such threats, or in the aftermath of an attack. Recognizing this, in our view, implies no lack of commitment to efforts to eradicate inequality and injustice. Indeed, we believe that civil and human rights cannot be promoted without a robust commitment to free expression, including the right to offend. The history of liberation movements, including civil rights, gay rights, and women’s rights, speaks to the power and necessity of the right to offend and to challenge established norms.

In addition to CBLDF, Association of American Publishers, American Booksellers for Free Expression, Project Censored, Tully Center for Free Speech, FirstAmendment.com, Wendy Kaminer, and Greg Lukianoff (president and CEO, FIRE) joined NCAC on the statement. You can read the full statement here.

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