by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If there is any group of people on the planet that should feel solidarity with the slain editors of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it is writers.
Appropriately enough, the writers group PEN America is giving its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French publication now synonymous with martyrdom to free speech. Yet the award has become controversial, attacked by a group of writers who presume to lecture murder victims on not provoking their murderers.
These dissenters are an unabashed fifth column undermining PEN America’s devotion to free expression so as to carve out a safe space for Islam from the barbed speech inherent to a free society. They oppose the killing of the Charlie Hebdo journalists — thanks, guys — but otherwise agree with the jihadis that the publication was out of bounds.
“A hideous crime was committed,” novelist Peter Carey generously concedes, “but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?”
This is like saying, to use the example of another PEN awardee, the jailed Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, “Sure, it’s a terrible miscarriage of justice for Ismayilova to be behind bars, but should we really get all huffy about it?”
Obviously, if you are going to have an organization committed to fighting for free speech, you should be “self-righteous,” to use Carey’s phrase, about violations of free speech, especially when journalists are gunned down for things they draw and write.