Liberalism without a backbone

Just at a time when we as a society need courageous voices to stand firmly behind free expression and the rights of writers, comedians and cartoonists to engage in robust satire and criticism of dangerous ideas, such as are found in the Koran and the hadith, certain weak-kneed, PC-infected liberals like Ben Affleck, Reza Aslan and the like threaten to pull this program of progress ever backward.

Six members of the PEN American Center, Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have chosen not to attend a gala set for next month in New York, in which the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo will receive the Freedom of Expression Courage award for its poise and resolve amid the controversy over its cartoons and the subsequent terrorist attack on the newspaper offices earlier this year for its satirical depictions of Muhammad.

In a report from The New York Times, Kushner bowed out of the gala for what she described as Charlie Hebdo’s “cultural intolerance” and “a kind of forced secular view.”

Although Pen president Andrew Solomon said those were the only six members who have pulled out of the event to his knowledge, at least one writer, Deborah Eisenberg, who was not attending the gala anyway, also spoke critically of giving the award to Charlie Hebdo:

What I question is what PEN is hoping to convey by awarding a magazine that has become famous both for the horrible murder of staff members by Muslim extremists and for its denigrating portrayals of Muslims. Charlie Hebdo’s symbolic significance is unclear here.

I hope Eisenberg’s writing is better than her ability to analyze satire. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons did not denigrate Muslims, of course. It poked fun at the ridiculous notion in some circles of Islam that depictions of Muhammad — and by extension, depictions of anyone — are somehow off limits, and that in a free society, certain elements in culture are and should be considered sacred cows, even to those who don’t recognize them as such.

For his part, Salman Rushdie called the authors who decided to pull out of the event “horribly wrong:”

If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name. What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.

And here is Sam Harris, who has been vocally critical of the weak brand of liberalism that might find offense or even a strain of xenophobia in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons or other critiques of Islam, as is apparently represented by these authors:

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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