Charlie Hebdo receives PEN literary award in NYC

  • IANS, New York
  • Updated: May 07, 2015 20:36 IST

The PEN literary award celebrating freedom of speech was given this year to satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in New York, amidst high security and highly divided opinions within the organisation.

Despite opposition from six prominent members of the PEN American Center to the decision on its allocation made in April, Charlie Hebdo, made victim of a terrorist attack in Paris in January, received the award in a ceremony at the Museum of Natural History on Tuesday, Efe news agency reported.

The publication's editor-in-chief, Gerard Biard, and film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret, who arrived late to work on the day of the attack, attended the ceremony and delivered a clear message on freedom of speech.

"They don't want us to debate: we must debate," the pair declared.

Perhaps a literary gala never had so much security, but given the recipients' status as targets of radical terrorism, and following Sunday's attack on the Curtis Culwell Center of Garland in Dallas where cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were being exhibited, the city spared no effort.

"Charlie Hebdo's mission of satirising sacred targets endured," explained Biard.

"Being shocked is part of a democratic debate," he said.

"Being shot is not," he concluded.

However, writers Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selas boycotted the gala on grounds that, despite the tragedy caused by radical Islamists, the magazine upholds "cultural intolerance" and its only defence "is always on secularist grounds", Kushner told The New York Times.

Despite the notable absences, Tuesday's event was attended by other writers whose support for Charlie Hebdo has been unstinting throughout, led by Salman Rushdie.

Reactions were varied on social networks, and writer Joyce Carol Oates called the controversy "disproportionate and distorted".

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