Author Salman Rushdie has taken issue with a handful of journalists who pulled out of the PEN American Center gala over objections to French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo receving a special honor at the ceremony.
Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose and three others withdrew from the gala after it was announced Charlie Hebdo will receive the PEN/Toni and James C Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage award. The publication — which was attacked on Jan. 7 by members of an Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen — had previously been criticized for its sardonic depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Rushdie, who was accused of blasphemy over his novel The Satanic Verses, had some harsh words for the journalists who dropped out of the gala. During a Twitter exchange on Monday, he wrote:
He later realized that his use of a not-so-inclusive word might not have been the best choice.
In an interview with the New York Times, Rushdie elaborated on his thoughts. “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,” Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”
PEN commented on the honor, saying that “in paying the ultimate price for the exercise of their freedom, and then soldiering on amid devastating loss, Charlie Hebdo deserves to be recognized for its dauntlessness in the face of one of the most noxious assaults on expression in recent memory.”
Charlie Hebdo staff member Jean-Baptiste Thoret will accept the award on May 5. He was not at the office during the attack, which left 12 dead, after arriving late for work.