Charlie Hebdo Deserves the PEN Honour and Why the Critics are Wrong
Originally published on Huffington Post
PEN American Center has decided to give Charlie Hebdo a long overdue recognition – its Freedom of Expression Courage award. On its website, PEN justified its decision arguing, quite legitimately, that “Only a handful of people are willing to put themselves in peril to build a world in which we are all free to say what we believe” and that the journalists of Charlie Hebdo belonged to this category.
Unfortunately, but predictably enough, few writers have decided to boycott the event where the Hebdo journalists will be awarded. One of them, American writer Rachel Kushner, defended her decision arguing that Charlie Hebdo promoted “cultural intolerance”. The others too gave similar arguments.
A most honorable and courageous exception, Salman Rushdie slammed these writers for their “very, very bad move.” He further said that “This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.”
Charlie Hebdo demonstrated a moral and intellectual courage that most media in the Anglo-Saxon world refuse to show – the willingness to stand up to bigots of all types and colors. While the liberal-left here mostly only engage in White-guilt trips blaming Europe for all ills in the world, the Hebdo journalists, in the true spirit of the tradition of Voltaire and Moliere, mercilessly lampooned all those who wielded power, be it the French government, the Le Pens, or the Islamists.
Now, the Islamists might hail from ‘marginalized’ communities but they definitely are not an ‘oppressed’ community. A group which has the ability to strike journalists at will, which is responsible for the vast majority of anti-Semitic attacks creating a climate of fear causing an exodus of Jews from France, which intimidates members of its own community to follow archaic cultural practices is neither an ‘oppressed minority’ nor its representative, but a death cult.
And the writers who are boycotting the PEN event are inadvertently legitimizing the ideology, politics, and actions of this group. This only serves as an encouragement to Islamists that instead of being hauled up for their crimes, it is rather their victims who will be targeted for being ‘racist’, ‘intolerant’ and what not. This also discourages genuinely progressive intellectuals from both Muslim and non-Muslim communities from having a much needed dialogue on the structural problems within Islam. By placing Islam beyond criticism, the liberal-left may pander to their own guilt, but they are doing nothing to help the oppressed.
Europeans should not be guilty about the claims of discrimination that Islamists and their apologists frequently shell out as an excuse for Muslim extremism. We must be bold enough to recognize that Islamism is not a legitimate reaction of an oppressed group, but a powerful world movement funded by petrodollars, arms trade, drug trafficking and sex slavery. If there is anything writers in the West should be guilty about, it is the sordid history of how the Western powers funded these movements in the past to counter secular and socialist movements in the Middle-East and in the countries of the former Soviet bloc.
Unfortunately, what the liberal-left is practicing here is a worse form of Islamophobia – the fear of offending Muslim extremists. And White writers assuming that all Muslims get offended by Hebdo’s cartoons – as if there are no secular, sober and sane individuals and political movements in the so-called Muslim world – is also a form of racism.
But to further contemplate on Kushner’s comment that Charlie Hebdo promoted “cultural intolerance” – should we tolerate primordial savagery that is anathema to all forms of civilization? Can the French Partisans in World War II also be accused of “cultural intolerance” towards Nazism? GK Chesterton’s statement holds true here – tolerance is the virtue of those who believe in nothing.