Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie has called Australian Peter Carey and five other authors “pussies” for boycotting the PEN literary gala over the decision to give a special award to satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The writers were angered by the decision to give the magazine a ‘freedom of expression courage award’ at the New York event, because they were opposed to the magazine’s controversial cartoons.
Twelve Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and writers were killed in January when two gunmen incensed by the magazine’s depictions of the Prophet Mohammed stormed their Paris office.
American writer Francine Prose told Associated Press, while she deplored the shootings, the award signified “respect and admiration” for Charlie Hebdo‘s work.
“I couldn’t imagine being in the audience when they have a standing ovation for Charlie Hebdo,” Ms Prose said.
Mr Carey told The New York Times that PEN was being “self-righteous” and ‘blind’.
“All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognise its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”
British Indian novelist and Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie, however, slammed his literary colleagues on Twitter, calling them “pussies” and “six authors in search of a bit of character”.
Speaking to the New York Times, he said his old friends like Mr Carey and Sri Lankan novellist Michael Ondaatje were “horribly wrong”.
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) April 27, 2015
“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,” Mr. Rushdie said
PEN president Andrew Soloman said he knew the decision would be controversial but still believed it was appropriate.
“We believe that Charlie Hebdo’s intent was not to ostracise or insult Muslims, but rather to reject forcefully the efforts of a small minority to place broad categories of speech off-limits, no matter the purpose, intent or import of the expression,” Mr Soloman said in a letter to PEN trustees.