Earlier today I heard about the controversy over six writers withdrawing from the PEN America event next month over the selection of Charlie Hebdo as the recipient of the Freedom of Expression Courage Award. Naturally, I was outraged, calling it “some big ol’ bullshit.”
Ban their books! Hell, burn their books! Right? RIGHT???
No. Not right. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was now part of the Internet Hate Machine, which I loathe. Are these writers – the most notable of whom is Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient – dead wrong? Yes. Do they deserve criticism? Yeah, I believe they do. Do they deserve to have shite hurled at them? No. After all, this debate is about freedom of speech.
The writers and artists at Charlie Hebdo can be assholes, frankly, and can stir up shit that they really don’t need to. That’s their right. Those same people were also told they would be killed if they didn’t stop. They didn’t, and many of them died. That took courage.
Salman Rushdie, who himself was targeted for death over The Satanic Verses, should get the last word: “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”
Don’t join Internet lynch mobs, folks. Or real ones, either.