Why the American PEN Award Boycott Still Bothers Me

Francine Prose has stated that Charlie Hebdo is not important. They don’t deserve any award from American PEN because they are racist and offensive and just like Nazis and just not the type of people considerate writers should support.

They’re important enough to fire bomb. They’re important enough their staff is murdered. They’re important enough survivors have death threats looming over their heads. They’re important enough you’re boycotting the PEN awards because of them. You wouldn’t do that for just anybody, now, would you? Oh, but because Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons made you uncomfortable, made you, perhaps, think, about religoius issues, and even though it doesn’t appear you’ve read a single word the magazine actually published (it’s just not about a few cartoons, you know), you disregard them because it’s far easier to do so than confront the relgious beliefs that led to their murders.

All religions have problems that need addressing. Treating Islam as if it’s special because Muslims are a minority in France gives Islamists the impression that what they’re doing is working and that they have support in further killings. It gives them handy allies to help shut down criticism and keep their own people in line. Many Muslims have fled their native countries to escape repressive regimes and cultural practices. They were followed by conservative religious types who want to continue forcing those people to follow the laws they desperately wished to leave behind, which leads to religious law trumping national law in places like England, where people are forced into those religious courts based on country and religion of origin, whether they want to submit to those laws or not. You’re helping keep the status quo by telling others that criticism has to come only from within those repressed communities–and we’ve seen where that leads.

I think what Prose and those who support her views are doing is making sure they don’t get their hands dirty. If they say that criticism is punching down and you should never do it to minority groups, then they are effectively washing their hands of problems within those communities. They don’t have to take an interest in them, they don’t have to care. They’re saying that, when women are givien the choice between wearing the hijab and injury or death, that it really is their choice to wear the hijab and who are we to complain that isn’t a real choice. They’re saying, just like the Swedish embassy said to Ananta Bijoy Das, that protestors, social justice advocates, are always targets and either change your ways, your beliefs, to conform to your culture’s status quo, or die, your choice. We won’t get involved. Hands washed and dried, you have no reponsibility to anyone outside your little intimate group. Very convenient.

Sit down, shut up, stay in your own culture. Problem solved?

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