Two Charlie Hebdo cartoonists received a standing ovation at the PEN Literary Gala in New York City Tuesday night after six high-profile writers didn’t show to the event in protest of what they perceive as the French satirical magazine’s racism and Islamophobia.
“Being shocked is part of democratic debate,” the New York Times reports Gérard Biard, alongside Jean-Baptiste Thoret, said while accepting the “freedom of expression courage” award. “Being shot is not.”
Biard said the magazine has the right to mock all religions. He concluded by criticizing the Muslim terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, and killed 12 employees.
PEN president Andrew Solomon started his remarks by addressing the “whale in the room,” referencing the debate between the writers and Charlie Hebdo.
“The defense of people murdered for their exercise of free speech is at the heart of what PEN stands for,” he said. “So is the unfettered expression of opposing viewpoints.”
Salman Rushdie thought the writers’ protest was “damaging and divisive” but also “instructive,” according to the Times.
“In the last 10 days, the Anglophone world has been given enough information to understand that Charlie Hebdo is the exact opposite of the racist publication it has been said to be,” he said.
“We’re not obsessed with Islam,” Biard told the New York Times Editorial Board last week. “We’re dealing with politics, with other religions [other than Muslims].”
On Monday, both cartoonists told Charlie Rose that the group holding the Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas Sunday — that was shot up by two gunmen — had “no comparison” to them.
“To be honest, I can imagine the kind of comparison you can make between the Charlie Hebdo attack of January 7 and this event, but there is nothing to do [with one another],” Jean-Baptiste Thoret said. “Absolutely no comparison.”
Thoret said the group that staged the event — the American Freedom Defense Initiative — is an anti-Islamic group, whereas Charlie Hebdo criticizes all religions, not limiting its scope to the Muslim people.