Why I Stand with PEN

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Above is a photograph of George Orwell speaking into a BBC radio microphone.

 

George Orwell wasn’t the first writer to declare the personal pronoun had been thoroughly infested. He was the first to give the infestation a Linnean system.

He was the last true figure of the Enlightenment.

He wrote: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed, everything else is public relations.”

The recent flap over PEN America’s decision to give the French humor magazine  “Charlie Hebdo” an award for courageousness requires a dab of Orwell for journalism isn’t “taste” and it may also lack nuance.

The writers arguing against the Hebdo award (so I’ll call it, as every award deserves its own name) rightly point out the effects of lampooning Muslim belief—Hebdo’s satire is overtly scornful and in a world where Islamic refugees struggle without human rights, giving satirists a courage award feels like a sham.

But what the critics want, alas, is what Orwell would declare public relations.

Free speech isn’t tasteful.

Free speech is (as always) under attack both in the United States and around the globe.

For this reason I’m for the award.

Free speech means never being comfortable.

“The quickest way to end a war is to lose it.” (Orwell)