Two members of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, took the stage to a thundering standing ovation at PEN American Center’s literary gala on Tuesday night, capping a 10-day debate over free speech, blasphemy and Islamophobia that started in the cozy heart of the New York literary world and spread to social media and op-ed pages worldwide.
Accepting PEN’s award for “freedom of expression courage,” the magazine’s top editor, Gérard Biard, summed up the publication’s belief in the unfettered right to mock all religions, ideas and belief systems, and leveled a riposte at the Muslim extremists whose attack on Charlie Hebdo in January left 12 people dead.
“Being shocked is part of democratic debate,” said Mr. Biard, who accepted the award with the magazine’s film critic, Jean-Baptiste Thoret. “Being shot is not.”
…Andrew Solomon, the president of PEN, opened his remarks with a nod to the “whale in the room,” a reference to the debate, and the blue whale hovering over the 800 guests in the museum’s Hall of Ocean Life.
“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.”
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