"People who care deeply about global free speech won't soon forget that a collection of prestigious American authors chose the occasion of a mass murder to advocate illiberal principles and slander the dead."
Sunday brought the story of six members of PEN America, citing impressively asinine and ill-informed arguments, protesting that a free-speech organization was giving a courage-in-free-speech award to Charlie Hebdo, the French cartoon newspaper that was massacred for its courageous free speech. Now comes the chaser: A full 145 members of PEN, including some of the original refuseniks (and some other names you might recognize, such as Joyce Carol Oates), have attached their name to a remarkable document that encapsulates as well as anything I have seen the sick cloud that hangs over the Enlightenment idea of free speech.
"We do not believe in censoring expression," the 145 write, ominously. (Strange, how no actual champion of free speech I've ever encountered has felt the need to issue such a disclaimer.) "However, there is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression."
The Nation's Katha Pollitt, in a marvelous rejoinder, isolates the pathogens in that paragraph:Well, sure, but excuse me: violates the acceptable? The acceptable what? And don't we need writing and artwork that pushes the boundary of what the acceptable is?...