Novelist: I Was “Misinformed and (Quite Frankly) Wrong” When I Opposed Charlie Hebdo‘s Courage Award June 4, 2015

Novelist: I Was “Misinformed and (Quite Frankly) Wrong” When I Opposed Charlie Hebdo‘s Courage Award

Back in April, the PEN American Center planned to give its Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the staff (or what remains of it) of Charlie Hebdo.

Several writers balked at the honor. They were offended that Charlie Hebdo, which they deemed an offensive publication, was being rewarded for its “anti-Islamic” material.

Ultimately, more than 200 writers signed a letter of protest against the award (which was still given to the magazine’s staff).

I’m happy to say that one of those writers, Jennifer Cody Epstein, is now apologizing for adding her name to that list:

The American novelist Jennifer Cody Epstein has said that she “fundamentally misunderstood Charlie Hebdo’s mission and content” when she put her name to a letter condemning PEN’s decision to honour the magazine with an award.

In her letter, she points out that she really didn’t understand what the magazine did and pretty much followed the crowd:

Over the past week, however, I’ve found myself doing further research and considerable soul-searching, and have come to the somewhat chastening conclusion that my decision, while well-intentioned, was misinformed and (quite frankly) wrong.

I — like many, I now believe — fundamentally misunderstood Charlie Hebdo’s mission and content. The controversial images — while arguably tasteless, offensive and not even particularly well-drawn — sprang from satire, not hate. It is a profound and crucial difference: if one is to argue for freedom of speech there can be no caveats, no asterisks, no fine print qualifying that “freedom” only applies to expression we don’t consider too upsetting, or doesn’t enrage right-wing fundamentalists with guns. (I think it’s worth noting here that I was also under the misassumption that Hebdo disproportionately lampooned Islam. In fact, as Michael Moynihan points out in his — in my opinion excellent — piece in today’s Daily Beast, the magazine has featured significantly more anti-Christian covers (21) than anti-Islam (7) in the last decade.)

Good for her. That’s not an easy letter to write, but she deserves credit for admitting she jumped on the anti-free-speech bandwagon at a time when we needed courageous voices supporting the rights of Charlie Hebdo more than ever.

Let’s hope others follow in her footsteps.

(Image via Ekaterina Pokrovsky /

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