An organization that champions dissidents must embrace dissent in its ranks. Over the last week, PEN American Center has been criticized by many writers, including some of our members, over our decision to present our PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Free Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that was the target of a murderous attack in January. The heated debate proves the relevance of groups devoted to freedom of expression. It also demonstrates that in an open society, well-intentioned people with shared values can interpret and weigh principles differently.
Although censorship has traditionally been the province primarily of governments, attempts to curb speech are likewise undertaken by vigilantes who employ threats and violence. In the last few months we have seen shootings at Charlie Hebdo and at a free-speech event in Copenhagen; the hacking to death of two Bangladeshi atheist bloggers, one of them an American; a death threat against an Australian political cartoonist by jihadists; and the gunning down of a Pakistani social activist.