Surprise announcement, protest keep Charlie Hebdo in the headlines

Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Renald Luzier says he will no longer draw the Prophet Muhammad, even as more than two dozen writers unite to protest a PEN award for the controversial magazine.

Michel Euler/AP
Former Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier died in the terror attack on his magazine's offices early this year.

Months after the January 7 massacre that claimed the lives of 12 people, the Charlie Hebdo controversy has been reignited: The French cartoonist who drew the cover depicting the Prophet Muhammad on the French magazine said he will no longer draw the figure, and more than two dozen writers have signed a petition protesting this year's PEN award which honors the controversial magazine.

"He no longer interests me," Renald Luzier, known as Luz, told Les Inrockuptibles, a French cultural magazine, in an interview published Wednesday. "I've got tired of [drawing him], just like I got tired of drawing [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy. I'm not going to spend my life drawing them," he said.

A number of prominent writers have also come out against PEN America's decision to award the magazine. The upcoming PEN American Center gala will honor the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo with the Freedom of Expression Courage award for continuing to publish after the January massacre at the magazine's offices. But more than 30 writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Junot Diaz, and Francine Prose, have signed a petition criticizing PEN's decision to award Charlie Hebdo, accusing the French satirical magazine of mocking a “section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized."

The letter, apparently circulated by an anonymous writer, condemned the massacre as "sickening and tragic," but said awarding Charlie Hebdo was inappropriate.

“There is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression,” reads the letter, which has been reproduced in full at, along with the full list of signatories.

“The magazine seems to be entirely sincere in its anarchic expressions of disdain toward organized religion. But in an unequal society, equal opportunity offense does not have an equal effect.

The letter goes on to say that for France's minorities, “a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage of devout Muslims," the satirical magazine's cartoons of the prophet “must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering”.

“Power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire.”

But the controversy doesn't end there.

In an interview with the Guardian, PEN America’s president, Andrew Solomon, defended the award, which he said “does not agree with the content of what they expressed”.

“If we only endorsed freedom of speech for people whose speech we liked that would be a very limited notion of freedom of speech,” Solomon said. “It’s a courage award, not a content award.”

Perhaps most vocal was Salman Rushdie, who severely criticized his colleagues on Twitter.

But the letter's signatories are standing by their decision to disassociate themselves from PEN's award.

"[O]ne of the things that folks like Salman Rushdie taught me when I was coming of age as a writer was that you have to take sides. On the Charlie Hebdo question, I wish I had the triumphant certainty of those who are all gung-ho about the award," Journalist Amitava Kumar, a signatory to the letter, told the Guardian.

“But as I think of the wars unleashed upon whole peoples and the brutal realities of occupation as well as theocratic rule in the Middle East, you have to ask yourself if one shouldn’t instead be championing those who see the greater violence and who rebel against our own cravenness and our complicities.”

“Before we begin clapping, let’s ask if we aren’t just clapping for ourselves.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.