In praise of Neil Gamian

If you haven’t read any works by fantasy writer Neil Gamian, you should. The British-born writer is best known for works such as the comic series The Sandman and books including American Gods. I’ve reviewed American Gods and for anyone into fantasy or mythology, American Gods is a must read. It is sprawling and thrilling, and I can proudly say it has influenced my writing.

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Aside from novels and comics, he’s also had a long friendship with Tori Amos, popping up as a character of sorts in several of her songs. He’s written a glorious Doctor Who episode titled “The Doctor’s Wife,” and he also gave one of the best commencement speeches you’ll ever hear.

Now Neil Gaiman is taking on another role, one that would seem obvious for a writer: free speech supporter. PEN America, an organization of writers dedicated to supporting freedom of expression, is slated to give an award to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which lost several members following a terrorist attack. Some PEN members pulled out of the awards gala citing concerns that the magazine was racist. And now, several writers, including Gaiman, Alison Bechdel and Art Spiegelman, have stepped in.

In an interview with Salon, Gaiman was blunt in his reasons for joining: “…for f**k’s sake, they drew somebody, and they [al-Qaida] shot them, and you don’t get to do that.”

Freedom of expression is a bedrock principle of mine. I know what it’s like to be afraid to speak your mind, to express yourself, for fear of backlash in ways small and large. I know what it’s like to feel intimidated. I know what it’s like to feel that I have no voice. Writing has helped me find that voice. It’s given me the freedom to speak my mind and reveal who I am. And I am thankful that when it comes to my fiction, the only barriers in place are the ones that I choose to erect.

I understand the controversy surrounding Charlie Hebdo. But my support of the right to free expression is nearly absolute. And there’s no way I could NOT stand up against violence or government coercion against freedom of speech.

I’m heartened that Gaiman is claiming a spot at the PEN America awards gala. And I can’t wait for his next Doctor Who episode.

Charlie Hebdo and free expression

Time to get serious.

The world is reeling from the murders in Paris this week. Twelve people, including journalists and policemen, were murdered by Muslim terrorists. Why were these people killed? Because the journalists at the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo dared to express views these terrorists deemed unacceptable. Specifically, they criticized — and mocked — Muhammed.

This got these twelve humans killed.

Stephane Charbonnier, pictured below with one of the offending images, was the editor of Charlie Hebdo. He was among those murdered. He’d received death threats for daring to express himself. And his response?

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“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

I can’t express the rage I feel regarding the animals who murdered Charbonnier and the eleven others. I have no respect for their values.

This tragedy has only reinforced one of my core beliefs: the freedom of expression. As a writer, I wholeheartedly believe in the God-given human right to express myself freely. I believe that the dignity of the individual takes precedence over groupthink, and I want to live in a society where everyone is allowed to express themselves (as long as they’re not openly inciting violence).

Don’t get me wrong — there are scores of examples of speech and actions I personally find offensive. The Kardashians, for instance, or anything Madonna has said and done in the past decade. And then there’s Eli Roth’s torture porn Hostel movies.

But if I am offended, I change the channel, or leave the web page. I don’t murder people. I understand that some people cherish their beliefs, and are hurt when they are mocked, but I will not submit to violence or intimidation.

I am thankful I live in a society where freedom of expression is an accepted—if not constantly debated—value. I don’t enjoy mocking someone’s beliefs for the sake of shock alone. But the world needs to understand that violence isn’t acceptable. These images need to be shared widely so their threatening power will be diluted.

These are just a couple of images that were worth killing over. If this is what your god demands of you, I will never understand your god.

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