On balance it would have been awkward if the boycotters of the annual awards dinner of PEN American Center had changed their minds and attended on Tuesday night. At the very least their presence at the literary gathering might have been an unnecessary distraction. At worst it could have been taken as an insult to the memories of the 12 members of the satirical French publication Charlie Hebdo who died on Jan. 7 while exercising their right to free speech.
The heartfelt standing ovation for Gerard Biard and Jean-Baptiste Thoret—who accepted the Freedom of Expression Courage award on behalf of the magazine—had its own eloquence. Unusually, the many writers in the room didn’t need to say anything to make themselves heard. Simply being at the dinner was a statement, a Rubicon moment for those who believe that universal human rights is a cause worth dying for. Just as boycotting the awards has become the rallying event for those who believe that it comes second to other considerations.