The Truthdig columnist was scheduled to speak at events sponsored by PEN American Center next month, but he has resigned his membership in the writers’ organization over its executive director, Suzanne Nossel, a former aide to Hillary Clinton who may have coined the term “soft power.”
The following is from a 2004 Foreign Affairs article by Nossel titled “Smart Power: Reclaiming Liberal Internationalism”:
To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war. Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership—diplomatic, economic, and not least, military—to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
In addition to working for the State Department under Hillary Clinton as deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, Nossel has worked as executive director of Amnesty International USA, and for Human Rights Watch and The Wall Street Journal.
Chris Hedges emailed the following statement to PEN and it is reprinted here with his permission:
I will not be participating as a speaker in the PEN World Voices Festival in May. I will not participate because of your decision to select Suzanne Nossel as Executive Director of the PEN American Center. This appointment makes a mockery of PEN as a human rights organization and belittles the values PEN purports to defend. I spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief of The New York Times. The suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation and the plight of those caught up in our imperial wars in countries such as Iraq are not abstractions to me. Nossel’s relentless championing of preemptive war—which under international law is illegal—as a State Department official along with her callous disregard for Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians and her refusal as a government official to denounce the use of torture and use of extra-judicial killings, makes her utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization, especially one that has global concerns. PEN American Center, by appointing Nossel, has unwittingly highlighted its own failure to defend and speak out for our dissidents, especially Bradley Manning. I hereby resign from PEN. I will wait until the organization returns to its original mandate to defend those who are persecuted, including those within the United States, before returning to the organization.
More about PEN: It is a global organization made up of writer members that advocates for free expression and other human rights causes. The chapter representing the eastern United States is called PEN American Center and was founded in 1922. Its membership has included Robert Frost, Tony Kushner, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie and John Steinbeck.
Read more about the controversy at Dissident Voice.