British Author Sebastian Horsley Refused Entry to U.S.
Google Search by Customs Officials Leads to Hours-Long InterrogationPEN American Center is appealing to the Departments of Homeland Security and State to review the exclusion of British author Sebastian Horsley from the United States, calling the decision of Customs officials to bar him from entering the country on grounds of “moral turpitude” a “dangerous precedent that could be extended to bar scores of literary figures from a number of countries.”
Horsley, whose memoir Dandy in the Underworld was published last year in Britain and the U.S., arrived at Newark Liberty Airport on Tuesday, March 18, 2008. After Customs officials ran a Google search on him, he was questioned for several hours about his statements and writings and ultimately refused entry to the U.S. based on admissions of past involvement with drugs and prostitution, as well as his participation in a self-crucifixion in the Philippines in 2000. He was forced to return to the U.K.
The PEN American Center, whose mission is to work in defense of writers and of freedom of expression around the world, has invited Horsley back to the United States to participate in this year’s World Voices Festival of International Literature at the end of April, and is appealing to U.S. officials to facilitate his entry into the country.
Here is PEN’s letter to Secretary Rice and Secretary Chertoff:
March 31, 2008
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Rice and Secretary Chertoff,
We are writing on behalf of the 3,300 professional writers who are members of PEN American Center to express our shock and disappointment over reports that British author Sebastian Horsley was recently denied entry into the United States—and to encourage you to review this decision immediately so that he can join us in New York for PEN’s World Voices Festival of International Literature at the end of April.
According to information we have received from his U.S. publisher, Mr. Horsley flew from London’s Heathrow Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport on March 18, 2008, en route to a scheduled reading and book launch to promote his memoir Dandy in the Underworld. Apparently singled out for his appearance, he was reportedly detained after customs officials searched the Internet for information about him and his work. We understand that he was questioned for several hours and ultimately found inadmissible on grounds of “moral turpitude”—a decision reportedly based on admissions of past involvement in drug use and prostitution and his participation in a self-crucifixion in the Philippines in 2000. To the best of our knowledge Mr. Horsley has never been convicted in connection with any crimes involving moral turpitude; rather, customs officials evidently based their decision entirely on Horsley’s writings and statements.
It is of course a matter of grave concern to us when a writer is excluded from the United States after searching his writings and statements for grounds of inadmissibility. The practice, which puts international writers in a position few American writers would submit to either here or overseas, is based on dubious assumptions of the nature of truth in literature and a poor understanding of the history of provocation, iconoclasm, and personal performance in both American and European letters. It is hard to see the exclusion of Mr. Horsley as anything but a dangerous precedent that could be extended to bar scores of literary figures from a number of countries who challenge conventional mores or write about experiences that, legal or not, are part of the complicated fabric of human society.
But there is an even more troubling aspect to Mr. Horsley’s exclusion for us. The United States, as the world’s leading exporter of entertainment and cultural products, is flooding the world with films, books, music, video games, web content, and any number of other materials that contain depictions—and at times even outright endorsements—of what customs officials might classify as crimes involving moral turpitude. To insist on the right to do this, and yet to appear squeamish about the potential threat to American culture and values that a figure like Mr. Horsley might pose, seems incongruous at best—and must look simply hypocritical to much of the world. At a time when the cultural divide between the United States and the world is wide and growing—and when we have a good deal of work to do to restore trust that our interest lies not in the one-sided projection of American power and products but in a truly free exchange of information and ideas—barring the doors to Mr. Horsley seems self-defeating.
We urge you to review the decision to deny entry to Mr. Horsley and to clear the way so that he can return to the United States to participate in the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature in New York from April 30 through May 3, 2008. PEN World Voices is an annual cross-cultural celebration of the written word that brings more than 50 international writers together with their American counterparts for a week of conversations, readings, performances, and panels. The theme of this year’s festival is “Private Lives, Public Lives,” a theme that is at the center of Mr. Horsley’s work, and we look forward to his participation in and contributions to our festival programs. We are also looking forward, as an organization that stands for the free international exchange of literature and ideas, to demonstrating that the United States remains a hospitable host even to those whose ideas and expressions are meant to provoke, unsettle, or offend.
PEN American Center
Freedom to Write and International Programs