Is the pen mightier than the sword?

Freedom of expression: the debate goes on

Pen mighter than the sword

“I despise what you say but I will defend to the end your right to say it.” The enlightened approach current for so long in democratic society.

Something to think about: “ I believe in freedom of speech, but if you insult or threaten my mother I reserve the right to punch you on the nose.”

Or: “If you insult my prophet I reserve the right to kill you.”

So how far can satire go? The French weekly Charlie Hebdo went far too far in the eyes of the extremists who killed its journalists and cartoonists.

Satire can be cutting and amusing without causing deep religious or personal offense, regardless of the despicable acts of the extremist followers of any faith, whether they are Christian, Jewish, Moslem or subscribe to any type of fanaticism.

Is the pen is mightier than the sword? On one occasion some years ago, a colleague insulted my then fiancée in a relentless and bitter diatribe. No amount of reason would stop him. So I put away my pen and took out my sword. I hit him in the mouth and brought him down. There was no other way to stop him.

I was ejected from the restaurant and banned from it because, the management said, I struck the first blow in the fight that began under extreme verbal provocation – freedom to express crude sexual and moral aspersions against  someone I cared about.

I probably would not do the same today, I would probably walk away. But I was younger and more hot-blooded then.

I had been a sportsman, I had run marathons, I had had military training and as a reporter covering wars and trouble spots I had been coached in how to respond in “hostile environments” that included being hooded, tied up and dragged away in the simulated abduction and kidnapping of journalists, aid volunteers and civilians in conflict zones that happen more frequently today. The terror here: claustrophobia in the tight canvas hood, being kept locked up  in the dark for hours, not knowing how long it was going to last and finally the ridiculous paranoia and fear that maybe this wasn’t just a training exercise after all.

This sort of panic was bound to happen, the Special Forces trainers told us afterwards. In a gag or blindfold, try to breath with slow and measured breaths, don’t retaliate even if you are kicked and beaten, or the likelihood is you will be killed. The terrorists have the upper hand. Maybe they have got you for ransom, political gain or the propaganda value. Be sure of one thing: the terrorists don’t subscribe to principles of justice, peace, liberty and freedom of expression others hold dear. (They generally didn’t slice their captives heads off back then .)

If you survive captivity, the trainers said, there may be a time to retaliate through the power of your pen to show the world the evils of terror and extremism. But has the pen really quelled the worsening terror of our age? Charlie Hebdo’s satire of Islam provoked that attack, along with other factors, of course – racism across the spectrum, the alienation of immigrant groups, disparities in wealth and living standards, access to health and education and, not least, religious polarisation.

But let’s lighten up on this topic now and get back to the genre of journalism we call satire. The British magazine Private Eye does it admirably well and hasn’t had its offices shot up yet.

On Britain extraditing terror suspects to their countries of origin on the condition they are not tortured.
David Cameron visiting Jordan: Can I see the Imam we just sent over to you.
Jordanian official: I am afraid he’s a bit tied up right now.

On the murder in London of former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko using nuclear polonium to induce acute radiation poisoning.
Obama: Where to you stand on nuclear weapons?
Putin: My favourite is polonium.

On the media frenzy over the birth of Wills and Kate’s first baby, Prince George.
Banner headline: WOMAN HAS BABY!

On the recent thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba.
Che Guevara, an Argentine by birth, to the young revolutionary Fidel Castro after the Americans have begun their Cuba embargo in 1960.
Che: When do you think you might be talking to the Americans again?
Fidel: When the president is black and the Pope is Argentinian.

And going back to South African heart transplant pioneer Chris Barnard’s divorce for serial adultery and infidelity.
DIVORCE SHOCK, Mrs Barnard speaks out: Nothing will stop him putting organs into people.

1 Comment

  1. john holland on March 24, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Freedom of speak is a topic that is rarely covered with the general public in mind, journalists refer to other journalists.
    Zimbabwe has the worst media ethics in the world.
    We have by example the journaliost who wrote that the country is changing back to the Zim dollar a couple of Christmas’s and that we should rush to take out our US dollars from the bank..
    The workers and their families had no money over Christmas because of the lie. clearly this was economic sabotage of note and the local media commission – a group of journalists to protect their collegueues did nothing nor did local authorities.
    economic sabotage is terrorism and the journalist should have faced a firing squad.
    I overheard a group of journalists, saying how for a short article TAKING 15V MINUTES – anti government of course they were paid 2500 US. Propaganda at its best.
    I n the event that the media commission doesn’t work the public need protecting from irresponsible journalists .
    To day we see an action in the constitutional court to remove defamation from our law when clearly we needv more restrictions.
    They argue that only politicians and the wealthy complain therefore the general public don’t care. Not true – the general public don’t have ther money to take those journalists to court and the journalistsc tyake advantage of this.
    The news on the week is that ZLHR and other organbisations who pretaend to be human rights lawyers do nothing – if it was anti government they would.
    But why protect the rights of ordinary people- clearly there are no longer any real human rights organisations.
    Reality is that journalists do not represent the man in the street and should have no more rights that ordinary people – we need to promote truth even if it doesn’t sell newspapers like fiction and lies. We need million dollar fines to close news papers and make it impossible for those unethical journalists to find work.
    This is real freedom of speech

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