The pen or the Kalashnikov- your choice

By Stephanie Azran on January 18, 2015

Last week, #Je SuisCharlie became the anthem of artists, journalists and citizens who refused to back down in the face of violence. 

12 people died in the attacks in Paris and several more French citizens were killed in the days following. In the initial affront, gunmen with Kalashnikovs went into the building during an editorial meeting and opened fire. On writers, editors, citizens of France who may have taken things too far, but for a real purpose. 

This isn't the first time the magazine has been under fire- literally. It was firebombed in 2011 for publishing an edition poking fun at Mohammed and Islamic law. Writers and the editor-in-chief were and are used to receiving death threats. Even after requests from the French government to temper their satire, the magazine refused. 

The Charlie Hebdo staff will continue to bear threats despite the vicious acts by running a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed on the cover of their next edition. They won't answer violence and hate with capitulation. 

Almost immediately, the attack on writers and liberal (read: democratic) journalism engendered a debate about heroes, victims and whether religion is fair game in a PC society. Some pieces have addressed the neo-colonialist entitlement that underlies the satirical drawings produced at Charlie Hebdo- white men in a position of power taking shots at minorities. The fact remains that satire, political or otherwise, has a long history across the globe. Think of someone shooting up a Saturday Night Live taping, or threatening the life of Rick Mercer, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert. It's not only there to make people laugh, a powerful role in itself; it challenges the status quo. 

It should not take murder to remind citizens in democratic countries what they should be standing for and not cowering from. Ask yourself- what kind of world is it when a citizen can't say what they want to say- whether it's offensive, inflammatory, honest, or true? 

What does this say about the state of affairs in France or in the world in general? Journalists killed for their constitutional right to write and say what they believe to be true. This, whether you believe it or not, is tantamount to someone telling the average citizen to shut his or her mouth. 

A former Canadian Armed Forces commander once told me that writing in a public forum holds a stronger power than guns and bombs- it must be, if it can get you threatened, injured or killed. Only the apathetic will let this stand, but such is the (Western) world we live in. We don't have the right to say what we feel needs saying, but others have the right to murder with impunity because they don't agree?

So then, if the attacks on journalists at home and abroad are anything to go by, the pen is mightier than the sword. People used ot go to jail for saying the wrong (or right) thing, some were even executed under the laws of their respective nations. But in France, in Canada, in the US and elsewhere, journalists operate according to the laws of their chosen homeland and suffer or die by the laws of another.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 60 journalists were killed in 2014, 70 in 2013 and 74 in 2012. You can get high and mighty about it, say that they died in pursuit of the truth but it does not really matter. They believed in what they were doing as much as those who killed them for it, but the degree of retaliatory severity is completely out of proportion to the crime.  

Even in the form of satire, newsmedia is there to make readers think, remember and act. When you don't, when you take things lying down, you are not giving in to the all-powerful media. You're giving in to the fear, the ignorance and those who think guns can silence the opposition.

Which is mightier- the pen or the sword? It's not a given, it's up for debate, no matter what the warmongerers do or say. 

Which one are you going to choose?


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