Is the pen mightier than the sword?
Freedom of expression: the debate goes on
“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.