Is the pen really mightier than the sword? Is the pencil more powerful than the gun? I have often asked myself these questions, and my answer has always been an emphatic yes. And it remains the same, even after the Charlie Hebdo carnage.
How do I kill 1,000 terrorists in one go? I simply have to write those words: “I killed 1,000 terrorists.” With the same ‘weapon’, I can also write: “I destroyed 100 gods today.” That’s the power of the pen, as explosive and unchained as that of the human mind.
Back in 2007, I wrote a satirical middle about the rot in the cricket world. Its narrator was coach Bob Woolmer, who had died a few weeks earlier. I got an anonymous hate mail which said it was in rather poor taste to make a recently deceased person crack jokes. The reader also threatened to bring the piece to Mrs Woolmer’s notice so that she could sue me. That mail troubled me for several days as I wondered whether I had crossed the line and unintentionally hurt somebody’s sentiments. I imagined being slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit (luckily, it didn’t happen). That was the power of the reader’s poison pen. The person could have done anything -- smashed my car’s windshield, thrown a petrol bomb into my house -- but he/she opted for the written word, giving me a taste of my own medicine.
In contrast, the Charlie Hebdo killers didn’t go for ‘an eye for an eye’ revenge. If they had found some cartoons blasphemous, they could have done a bit of nasty drawing themselves to ridicule the French magazine. They could have shown its editor standing stark naked under the Eiffel Tower, being whipped by a battery of burqa-clad women. The fact that the assailants used the gun implies that they didn’t know how to wield the pencil or the paint brush. Or they probably thought that the latter were not lethal enough to avenge the insult to their prophet. The only way they knew to silence the ‘disbelievers’ was to kill them.
Ironically, Charlie Hebdo is now a household name worldwide. Instead of being wiped out, it has got a new lease of life and entered the portals of immortality. Good, bad or ugly, freedom of expression soldiers on. Its great power, however, also brings great responsibility. It might take just a word or an image to blow up our conflict-torn planet. Hope we won’t let that happen. firstname.lastname@example.org
(The writer is a deputy news editor at HT)