The pen or the kalashnikov—your choice

The pen or the kalashnikov—your choice

By Stephanie Azran

Two news pieces in the news today, one terrible event in France and one easily-satirized one out of the US. The flip response to the latter belies the serious nature of the accusations flying between journalists and holier-than-though readers of any ilk, and between journalism and a volatile 21st century society in general.

Barring the loss of life, the attack on writers and liberal (read: democratic) journalism by Kirby Delauter is no less important than the the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in France. It’s the same side of the anti-free speech coin.

Delauter attacked The Frederick News-Post for using his name without permission. He is an elected official in Maryland who threatened the paper with a lawsuit. He has no case, what with the First Amendment and all.

Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh and professor at the UCLA School of Law, responded succinctly if snidely: “In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission.”

Is Delauter going to hold up his threat in light of the massacre in France? Does it take murder to remind citizens in democratic countries what they should be standing for and not cowering from?

12 people are dead in the attacks in Paris and a manhunt is underway for the assailants who attacked the satirical magazines offices earlier today; 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. Confirmed dead are the magazine’s editor and cartoonist, Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabu, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac, economist Bernard Maris and two police officers.

Eye witness reports state that the assailants claimed to be members of Al-Qaida.

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 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. Certain editions forced the closures of embassies, school and cultural centres in 20 countries out of fear of reprisal.

It seems they will continue to bear them despite the vicious acts. They won’t answer violence and hate with capitulation.

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.

For my own part, I’ve never been threatened with death- not a risk at a local paper. I have, however, seen advertising withheld, phone calls and emails ignored, and been told point-blank that if I editorialized about certain issues, I would never be welcome to interview that person again.

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 to 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 dies 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.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, with all the naivete of a newly-minted reporter- don’t fight the press. Question it, always, but don’t fight it. Even in the form of satire, news media 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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