“The pen is mightier than the sword” is an old saying.
Coined in the 19th century, it is meant to describe the effectiveness of communication over direct violence. But I think in today’s environment, it might also speak to us of the broad reach of the written word (or the image).
A sword can only wound a person who is in physical proximity to the one with the sword. Words, however, can affect people not connected in space or even in time. They can be recorded, reproduced, interpreted and misinterpreted.
Words can do untold good or untold damage to persons and to causes.
I have been thinking about this over the last couple of days in relation to the terrible attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the tragic loss of life.
Freedom of speech is part of the free will given to us by God. We have a responsibility to use it well. This is true not only for those in the editorial offices of satirical magazines, but also for all of us who might respond to this tragedy, particularly in light of images or descriptions of various Charlie Hebdo magazine covers which have mocked the Catholic Church or the Catholic faith.
Yesterday, we saw the spontaneous show of solidarity on social media through the #jesuisCharlie hashtag. Even though I wanted to show my support, I stopped short of joining in because Charlie Hebdo is an intentionally provocative publication and I wouldn’t describe myself as intentionally provocative.
#jesuisCharlie did not accurately express how I was feeling.
We also saw the emergence of the #jenesuispasCharlie (“I am not Charlie”) hashtag in response. This was from people who considered the publication had gone too far in exercising their freedom of speech, and wanted to publicly distance themselves from the mission of the magazine.
I understand the sentiment, but it didn’t describe my feelings either.
I guess I am neither #jesuisCharlie nor #jenesuispasCharlie.
Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer who was also murdered in the attack, was neither “Charlie” nor “not Charlie”. He just got on with his job, which was to protect people, irrespective of whether or not they ridiculed his beliefs on a daily basis.
There’s no reason why we can’t be the same.
We can look at this situation in all of its ugliness, aware that the publication frequently mocks the Church and the Catholic faith, and offer our condolences and prayers. This doesn’t mean that we’re ignoring the offensive nature of the magazine. It just means that we realise that we have a job to do which in this case, is to pray for the victims and their families and for peace.
Because as Catholics, we know that mightier than the sword and even the pen is our witness of life.
Monica Doumit, Catholic Talk contributor