The pen is mightier than the sword

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - November 7, 2020 - 12:00am

This adage was first penned by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his historical drama “Cardinal Richelieu” and was quoted by Dr. Jose Rizal in both his novels. The pen represents peaceful dissent. The sword signifies violent rebellion. US president John F. Kennedy once said in 1962, “those who make peaceful opposition impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Those who tend to bully writers into submission by threats and intimidations are really admitting their helplessness given the powers of the written word. Those who brandish threats of persecution may, by their money and influence, succeed momentarily to imprison the body. But they cannot detain the soul and the spirit of a conscientious writer. The writer behind bars is more free than the oppressor who is constantly afraid of his own shadow. Freedom of expression is one of the most valuable gifts by the Creator to the created, and it can neither be robbed or forcibly taken. But it can be surrendered at will. That, I will never do.

From the web, I came to know of writers whose lives were terminated under mysterious conditions. Anna Politkovskaya wrote a non-fiction, “Putin's Russia" where she wrote of the many untold wrongs in her country. She was found shot to death inside an elevator. Hugo Bettauer wrote “A City Without Jews” when the Nazis were exterminating the Jews. He was shot to death by one Otto Rothstock, a Nazi operative. Giordano Bruno had a number of writings against the inquisition. He was imprisoned and then burned at the stake. Before he died, he boldly declared: “You can set a man on fire but you cannot burn all the ideas he has sown in the hearts and minds of many.” Isaac Babel was killed for opposing Josef Stalin. Hitoshi Igarashi translated "The Satanic Verses". He was killed allegedly upon the sorder of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini.

Ahmed Naji of Egypt was jailed for his novel "Using Life", a blunt portrayal of hedonism, sex, drugs, and loose living. He was released and now lives in exile in the US. Liu Xiaobo of China, a human rights activist, writer, and Nobel Prize awardee, was arrested a number of times. He died of cancer caused by harsh prison conditions. Nurmuhemmet Yasin, a poet and writer in Xinjiang, China, was sentenced to 10 years because of his short story “Wild Pigeon”. He chose to drink poison instead. A Tibetan poet, Shokjang, was jailed for three years for inciting separatism in his many written pieces. In Syria, Faraj Ahmad Birqdar, also a poet, was imprisoned for 13 years for his poem “A Dove With Wings Outspread”. Ramon Esono Ebale of Equatorial Guinea was a cartoonist and a blogger. He imprisoned but released when the policeman who arrested him confessed that the charges were just faked.

A 19-year old Syrian female student Talal Mallouhi was jailed in 2011 for unknown reasons, most probably her poetry and social commentaries. She has not been released and her condition remains a mystery. Asli Erdogan from Turkey was arrested for his writings in Ozgir Gundem, a pro-Kurdish political newspaper. Irakli Kakabadze, of Georgia received a series of death threats due to his series of political satires. But he couldn’t be silenced by any threat or bullying. Zulkiflee Anwar of Malaysia faced nine charges of sedition and could face a jail sentence of 43 years. But after the ouster of Prime Minsiter Najib Razak, he was released and freed of all charges by the regime of Mahathir Mohammad.

The list is endless and the world is full of oppressors who feel threatened by the power of the pen. Our own Dr. Jose Rizal was executed due mainly to the power of his novels. But only his body died. His spirit lives in all freedom-loving Filipinos. No foreigner or Filipino can ever intimidate a writer into submission. Truth is more lethal than power. And the pen is more deadly than a machinegun. No one can ever kill the truth.

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