The pen, pencil or quill, we are told is ‘mightier than the sword’. It is not insignificant that the saying was coined in Great Britain, who with her other European neighbours, used both sword and pen to claim, colonised, and devour lands far off and to caricature the heathens who lived there. The pencil, pen and quill were used to make fun of and represent the natives as heathens, monkeys, apes, naked savages and much more – grudgingly sub-humans in some natural state, with hot desires to be tamed and to be eventually made civilised. That is, almost human, for as history shows, we are never humans like our colonizers Of course, swords and others weapons were used to slaughter and bring to the knees whole populations who were rightly resistant to having their space, land and lives invaded by greedy people in the name of civilizing, commerce and Christianizing.
Things may have changed, but with ‘colonizing in reverse’ (Louise Bennett) and so many from the former colonies now themselves English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and German – one may ask what has changed given the ways Arab-French, Asian/Black-British, Moroccan-Dutch, Turk-German or African/Black–Portuguese continue to be represented today! Ever since Ben Johnson the Canadian sprinter was done for steroids, suddenly becoming of ‘Jamaican ancestry’, every French, British, Dutch, Belgian and German born citizen of an minority ethnic origin know that they are just ‘bidding their time’ before being reminded where home actually is for them. And then, we have the audacity to want to theorise as to why British, French, Dutch or German born citizens of a minority ethnic background are not patriotic to their place of birth!
After the recent bombardment with the idea that we can defeat the evil of terrorism (whatever the shapes and forms it may take) with sharpened pencils and ‘by our refusal to stop mocking islam’ [Corey Oakley (January 11, 2015)], it may be time to consider the contradictions between the power of pen/pencil and the ways we act as powerful nations. If pen is more powerful than sword why have our nations been agents of death, violence and destruction through the machinations of our war instruments? Umbrellas may have made China and Hong Kong quake, but it is certainly not pens, pencils or crayons that continue to kill, destroy and displace millions across Arab nations, Palestine and in Africa. Tell these people and those of colonial times that we fight wars with ideas and pictures or pens and pencils, and they would literally ‘die of laughter’.
Let us not fool ourselves: we have seen the power of pencil, pen, quill and computer keyboard to make a mess of lives and the ways in which we view each other with fear and suspicion. Just think of the ways that these writing instruments have been used to stir up hatred, drive fears, feed prejudices, make 2nd and 3rd generation children of migrants strangers in their country, destroy innocent lives, rewrite laws to close borders and to lock up people in the name of terror and security! The language may have changed but the tactic is old!
Of course pencil, pen, quill and keyboard have been and can be used to ‘make fire in the belly of the beast’ – to advocate the right to protest, to dissent, to strike, to object because of conscience, to refuse to buy into the neo-liberal view of economic growth, to make uncomfortable the lives of greedy corp-o-crats, to lament the scandalous inequalities between those who have and those who do not have, to mourn the loss of compassion and care as we refuse to offer sanctuary to vulnerable strangers and to stir sleeping people to rise up (resurrect) in rebellion against policies that rob many of their dignity and basic human rights.
And be prepared – the ‘beast’ will not only turn on you with the laws of their pencil or pen, but with the might of the machinery of ‘homeland-security’!
©jagessar – words and image january 18, 2015