Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A pen or a bullet?

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

On the 20th of July, 2015, Professor Brook Beshah, Director of the leadership Center, introduced a topic on International Conflict and Peace Journalism in a class of 16 SUSI 2015 scholars. His first question was “What is more powerful? A pen or a bullet”. I remember a number of hands shot up and immediately the class was divided into three camps.; those who believed the bullet was more powerful, those who believed the pen is and those on the fence. I was more on the fence but bent towards  those who believed  the pen was  mightier.
But if after the class I was still on the fence, a visit to the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Center not only brought me down the fence but converted and water immersion baptized me into a firm believer that a pen is mightier than a bullet.
English novelist Edward George Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873) is credited to have coined this proverb. In the original quote he says “Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword.” Of course the proverb has been modified to meet the current battlefield trends and hence the use of bullet instead of sword.
In a layman’s language the proverb simply means, words, negotiations, diplomacy, are more powerful than military interventions or violent solutions. By extension, and in Dr. King Junior's philosophy, non violent means should always be given a priority.

I am happy that the proverb does qualify the statement with the use of the word “more”. In other words Lytton admits that a bullet is powerful, but argues  that a pen is “more” powerful.
I  have to admit, however, that not all the times will words work. There are sections of our society whose DNA is not wired to understand, words, diplomacy, or negotiations. For example take ISIS, Al Shabab or Al qaeda. No matter how much you talk about words, all they understand is a gun, bomb and executions. I also do understand that a bullet has in many times ended very difficult battles or repressive regimes. Take for example in 1945. It only took strategic  dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the second world.

In 1994 it took a bullet to end the Rwandan Genocide But the questions is at what cost? Usually it is women who bear the brunt of war.

Usual victims of  the bullet
According to UNICEF,  children, women and girls in particular experience conflict and displacement  in different ways from men because of  the gender divisions of role and responsibilities. The saddest part is that this particular section of a population pay a price for wars that they don’t even understand. Anyways, I digress, back to the subject matter.

I studied ideologies of Martin Luther King Junior only because I was expected to in  both Primary and Secondary Schools. But since the visit to the Centre, I scrambled for anything that could make me understand this enigmatic and selfless man who even though predicting his own violent death, did not shy away from solving the predicament of the Blacks, and oppressed in general, through peaceful means. I viewed a number of videos from Youtube and to say I got goosebumps hearing the man speak, is an understatement. He believed in what he said, he was passionate about his cause and believed in the goodness of humanity. As a result he moved people to action with his words.

Inside the Martin Luther King Junior Centre in Atlanta
Yes a bullet took his short life. He was only 39, but his words have reverberated over the past decades and have seen many of the causes he fought for come to fruition.  The passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1968 can be fairly attributed to some of the campaigns led by this fearless leader. Four decades from that moving "I have a dream speech" at capital hill on August 28 1963, America had a first black president. This is not say the world's problems or the problems he peacefully protested against are over, far from it. But his words still ring true as they did when spoke them over 50 years ago.

Now going back to the bullet, how many times have we read, heard or event praised the bullet that took the lives of Ghandi, John F Kennedy, Thomas Sankala, John Chilembwe, Che Guvara and of course Martin Luther King Junior just to mention a few?. Perhaps it is indeed true taking into account an old African proverb, that is often times said in jest but its underlying truth remains relevant, that sometimes it takes a mosquito to land on your scrotum to realise there are always non violent means to solve a problem.

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