Jean-Jacques Cornish

It would be easier to keep quiet

By Jean-Jacques Cornish

The pen is mightier than the sword. Unless, as we saw in France last week, you happen to be holding the sword.

If this, or anything I write in this piece, offends you, good.

It means I am doing my job.

Je suis Charlie.

And good for you if you are reading on.

We might have linked arms in Paris yesterday. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddist in a gathering larger than the 1945 liberation from Nazi occupation.

The very basis of the democracy we are so fond of saying we fought and died for is the obligation to defend to the death the other person’s right to say that with which you profoundly disagree.

That amounts to defending another’s right to be offensive.

If Charlie Hebdo – the French satirical magazine subjected to a decimating jihadi attack – stands for anything then that is the right to be offensive.

In fact, insulting. Throughly objectionable.

The magazine has done that in the face of banning and firebombing.

It began life as Hari Kiri and was banned in 1970 for mocking the death of former President Charles de Gaulle.

Most of the staff simply migrated to Charlie Hebdo named for the Charles Schulz cartoon character with hebdo being the shortened form of a weekly publication.

The Catholic Church has more often been its religious target and the Jewish faith has tasted the full force of its vituperation.

Interestingly both have condemned Wednesday’s attack.

The politicians who have taken up the cudgels for Charlie Hebdo have, to a man or woman, been viciously stabbed by the pens and pencils they now protect.

Those of usproud of our French heritage speak fondly of baguettes, croissants, Beaujoulais nouveau and tricolores.

Last week we had to examine the more serious side of that link: freedom of speech.

It is the very root of democracy. The real meaning of liberte, fraternite, egalite.

It is extremely difficult and dangerous. It is much easier to be politically correct, keep quiet and avoid offending.

But then you don’t get a society that is the envy of the world.

President Francois Hollande, who’s deportment since the Charlie Hebdo outrage would have done his record-low popularity rating no harm, explained that his compatriots were paying for decisions taken in the Elyssee Palace and Quay d’Orsay.

You could, of course, avoid getting involved in driving Al Qaeda out of northern Mali.

You could turn your face against joining the war on terror.

There would a moral price for this and, with any luck, no physical toll.

But then you would not be France.

(This piece first appeared on JJ


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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.