OPINION: The pen is mightier than the sword

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. Thoroughly 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 us proud 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.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News . Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish