Which is more dangerous, a gun or a keyboard? The answer might surprise you.
Picture this: You’re in a coffee shop, attempting to catch a moment of zen and bliss before starting the daily grind. Suddenly, a suspicious-looking fellow, sporting that discomforting hybrid of a full-on beard and a five o’clock shadow, pulls a laptop from a black messenger bag. The tranquil atmosphere of the establishment is instantly transformed into complete pandemonium. “Oh my God, he’s got a keyboard!” screams an unfortunate bystander. “Someone call the police!” wails a second. “I’m too young to die, I’ve never even been in love!” cries a third, much to the surprise of her boyfriend cowering beside her.
The sheer ridiculousness of this hypothetical situation underscores the prevalence of freedom of speech in the first world and beyond. Internet discourse, in particular, is accepted nonchalantly, no matter how provocative, offensive, or downright bizarre its content may be. It’s just words, and blogging and bombing are rarely considered to be in the same category (except perhaps the category of “things that blow up in their creator’s face”).
And yet, it’s actually the keyboard that’s the more dangerous of the two. In fact, in many parts of the world such action can get you more jail time than throwing hard objects at law enforcement agents. Just look at poor Hamza Kashgari. A simple tweet ran this fellow afoul of the law, and there have even been calls for his execution. And this is not an isolated incident, not by a long shot. Similar silencing of bloggers has all over the world, including Syria and Moldova. Make no mistake, some regimes treat the keyboard, and its use, with the same gravity as if were a bomb. Do you and a friend have a death wish? Go to a totalitarian country, one with a laptop and the other with an explosive device, and have a race to see who can get arrested first. You might even tie.
And repressive regimes have a point. They secured complete control over their hapless citizens because they were brutal, not dumb. The free flow of uncensored ideas is potentially the most powerful and subversive force in the world. In ages past, it was possible to retain control of the populace by simply breaking up gatherings, burning books, and smashing printing presses and/or rogue scribes. Those days of easy repression are long past, and now dictators must work harder to keep their power. Now, with the advent of the internet, revolutionary ideas can be transmitted with breathtaking ease and speed across continents, languages, and peoples, by virtually anyone, anywhere, at any time.
So if you’re scrawny and weak, poor and unskilled, or lacking in weapons and training, don’t feel down. You can wield more influence in your small electronic writing instrument than a general in a first-rate army. Take pride in this knowledge. Power to the keyboard.