Benazir Bhutto speaks her own epitaph

In August 2007, four months before she was assassinated in Rawalpindi, Benazir Bhutto appeared at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The event was billed as ‘a conversation with…’. She was introduced by Richard N. Haass, president of the Council; she spoke for around 11 minutes; and then she joined Haass at a table where the conversation was conducted both with him and with the audience.

The above video material is almost an hour long (and a fascinating hour it is), but Ms Bhutto’s actual speech runs from 3:19 to 14:29.

After nearly 20 seconds of fairly formal preamble, thanking the council for inviting her, she actually begins at 3:38 with a strong anadiplosis which morphs into anaphora. “My country … is in a crisis. It’s a crisis which…  It’s a crisis which …” It is an opening which is silky smooth and very elegant.

Regular readers of this blog might be forgiven for thinking that I favour a more tub-thumping style of speaking, but it comes down to decorum. She is speaking in a manner which blends very well with the style of the occasion, her appearance, the timbre of her voice, the audience’s perception of her, etc. I have no quarrels whatever with the style of this speech.

She enjoys using anaphora. There are many examples. Beginning at 5:45 she has a small one on the words “a culture …”  At 6:31 there’s a more extensive one on the words “the freedom of…” At 8:24 she has a very long anaphora on the words “we see …”, and it’s not even hers! She is quoting a report from a US Intelligence threat assessment.

She has a script, but she doesn’t need it. You can tell that by how well she handles it – most of the time – with sustained periods with her face up to the audience rather than down and buried in the paper. I wish she had trusted herself to spend more time with her face up. There are several haltings which are of the type that typify those moments when the mind momentarily hunts for the next word that was written, rather than just trusting itself to utter the next word that naturally comes Those don’t happen later in the dialogue of the conversation itself, when she is perfectly fluent.

At 7:45 a sentence emerges that turns out to become the Face of the speech. “The choice is between dictatorship and democracy.”

At 12:38 she launches her peroration with the words, “Ladies and Gentlemen”, and stating that she plans to return to Pakistan to lead a democratic movement. The peroration is subtly slow to build, and indeed it never gets very strident; but with an element of steel in her voice and with the use of anaphora she makes it very clear that this is a Mission Statement – a statement of a mission which we with hindsight know will end in her death. As with all the best endings, you absolutely know when she has finished, even before she thanks the audience for their attention.

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