Antisemitism: civilization at a crisis point.

On 19 February, at the Central Synagogue in London, there was held in conjunction with the Henry Jackson Society, a debate on “Europe and Antisemitism – are we at a civilizational crisis point?” It is worth observing that this was just four days after a kindred gathering in Copenhagen was interrupted by a gunman who burst in, opened fire, killed two and injured five.

I first became aware of this London debate when one of the speakers, Brendan O’Neill, published on line the transcript of his opening address. Immediately I began looking out for an online video. When I found it, I found something very important.

After introductions from Chazan Steven Leas and Rabbi Barry Marcus the moderator, Alan Mendoza, explains that each of the speakers will deliver an opening address. I intend in this posting to focus just on those opening addresses, though I could not tear myself away from watching all the rest and I doubt you will either.

Brendan O’Neill [5:55 – 13:25] has been on this blog before. I have appreciated his writing for many years, never more so than recently, but in his previous posting I bemoaned his practice of reading a script. When I read the transcript of this address I noticed with satisfaction that it was written in spoken rather than written English, and I hoped that I would see him shooting it from the hip. Sadly it was not to be. He has obviously put time and trouble into improving his ability to read discreetly, dropping in the occasional “um” or “er” as camouflage, and this is presumably because he doesn’t believe he could ever do a set-piece without a script. He’s wrong. In a couple of hours I could easily have him throwing away scripts for ever, and the improvement in perceived fluency would be huge. No one else on this panel reads from a script.

For all that, this is a valuable opening shot, and it was always going to be because O’Neill is brilliant. He also has an excellent track-record on the theme of this meeting. He and his publication, Spiked Online, are the sponsors of the Free Speech Now campaign. Also in a recent article for Spiked entitled Ukiphobia: the prejudices that dare not speak their name“, in which he excoriated a recent docudrama on British TV’s Channel 4, he pointed out that in a scene depicting street violence one of the fictitious thugs was seen carrying an Israeli flag – what a pretty subliminal message!. His summary parting shot is that there need to be more young people prepared to stand up and be counted. Presumably he is not looking to the universities to provide them, metastatically infected as they are by imbecilic movements like “No Platform”.

Simone Rodan [13:30 – 18:35]. English not being her first language she enunciates it beautifully (it’s a widespread phenomenon). Therefore with absolute clarity we hear an horrendous catalogue of French statistics of antisemitic attacks, combined with official blind-eye-turning. With respect to this last, she echoes O’Neill’s observation concerning double standards in establishment terminology. If a Muslim is attacked it is “hate-crime”; if a Jew is attacked it is “inter-communal tension”. Her summary parting shot is that we are not going to make any progress till we eschew euphemisms and we name the problem.

Rodan is the only one of the four speakers to come even close to the 5-minute time allocation for these opening addresses. I was going to castigate Mendoza for lax discipline, till I realized that this panel not being adversarial none of the panelists will care.

Maajid Nawaz [18:47 – 30:21] begins by producing a smartphone, and warning the audience that he is about to play a recording that they might find disturbing. He is right to do so. It is not for me to tell you what it is, but it will chill your blood. For me Nawaz takes the blue riband at this gathering, which is saying something when the competition is so fierce. Nawaz is superb.  His articulacy, coherence and passion are outstanding.

He congratulates everyone for their courage in being present. They are all in danger. The Copenhagen atrocity was only four days earlier and had as much security as this gathering. Like Rodan he stresses the importance of naming the problem. He speaks of the “Voldemort effect” – he who must not be named. Because we are frightened of naming the threat it increases the hysteria. Islamist jihad attacks must be named as such – are you listening, Mr Obama?

Lest you have not clicked the link on his name, let me tell you that Nawaz was a convicted Islamist terrorist. Today he is no less a Muslim and campaigns fiercely against Islamist terrorism through Quilliam, a counter-extremism think-tank that he co-founded. Watch and listen. The audience listens in rapt silence.

Douglas Murray [30:36 – 38:51]  Nawaz finishes saying, “there’s someone far better than me waiting to speak”. I don’t blame him: Douglas Murray is formidable – and that happens to be the title of one of his previous appearances in this blog. When I first saw the lineup I summed it in my mind as O’Neill, Murray and others. That was before I heard the others. Where Murray is equipped with an articulacy that is almost surgical Nawaz has overt passion to back up his articulacy. But what the hell, this isn’t a bloody contest! –  and anyway if you are tempted to think of Murray as a bit of a cold fish you should go back and watch him while Nawaz is playing that recording.

Interestingly, being the last to speak, Murray has clearly decided not so much to prepare a set piece, as simply to trust his considerable ability, coherence and knowledge of the subject to fill in any gaps that the others have left. This makes his delivery a little halting at times, but consequently warmer than he can often appear. His own passion and sincerity come shining through. And like the others he picks up the theme of naming the threat – Islamist extremism.

That concludes the opening addresses, and there remain an hour and ten minutes of questions. I commend all of it.

At the end of my recent second post on Mordechai Kedar I listed some questions to which I had no answer. This meeting goes some way towards suggesting solutions to them. But it also does for me something far more important. In my post on Mark Steyn, just after the Charlie Hebdo atrocities in Paris, I described myself as a fervent believer in people. I admit to times when that fervent belief gets tested, but when I see and hear young people (they’re the same age as my sons!) courageously speaking such sense it lifts my cynical heart.

I think this video is possibly the most important one currently on YouTube.

Rudy Giuliani excoriates POTUS

On February 13 the Iranian American Community of Arizona held a symposium in Phoenix  on Countering Islamic Fundamentalism. One of the speakers was Rudy Giuliani, and he became mighty passionate.

This post follows one in which George Galloway, in the British parliament on 29 January, spoke very passionately about the war in Iraq; so we find ourselves with a double bill of passionate politicians. Anyone would think I’d planned it.

Giuliani is introduced by the symposium’s moderator, Linda Chavez. Before we move on, I want to point out how effective it is for Ms Chavez to personalize this introduction. Their political careers cause them to have been acquainted for many years, and she uses reminiscence to make the introduction much more interesting than it might have been.

OK, hold on to your hat. You are in for a storm. He doesn’t burst out of the starting stalls. That would be cheap, a waste of energy, and Giuliani shows himself to be far too skillful a speaker to make that mistake. He starts with quiet intensity, building from a slow burn all the way up to thunder. Surely it is not just chance that the first powerful auxesis hits its summit  at 4:06 with his crying out the words, “Is there no passion?”

There’s passion all right, and he is exhibiting it.

He plays this audience like a skilled angler. He reels them in, building up to mighty shouts, calming down to let them get their breath back, building up again, introducing long pauses for them to reflect, etc.  Also note how he never uses the top volume ‘at’ his audience. Sometimes it’s the big rhetorical question like “Is there no passion?” addressed – as it were – to  the sky: sometimes he is shouting (so to speak) at the US President. It’s a very good technique, because he is not seen to be ranting at his audience, but with them on their behalf – being their spokesperson. And they are loving it – check out the applause. This guy is good!

Having started with what he sees as the President’s weakness towards Islamism, and having then moved into the President’s weakness towards the untrustworthiness of Iran’s theocratic regime it’s time for a third prong to his attack. At 15:30 he moves into a different arena.

Most of this audience will know a lot about Camp Liberty in Iraq. In case my reader doesn’t, but wants to understand this section of the speech better, here is a link to an article published in the British Sunday Telegraph. In the article you will see that Giuliani does not come new to this story, but marched in a protest about it in Paris in June 2013. The story does not make pretty reading, nor does it represent the proudest moment for the USA or the UN – or Britain, come to that. Small wonder some of us come close to despair over our representatives.

Loud or soft, this speech is constantly intense and, of course, shot from the hip. Giuliani (I’m changing metaphors here) plays it like a symphony. Agree with him or not, he’s some speaker!

At 21:10 he asks, “Where are the moderate Muslims?” He is speaking about the M.E.K. but if I had scripted the question for him, I could not have arranged a better cue for the blog posting that will follow this in a few days. it is going to be difficult to write because it concerns a video that is arguably one of the most important on YouTube at the moment.  I hope I can do it justice.

George Galloway: angry

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.

That quote has been attributed to several people, including Ambrose Bierce and Groucho Marx, but it is generally a good piece of advice regardless.

On the other hand, as I tell my public speaking trainees, well directed passion is worth buckets of technique. In this posting I want to examine a speech delivered as recently as the 29th of January in the British Parliament. It was on the subject of the Iraq war inquiry. The speaker, George Galloway, gets very passionate.

Galloway is not noted as a shrinking violet. Many will remember his appearing before a US Senate hearing in May 2005 in which, not in the least over-awed, he hit back hard at all accusations. Here it is, if you want a reminder.

So what did you expect – an apparently mindless rant? He’s done it before, after all. No, Galloway is far too smart an operator to make that mistake here. This speech is tailored to this audience. It follows the second Cardinal rule in my book.

This is statesmanlike, passionate as all hell but statesmanlike.

These days, ‘statesmanlike’ is too often held to mean ‘bland’. And read from a script, God help us! But Galloway shoots this entire speech effortlessly and with complete confidence from the hip. And, incidentally, his diction is such that he loses not a syllable. He is as capable as I’ve seen. He is in the top 5% of speakers I’ve covered on this blog, and I tip my hat to him.

He observes all the arcane parliamentary niceties of terminology, quotes past legislators, and bestows credit towards even his political opponents when he deems it appropriate. He quotes wise saws and modern instances. He demonstrates that you don’t need a script to deploy elegant wordplay, like the distinction he makes between ‘false’ and ‘falsehood’.

For all that, this is mighty powerful! My own political opinions could not be more at odds with his, yet I am hard pressed to contest a word he says. He calls the endless procrastination over the Chilcot report a scandal, and so it is. He places the blame on Parliament, and so he should. But the Westminster bubble will ignore him as it ignores all inconvenience and will continue to do till the electorate properly exercises its democratic muscle.

It’s refreshing to see sincere passion in a politician, but I have to tell you that you ain’t seen nothing. My next posting is planned to be on a speech by a politician on the other side of the Atlantic. Passion? It makes this look like wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey from bone china. Come back in a couple of days, and hold on to your hat.

Mordechai Kedar’s history of Islam

I do not know.

Wisdom begins with those words. I picked up that nugget from Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev who has been featured on this blog several times, and whose first posting in April ’13 is by far the widest-read of all my postings – nearly two years later barely a day goes by without its being viewed.

If you start by acknowledging to yourself that you do not know, questions automatically spring up; and surely we all have questions concerning the activities of militant Islamists around the world. The questions usually begin with “why”.

  • Why do militant Palestinians apparently believe they are at liberty, with honour, to renege on every peace deal they make with Israel?
  • Why do Islamists routinely burn Christian churches and murder Christians in barbarous ways?
  • Why do Islamists think it justifiable to fly aeroplanes into skyscrapers in the name of a religion whose name means ‘peace’?
  • Why do the theocratic rulers of Iran deem it respectable to declare an aim to destroy the Jewish race?
  • Etc. ad tedium.

In my previous post we saw Dr Mordechai Kedar speaking in November 2012, and I stated that six months later he made another speech in which he more clearly laid out Islam’s history from his viewpoint. Here it is.

I shall wear my rhetor hat just long enough to observe that beginning a speech with nearly a minute of ‘thankings’ is not good speaking practice – yes, actors do it at the Oscars which makes my point because actors tend to be lousy public speakers. Having watched this speech several times, and also done a little research into Dr Kedar, I conclude that he felt strongly compelled to issue these thanks. Also there is really nowhere else in this speech to put them. So the bottom line  is, don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. Kedar had to.

Rhetor hat off.

Watch this speech and you find those ‘why’ questions very liberally supplied with very plausible answers. Essentially, it would appear, the mere existence of Judaism and Christianity represent an affront because they give the lie to Islam’s claim to have existed for centuries before it actually did.

Is Kedar right?

I do not know.

His version fits a great many current observations very well. It obviously is considerably more complicated than can be told in less than a quarter of an hour, and Kedar said in the speech covered in my previous post that he could speak on the subject all night, but it is very plausible. If this were a scholarly paper there would be a bibliography that we could follow to check details, but it isn’t. Let us just now, however, work with the supposition that he is right. As any seeker after truth knows, every question answered always throws up dozens of other questions. The science is never settled: the whole truth is never found.

Here are some questions that were not in Kedar’s brief but nevertheless need addressing.

  • Why do the western mainstream media routinely take the Palestinian side when they renege on their peace agreements?
  • Why do universities in western democracies think it justified to treat as a pariah the country with the only operating democracy in the middle east?
  • Why are western governments such abject apologists for Islamism?
  • Why is every Islamic atrocity always greeted within minutes by a public pronouncement from some politico-jerk bending over backwards to paint Islam as the victim and warning of “Islamophobic backlash” when such a thing never happens?

I do not know.

Mordechai Kedar tries to explain.

Unspeakable acts are daily reported being perpetrated, in the name of Islam, upon Christians in the middle east and north Africa. We read of kidnap, mass rape, beheadings and burnings. The word that constantly assails me is, “Why?”

In my perpetual search for speeches of interest I recently found two by Mordechai Kedar, and I want to examine both. Today’s was delivered in November 2012 in the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem to a symposium called The Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East. Dr Kedar is a noted scholar and lecturer in this very subject, so as well as scrutinizing his speaking skill I am eager to learn what he has to teach.

This speech is more than two years old, yet begins with a heart-stopping episode which is brutally topical this week. Kedar shows a video clip of a Muslim preparing to behead a Christian. He mercifully stops the video before the actual act, but informs us that the video itself does not. He summarizes this opening with the words, “Welcome to the Arab Spring”.

So begins a history lesson. I thought I knew a little about all of this, but I knew nothing. I now know a little. I invite you to watch the video and join me in knowing a little.

He has notes, but he barely looks at them. His focus and attention is exactly where it should be, on his audience and how well it is absorbing his message. He is shooting from the hip. His audience engagement is almost total.

Almost? Yes, because there remains one small item that turns out to be separating him from totality of engagement. He tells us more than once that he is going to address the question of why all this is happening, and starts by teaching us the origin of the Coptic Christian church of Egypt and the intriguing and plausible theory of the etymology of the word Copt. And then, at 6:20, something small but significant happens. He removes his spectacles. That is the symbolic moment that his audience engagement becomes total. That is the moment he really gets in the driving seat.

That is also the moment that I begin not to care about the quality of his speaking and simply want to listen.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that there are two speeches by Dr Kedar that I want to examine. I was torn over which to look at first, and decided on this chiefly because it was delivered first – around six months before the other. The other nevertheless is much clearer on the history. I will return with the other one in a day or two.

Michael Nazir’ Ali and marriage

In November 2014, in the Synod Hall at The Vatican there was staged an interreligious colloquium entitled Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman

We have previously looked at speeches delivered to it by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Henry B. Eyring. In the latter post I expressed puzzlement at the extraordinarily precipitate legislation that was railroaded through most western governments almost simultaneously in 2014. Where, I ask myself, was the groundswell of opinion that caused the sudden overthrowing of centuries of accumulated wisdom concerning the essence of marriage? Where were the demonstrations, where the street-corner oratory, that persuaded governments to such a piece of legal and social vandalism with scant debate? No answer comes. If I search for debate and dialogue on the subject I find none before the politicians announced their intent, and after it merely imbecilic name-calling at those who questioned. This tends to be the way with fashionable pieties.

Today we look at a speech to the colloquium, delivered on 18 November by the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir’ Ali. I have admired Bishop Michael for many years, not least because he persistently questions and often disputes the dictates of Political Correctness rather than meekly following the line of least resistance.

Michael for the first minute draws attention to the atrocity that occurred that morning at a synagogue in Jerusalem. It is not the most upbeat of openings, but who could deny that it has to be addressed?

Michael spurns script or notes.

He begins by defining marriage, citing a whole range of witnesses – recent university research, historic context, the churches’ role, St Augustine of Hippo, various more modern philosophers, and even the law. He moves on into the reasons for marriage, listing the benefits for children, for the married couple, and for Society. Finally he addresses what can be done by either the church or the state to help the institution, covering the need for preparing a couple for marriage and preparing each individual for being a father or mother. Throughout, he includes illustrative material to bring it all alive.

It is a tripartite structure, and not particularly difficult to remember or to operate. That is why Michael does not need script or notes. But it lacks a narrative thread.  I look now at that preceding paragraph and think how easy it would be to conceive a theme that created a thread to make the speech much more digestible for the audience and – more importantly – memorable. The improvement would be marked.

He is good, and I did not expect otherwise, but even the good can use help.

We shall at this blog be returning to this colloquium with at least one more speech.

Peter Bone gets the point.

In November 2014, on the day that the United Kingdom Independence Party in the guise of Mark Reckless was easily gaining a parliamentary seat in a by-election at Rochester & Strood, The Cambridge Union was holding a debate under the motion,

This House Believes UKIP has been Good for British Politics

The debate was opened by Patrick O’Flynn for the proposition. He was followed by Rupert Myers for the opposition. We examined both those speeches in December, and today I want to look at a speech in proposition by Peter Bone. Between the end of Rupert Myers and the beginning of Peter Bone there are twelve minutes of floor speeches. They vary enormously, in quality of both content and delivery, and some time I look forward to examining all those.

Peter Bone begins at 37:46 and ends at 50:40.

No notes! He shoots his speech from the hip. It could be argued that he semi-wings it, but the winging happens only when answering his many interjections.

His most important contribution to the debate thus far is actually to address the motion. Neither of the previous speakers did. O’Flynn set off to do so, but tended then merely to give us an advertisement for UKIP. Myers barely pretended to address the motion, merely hurling tribal brickbats. The motion does not concern itself with whether UKIP’s policies are good or bad but whether the party’s emergence has been a healthy addition to overall political discourse. It would appear from an interjection that even when Bone has highlighted what the motion actually is Myers has not the wit to grasp the distinction.

The time slots in this debate appear to be twelve minutes. Bone receives so many interjections, only one of them remotely relevant, that sitting down, getting up again and answering the points consumes so many minutes that he receives time warnings when he has been actually speaking for a fraction of his allotted span. But that is the nature of the game, and he remains courteous and good humoured.

He made his point and drew attention to the actual motion, but I fear most of the audience were too focused on straw men to understand.

Stephen Fry’s fundamentally closed mind

A video clip lasting less than two-and-a-half minutes, published on YouTube five days ago on 28 January, has already exceeded three million views. It features Stephen Fry, very well interviewed by Gay Byrne, talking about his atheism. I first came across it, being shared all over the place on Facebook. The question Byrne asked him was what he’d say to God if he met him.

I have several times described myself in this blog as a ‘devout doubter’. I also like to think of myself as a seeker after truth. Therefore I just had to watch it.

I once here gave Fry a kicking for something rather stupid, and on another occasion praised him fulsomely for a well delivered speech. In the Facebook posting Fry is described as ‘one of the most articulate men on TV’. Well yes he is, but look at the competition.

My first complaint is that I really didn’t expect someone as well-read as he to use an argument that is so old hat – a God who is omnipotent and benign nevertheless presides over a world that contains misery, etc. It is just so hoary, threadbare and facile that I suspect a seventeen-year-old A-level theology student could crush it without breaking sweat.

My second is that it apparently hasn’t dawned on him that God, and fallible mankind’s historic definition of God, might be slightly at odds.

My third is that I should have expected Fry to consider himself a seeker after truth, except seekers after truth ask questions, seek explanations. Fry simply relieved himself of statements. Here are some samples.

  • Capricious, mean-minded, stupid God
  • God […] is quite clearly a maniac – totally selfish
  • You could easily have made a creation in which [nasty things] didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable.
  • It is perfectly apparent that he is monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatever.

You get the picture? This is a hypothetical conversation with God at the Pearly Gates. If the above had been prefaced with, “I really need to understand. Please explain why…” he might have emerged with a respectable position. He did utter the word “why” a couple of times, but rhetorically. This is not an open mind. This is fundamentalism. This is a classic example of the fundamental atheist who thinks he doesn’t believe, but actually passionately believes – in no God. He fundamentally believes he has found the truth. The science is settled.

What idleness! What a disappointment!

Seek the company of those who search for truth; run from those who have found it.           Andre Gide