In May 2016, at AJC Europe in Paris, Maajid Nawaz delivered a talk on the global jihadist insurgency. He is a Muslim, founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank. AJC is a Jewish advocacy organisation. This talk represents ecumenism at an exalted level.
This is not the first time he has appeared in this blog. He was the third speaker on the magnificent panel that I featured here. He was very good and I said so. He subsequently sent me an email of thanks. It would be idle and foolish of me to claim that that event was not dangerous and stressful – it was, very – but in terms of the actual process of delivering a piece of speaking he was surrounded by elements of comfort. For instance there were the other speakers, all with varying versions of an agreeing message, they were all sitting behind a desk (curiously comforting), and so on. Therefore when I saw that he had delivered this speech, standing alone at a lectern, I was interested to see how well he coped without those comfort factors. I so want him to be as good as he can be.
Oh no, he has a script!
I could understand if a reader of mine viewed with exasperation my always harping on this point, but it matters even though Nawaz barely looks at it. Even if he never looked at it because he’d learnt it (and I suspect this is close to the case) I would still know it existed, and it would still matter.
I would know it existed because the sentences are just a little too well parsed to be spontaneous, and that’s why it would matter. Because there is a script the passion behind what he is saying is not coming straight from him, but from the script via him. I don’t say that the passion is not genuine: indeed I know it is genuine. My problem is that not being spontaneous the passion crosses the space between him and the audience with a tiny reduction in power. If ever there was a message of such importance that even a subtle reduction in power is a hideous pity, it is this one.
The reduction is so small for several reasons. He feels the passion strongly. He has obviously practised. He is driven by a fierce desire to get his message across. It is actually a good script, written with the intention (very nearly achieved) that it should sound spoken rather than written.
He has done almost everything right. Almost. He now has to learn how to speak without a script whether or not it is memorised, and also learn that he can. Here and now with total conviction I can tell you that he can; but till he absolutely knows it he won’t dare try.
This is a very well-conceived speech, and such an important one!
At 08:14 someone in the audience shows agreement with a little clap that we can’t hear. It generates a round of applause, and this is just what he needs. Spurred, he departs from the script with a little aside of appreciation and then returns to the fray with added impetus. Now he is speaking as if with no script (I wonder whether he has departed from it and is speaking largely spontaneously around it). Now he is fully in the driving seat, instead of perching with half a buttock on the handbrake. This is how he should have sounded from the start: this borders on excellence.
At 11:50 he reminds us that he knows so much about the Islamist methods of persuasion because he used to be one who practised them. If you want to see how plausible he was, you can get a taste of his former self here.
It is his depth of understanding of the whole problem that makes Maajid Nawaz so valuable, and why his being even a tenth of a notch below excellence such a pity.