Charles Asher Small obliterates the wrong target.

On 21 January 2016 the Oxford Union staged a debate with the proposition This House Believes Holocaust Denial Should Not Be Criminalised. As with many such debates it is worth watching in full. I have and so can you, starting by following this link. The first thing you will learn from the first speaker is that both sides of the house are fiercely opposed to holocaust denial; so the debate is purely about the best means to counter it.

My previous post was from a proposition speaker, Deborah Lipstadt. Today we hear from an opposition speaker, Charles Asher Small. Both of these are professors, both Jewish, both vigorous campaigners against antisemitism and holocaust denial. But they are on opposing sides of this debate, which — part from the quality of the speaking — is what interests me.

He has paper on that dispatch box, but he is using it as a security blanket. Often during the first two minutes he looks at it fleetingly, not long enough to read anything but long enough to reassure himself it is there. This is a common hump symptom, but it’s nearly the only one he is displaying. When, at 2:00, he swings into the history of antisemitism he is firmly on his home turf, the hump dissolves and he scarcely acknowledges the presence of the paper again. Now he is clearly shooting from the hip, and is the more compelling for it.

It’s a powerful speech, an impassioned and well-delivered speech, and against the background of historical antisemitism it highlights incidence and danger of antisemitism as it exists today. That last, inasmuch as it might educate his audience, is its strength.

Its weakness is that both sides of the debate already agree on its message.

Criminalising something reprehensible is a blunt instrument. It appeals to our shallowest instincts, but frequently does little more. It is often counter-productive, serving to create martyrs out of offenders. Prof. Small is very effectively feeding our disapproval of antisemitism, and that feeding and spreading of disapproval is far more effective than applying the dead hand of the law to the problem. Furthermore, though antisemitism may be at the root of the problem it is not specifically the subject of this debate which is about the criminalisation of holocaust denial.

So it’s a very good speech, but not a good debating instrument. Professor Lipstadt, on the other hand, gave us technical legal examples of how criminalising holocaust denial can impede the fight against it. That is why I am not in the least surprised that the motion was carried. Professor Lipstadt’s team won.

Deborah Lipstadt. Very good.

On 21 January 2016 the Oxford Union staged a debate with the proposition This House Believes Holocaust Denial Should Not Be Criminalised. As with many such debates it is worth watching in full. I have and so can you, starting by following this link. The first thing you will learn from the first speaker is that both sides of the house are fiercely opposed to holocaust denial; so the debate is purely about the best means to counter it.

There are six speakers and, though I found all the arguments interesting, I lament at the almost universal use of paper. If you are going to debate, it surely makes sense to learn how to be a proper speaker and dispense with a script.

I have chosen to cover two of them in postings on this blog. Today we look at one of the speakers for the proposition, Professor Deborah Lipstadt.

Kicking off with a stupendous opening, consisting of an immensely powerful ethos, this speech is excellently argued. It would all be even better if she did not read it.

And she doesn’t need to. The clarity of the structure and the expressiveness with which she relays what she has written is all the evidence I need that she has all the points she wants to make lodged firmly in her head, and had her script accidentally been lost her speech would be just as good and probably better. That is despite some of her arguments being, perforce, counter-intuitive and needing to be expressed in very precise wording.

It is for that reason that I shan’t try to précis or summarise her arguments. I just urge you to listen to her. And while you are about it you may notice the bearded young man behind her right elbow, concentrating fiercely and towards the end nodding in satisfaction at the arguments she delivers. He faithfully reflects me and my reactions.

She closes with a naughty pun, and harvests a well-deserved laugh.

Geert Wilders is controversial

In 2017 the Heroes of Conscience Awards Dinner, held by the American Freedom Alliance had its keynote speech delivered by Dutch Member of Parliament, Geert Wilders. He was their Hero of Conscience honoree for 2009.

If the speaker introducing Wilders seems familiar, it could mean that you are a very assiduous reader of this blog, as Evan Sayet had a speech critiqued here in November 2017. It is sadly one of those postings that no longer have a speech to watch, as that speech has been taken off line. It is time I critiqued another of his speeches, but in the meantime I have doctored that posting a little by replacing the removed video with a five-minute cameo speech from Sayet. I wonder how long they will allow that one to remain.

Either Evan Sayet is very small or Geert Wilders is a giant. At the hand-over/handshake Sayet barely reaches Wilders’ shoulder. It’s not an important detail, just a passing observation.

As often happens on this blog, my first impression of Wilders is disappointment that he is reading his speech. I know that English is not his first language, indeed given that he lived for a time in Israel it may not be even his second language, but my having been married for a quarter of a century to a Dane I tend to take for granted that Northern Europeans speak brilliant English. Regardless, I know for certain that Wilders could easily be taught to dispense with that script and speak even more compellingly than he does.

My second impression is when he commends the audience on their courage for being there. He tells us the building is protected by several armed security officers. This for him is commonplace: he lives with constant armed protection because those nice people who espouse the Religion of Peace have condemned him to death.

They are not the only ones hounding him: the political class all over Europe tie themselves in knots trying to silence this senior European parliamentarian. What little success they have had has always been temporary.

There is no denying that he is controversial. You may agree or disagree with his views but you at least can know what it is that you agree or disagree with, without having to rely on hearsay reporting from increasingly untrustworthy media, because the USA has the First Amendment and because I support free speech.