Mohammed AlKhadra and courage

On 23 July, during the Secular Conference 2017 in London, there was a Plenary Session on the theme of Out, Loud And Proud. On the Panel was Mohammed AlKhadra, Founder of the Jordanian Atheist Group. This video of his speech was uploaded to YouTube by John Smith, and you can see from the strap-line at the top of the still picture what he thought of it.

He speaks for nine and a half minutes, and when the rapturous applause dies down the Chairman of the session, Dan Barker, tells us that this was AlKhadra’s first speech.

He opens almost abruptly. He thanks and indicates Maryam Namazie, whom he describes as the bravest woman he knows, and then he plunges straight into his speech. It’s as near as makes no difference a bald opening, and I would bet money that the first few sentences are memorised. Whoever advised him did well (perhaps it was he himself). Some of my trainees take some persuading that a bald opening is a wonderful way of busting a hump till they try it, at which point a typical reaction is “that was so liberating”. I also recommend that they memorise the first minute or two, and thereafter simply follow a clear structure and shoot from the hip. That looks to me the precise path followed by this young man, and it works beautifully.

At the beginning he is smothered in symptoms of nerves which reduce markedly when he pays tribute, at 0:45, to Richard Dawkins in the audience. By the time he hits an elegant anaphora – “How do I know …” just after 1:30 – hump symptoms have almost evaporated and he is in the driving seat. I feel myself relaxing on his behalf.

The speech is shaming. You don’t have to agree with his atheism to be hugely impressed by the courage he has shown and is showing in being true to himself, and how it compares to the whining of the spoilt brats in the West with their imbecilic victim culture, Safe Spaces, No Platforming, and protestations that everything with which they have been told to disagree is Hate Speech which threatens the comfort they claim they ‘deserve’. Consider what he risks with his apostasy and his determination to speak freely, and you might find yourself thinking that the masked idiots of Antifa, wielding their clubs under an alarmingly familiar flag to deprive people of free speech, should have their bottoms smacked and be sent to bed without supper.

It shames the way western politics has polarised into pathetic but vicious tribal nonsense while real and dangerous issues confront us all.

It shames hate speech laws, every one of which should be instantly repealed. In the UK we have had for many years a law against incitement to violence. What more do we need? If we do not have freedom of speech we do not have freedom. The USA, to its eternal credit, has the First Amendment; and political movements, to their eternal shame, try to chip away at it.

It shames the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service which currently boasts 83% success rate against imagined ‘hate crimes’, while drawing a veil over 0% prosecutions for real and widespread FGM.

Like you, no doubt, I fear for this young man’s future. Perhaps his speech will cause us to reflect on how to make fundamental changes to the political climate that endangers him.

And us. And our children. And theirs.

 

Vicky Ford paints herself phony

I always stress to my public speaking trainees the importance of first impressions.

Yes I know the concept is hardly apocalyptic; yet today we examine a speaker who should have known better, but destroyed her first impression with an elementary error.

In order to make my point I’d like you to consider the following short list of hypothetical first meetings –

  • Your beloved teenage child has brought the latest amour to your house to meet you.
  • An interviewee for a job has just sat down in the chair opposite.
  • Upon answering your front door bell you are confronted by a canvassing politician.

Suppose the other party opens the conversation with a compliment on your house/office/garden. That would seem a reasonable way to begin but suppose, before doing so, he or she pulls a sheaf of paper from a pocket, carefully unfolds it and then reads from it, “Golly, what a nice house/office/garden you have!” How much do you suppose that paper, and the reading from it, will take the shine off the compliment? The point I am clumsily trying to make, in case you haven’t spotted it, is that there are some things that just have to be seen to be uttered spontaneously, and an opening congratulatory compliment is one of the foremost.

Vicky Ford was the fourth speaker in a debate at the Cambridge Union in November 2014. The motion was This House Believes UKIP has been Good for British Politics and we have already examined the previous speeches from Patrick O’FlynnRupert Myers and Peter Bone. Vicky Ford begins at 51:21.

She opens with thanks to Mr President, appending a short impenetrable joke concerning Movember. Then her eyes descend to her script in order that she might read out, “It’s great to see the Chamber so full.”

I find it difficult to conceive of an opening more demonstrably phony – not the words, but the obvious reading of them. She warbles on for ten more minutes, but as I can no longer find a reason to believe a word I can’t be bothered with it.

To be fair, the audience seems to lap it all up, so good luck to her, but what really bothers me is why? WHY do audiences put up with speakers who couldn’t be bothered to learn to speak spontaneously?

If you ask people about those they regard as brilliant speakers they nearly always bring up the ability to speak without referring to notes, as if this was somehow magical. The skill is so easily taught that it should correctly be regarded as an elementary sine qua non. Audiences should not be impressed by speakers who do, but be prepared to boo off the platform any speakers who don’t. The trouble is that they have been lulled into accepting mediocrity.

I am not idly boasting when I say the skill is easily taught. Six senior executives from a household-name British company were last week the latest in several hundred trainees who after a single day with me were effortlessly shooting their speeches from the hip. Though I told them that speaking without paper says all the right things about the speaker in terms of sincerity, command of the subject, etc, I should have added that it follows that speaking with paper paints you phony.

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.

Mark Steyn, Islam, Europe and free speech

The blurb accompanying the YouTube video of today’s speech gives us little information other than it is an old bit of film, that its subject is “Islam and the end of Europe“, and the speaker is Mark Steyn. It goes on to give you the otherwise illegible wording that covers the screen at the beginning. If you wish to read it you can find it here. Meanwhile I find myself fishing around for more information.

The backdrop tells us that he is speaking to The Heritage Foundation. When John Hilboldt is introducing the session we have a long shot of the platform and see that the banner on the front of the lectern is the artwork for the cover of Steyn’s book, America Alone, published in 2006, whose subtitle is “the end of the world as we know it”. If you pay close attention to what he says you will find that it emerges that this speech took place in 2007. Steyn begins speaking at 5:34 and finishes at 31:11. The rest is questions.

Before someone starts jumping up and down, accusing me of jumping on the publicity bandwagon accompanying the appalling and tragic events in and around Paris last week, let me hasten to plead guilty. Yes, of course. The subject matter is almost constantly in the news in some way or another, but at this time it is more sharply in focus. I have had this speech up my metaphorical sleeve for some time, holding back on covering it principally because there are no very striking lessons to be learnt in respect of public speaking. What has always been interesting about it – and it is always interesting about Mark Steyn anyway – is the Cassandra factor. When we have a clear record of unheeded prophesy, we need to recognize it. There is a particularly prescient passage here, in the Q&A beginning at 35:25.

Steyn carries pre-publicity baggage. Everyone ‘knows’ that he is a wicked ultra-right-wing hawk. He acknowledges this reputation at 16:25. The interesting thing is that it’s not altogether true. Yes he dares to address what too many commentators duck. Yes he is prepared to be very blunt, particularly in his dealings with those whose adherence to fashionable pieties causes them to snipe at him; and the power of his articulacy causes Steyn’s bluntness to be very sharp.

Listen to this speech, read what he writes, and unless blinded by prejudice against him you quickly learn that his target is not really Islam. It is the willful refusal by too many to realize that there are issues to be addressed, and the only way to address them is in open debate. That debate could be tough but it won’t be as tough as the consequences of ignoring it for political expediency, or burying it under asinine ‘hate speech’ laws.

We’re talking about free speech here. On Sunday there was a huge march through Paris. Everyone knows that it was set up by a tsunami-like popular movement in favour of free speech. Television shots of that march were heart-warming till ruined by the sight of that dreadful front row.

The march had its front row hijacked by politicians and its purpose hijacked by the main-stream media. Why did the media call it a ‘Unity March’? Where did that preposterous name come from? Was it dreamed up by pathetic spin-doctors for those politicians, most of whom have a record on free speech that bears no scrutiny? If ever there was something whose momentum could achieve something really important, this is it. It still could. As a fervent believer in people I think people untrammeled by the establishment have a better chance of pulling something good out of all this than all the self-serving politicians, their cheerleaders in the media, and least of all the dismal offenderati. What is needed is openness, fresh air and sunlight. What is needed is free speech.

I’ll give you an example of how the establishment consistently makes things worse. Every time something like this happens there is an immediate knee-jerk reaction in the media from some politico-jerk about ‘islamophobic backlash’. The interesting thing is that it never actually happens. The reason is that people in general don’t hate or blame Muslims in general, just the pricks that foment appalling stuff like Paris and Nigeria. People know Muslims and like Muslims.

Right now, my favourite Muslim is Aboutaleb, the Mayor of Rotterdam.

Walter Williams and Liberty

It has not escaped the notice of YouTube that I have more than a passing interest in speeches; so they keep waving suggestions under my nose, so to speak. One such recently was a speech delivered by Dr Walter Williams to the Heartland Institute. Though Heartland posted this on YouTube only a couple of weeks ago, the speech was delivered in 1994. A brief search revealed that there are plenty of his newer speeches on line but I decided to stick with this one. Its title is The Role of Government in a Free Society.

Nice opening! The most effective way to use humour early in a speech is by keeping it restrained and thrown away. He did both and it worked.

A regular reader will expect me immediately to castigate him for reading this rather than shooting it from the hip. However, there is one thing that puts me on weak ground when I am dealing with what is essentially a lecture. ‘Lecture’ literally means ‘reading’. Williams would undoubtedly deliver this better if he shot it from the hip, though he might take some persuading. But watch this and you see that, every so often, he raises his head from his script and delivers sometimes quite a long aside, and always that section is more engaging than the scripted bit from which he digressed. Let’s move on.

The reason I decided to work with this speech is that he determinedly takes his topic as far upstream as possible and addresses first principles. With something as fundamental as freedom it’s obvious to look at fundamentals, because from there you can see clearly to conduct a debate over pragmatic compromises.

When it comes to liberty, few speakers bother themselves with fundamentals. This speech was delivered twenty years ago, since when the word ‘liberty’ has moved even further from its true meaning. Today successive governments work with a corrupted interpretation of the word that is frighteningly Orwellian and getting worse. Furthermore the mainstream media, both in print and broadcasting, are enthusiastic collaborators. The media may affect political posturing with partisan tribalism, but a need for ever-swelling government with steadily increasing control from ‘above’, is universally accepted by the self-appointed intelligentsia as a given.

If you don’t believe me, try to imagine the BBC or its equivalents around the world broadcasting this speech today. I bet you can’t, any more than you can imagine schools or universities allowing their students to be exposed to such dangerous material. If I may misquote Mark Anthony, “O freedom thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason”.

Dambisa Moyo and freedom

In June 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dambisa Moyo delivered a TED Talk entitled Is China the new idol for emerging economies.

Ted talks, though of mixed quality, usually offer good food for thought. Not knowing therefore how much I would wear my rhetor hat for this one, I settled down, notepad in hand.

When Ted boasts talks from the ‘world’s leading thinkers’ is it asking too much for competent sound engineers? When first we hear Moyo, we simultaneously hear threatened howl-round. There should have been a thorough sound-level-check before the audience was admitted, and anyway there are clip-on microphones these days whose range is so short that the wearer can stand close in front of a speaker without problems. Failing that, all the engineer can do is play the volume control; and we can hear that happening for the first few seconds. I would condemn them with the word, “Amateurs”, except that amateurs are more conscientious than that.

Ted speakers tend to shoot from the hip, and Moyo is no exception. Nevertheless she feels to me a little over-rehearsed. I suspect that she is not fully confident of her own ability to keep oriented and keep speaking, and therefore has practised till she can deliver this in her sleep. I’m being a little picky, because it’s all emerging smoothly and with enough vocal expression, but I just do not feel we are watching the real woman. My impression is that there is a more interesting and engaging person hiding in there.

The talk is mildly provocative, but what bothers me is that her entire argument is predicated on a widespread assumption that opinions are things to be imposed. People today seem to think that if you approve of something it automatically follows that you believe it should be compulsory, and that if you disapprove you want it banned. Whatever became of freedom?

Moyo tells us that, for some, economic freedom is more important than political freedom. Yes, I am sure she is right, but so what? She goes on to point out that the authoritarian political system in China has worked economic marvels. Good.

I would enjoy an argument about her assertion that economic growth is a pre-requisite for democracy. Also I itch to tell her that the term ‘state capitalism’ is as contradictory as ‘hot snow’. But that is merely terminology: my main problem is with her supposed East/West Schism.

She tells us that the West can either ‘compete’ or ‘co-operate’ with the East. We can either “go around the world, pushing an agenda of private capitalism…” or we can allow the East to adopt a political system that suits them. I call the latter course ‘minding our own business’. I can have perfectly good relations with my neighbour without wanting to dictate the colour he paints his kitchen.

I understand why Moyo feels this point needs making. The West has become a dreadful (and dreadfully pious!) busybody, seems intent on relinquishing free capitalism in favour of a creeping authoritarianism, and it has spawned an assumption that this is a natural process. There was that quotation from Ronald Reagan about the workings of government –

If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

If the West genuinely believes in freedom, a good way to show it would be by returning freedom to its own people and by accepting the diversity of other people’s opinions.

Ian Josephs and a can of worms

Every so often, readers of this blog contact me to suggest that I should look at certain speeches. They do so for a range of reasons. Usually they are interested in what I think of the speaker, but sometimes it’s something else. This is something else.

Ian Josephs has a blog of a very different kind to this. He works to help parents who he claims to have had their children forcibly snatched from them by the UK authorities. When I first looked at this speech, I also looked at other speeches he had made and other people speaking on the same subject. I found that I could choose to cover speeches by a TV Agony Aunt, a Member of Parliament, a columnist on a national broadsheet newspaper and many others besides. Nevertheless I returned to Josephs and the speech to which I had originally been referred.

An interesting feature of Party Political Conferences is the way you sometimes see, sandwiched between the smooth, polished, urbane parliamentarians, a firebrand from out in the real world making a speech that is far more engaging than that of those parliamentarians. There’s a lesson there. Passion can trump huge amounts of technique.

In my training, if I find I am working with one who has natural passion I tamper as little as possible. I would rather produce a flawed diamond than a polished rock.

Ian Josephs has flaws. His microphone technique could use a little work. The structure of  his material is a little clunky. I could bore you with more such criticisms, but he won’t bore you. I was intrigued but not completely surprised when he announced that he used to sound off on Speakers’ Corner.

[Speakers’ Corner, for overseas readers, is an area in Hyde Park, London, where people simply stand – sometimes on a box – and sound off on a subject of their choice. They are heckled and laughed at and have to develop courage, loud voices and thick skins. When I lived in London I regarded it as possibly the best free entertainment in town.]

Josephs knows how to build the metaphorical bridge from the platform to the audience, and welcomes any audience members who cross it by asking questions while he is in full flow. He works his audience very effectively, but if you get fed up with the endless questions there are those links in the second paragraph above that will take you to others being passionate on the same subject.

I invite you to watch, listen and then act according to your instinct. If you are interested there is a European Parliament Petition on the subject here.