Robert Spencer exits Plato’s cave

Young America’s Foundation hosted a talk on 18 March 2017 at the Reagan Ranch. The speaker was Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch.

I know little of Robert Spencer, other than the normal little bit of research I always undertake into a speaker, before subjecting them to critique on this blog. Thus it was that I learnt that he co-authored a book with Pamela Geller, whose speaking I critiqued last June. He also, I understand, shares with Geller the distinction of having been banned from the UK because of his inflammatory views – banned, that is, under the orders of the British Home Secretary at the time, one Theresa May.

A couple of weeks ago I covered someone else who had a reputation for being inflammatory and turned out to be quite the reverse. I thought I’d be really brave and try it again.

Spencer’s talk begins at 03:27 and ends at 32:27. If we assume a half-hour slot we are looking at a speech lasting a minute less than allotted, and delivered without a script. Regardless of all else I tip my hat to a speaker who knows what he’s doing.

A James Bond Film opening even! He begins with a summary of the Plato’s cave story, which though it may temporarily bemuse those who do not know it, leads beautifully into his message. I tip my hat again.

He then proceeds apparently to narrate the history of the modern day Islamist Jihad. I injected that word ‘apparently’ because not being a scholar of such matters I have no means of knowing the accuracy of what he says. Nevertheless, when claiming to quote from the Koran he always cites chapter and verse, and when quoting incidents always gives names, places and dates. In short, he shows his workings. When one side of an argument does that, and the other seeks to silence them (or worse!) it lends verisimilitude to the party of the first part.

This is twenty-nine minutes of highly authoritative speaking. And with the greatest respect to the British Home Office he never once incites his audience to violence. It is a speech that should be heard.

At 32:27 he throws open to questions. That should be heard too.

Katie Hopkins works her audience.

How did I miss this speech by Katie Hopkins?  More than a year ago she spoke at a debate at the Oxford Union.  The motion was This House Believes Positive Discrimination Is The Best Solution To An Unequal Society, and she spoke in opposition. ‘Positive discrimination’ can be translated as ‘affirmative action’.

Katie Hopkins is a professional loudmouth, and I tend to enjoy loudmouths whether or not I agree with them. Put it down to my earning my living getting people to dare to open up. The hyperlink, on her name in the first line above, takes you to her own website. This link takes you to her Wikipedia page, which makes for stimulating reading. Here is one gobby broad, and I am fascinated to see how she handles an Oxford Union audience.

Straight out of the starting blocks she invites interruptions from the audience. For someone like her it’s a sound technique. A straight monologue takes a certain skill in construction, and if she hasn’t learnt that skill (and she hasn’t) then by creating dialogues she barely needs it. I have seen her on TV, chewing up and spitting out some of the best, so she is engineering this game to play to her strength.

These students don’t need asking twice, particularly when the asking was so defiant. Members of the audience begin popping up and down like fiddlers’ elbows. She laughs with some, flirts with some, dismisses some for studiously absurd reasons – “Sit down: I don’t like your top”, addresses some arguments seriously, others facetiously. It almost becomes a rite of passage in the hall to be insulted by the speaker. Even the President jokingly tries to get in on the act.

But what of the actual speech in the middle of all this? It almost doesn’t exist. There are a handful of sentences on a piece of paper on the dispatch box. When she gives herself a chance to do so she astonishes me by actually reading them. I am aghast, because what there is could be memorised by anyone who can memorise a telephone number. She’s taken a clever, unexpected line with her argument, and it would be child’s play to build a speech out of it – but she hasn’t the first idea how.

But by golly she can work an audience!

Tucker Carlson, by the way

On 6 March in Washington DC, Tucker Carlson addressed the International Association of Firefighters.

Situated as I am on the east side of the Atlantic, my relationship with the US media can most charitably be described as sporadic. Nevertheless, in the eternal hunt for speeches I do spend a lot of time on YouTube. So it was that Tucker Carlson crept his way into my consciousness some months ago. He wasn’t making speeches, but he was interviewing many of the speakers into whose background I was delving for the purpose of this blog.

He was interviewing remarkably well, and had a refreshing approach to heavily adversarial, hostile, interviewees. Rather than show anger he would most often deploy one or both of two facial expressions –

  • Little boy puzzled
  • Little boy laughing

He was exploiting his chubbily boyish face, which is highly personable, and making it a hell of a weapon. More importantly the boy could play: he unerringly asked the questions I happened to want asked, couched in the most reasonable terms.

I had vaguely wondered how he would fare on a speaking platform, so when I saw a speech from him on line I pounced.

We don’t see the opening, but come in halfway through a sentence. I understand that people want videos that hit the ground running, but with my niche interest I want to see the opening. Public speaking is like flying an aeroplane inasmuch as the most tricky parts are the takeoff and landing. The rest is relatively easy.

We join Carlson already in the air and climbing. The first words we hear are “By the way” and they herald one seriously attention-grabbing sentence. From there it goes on up. This is a phenomenal speech!

He produces nail after nail and hits each one squarely on the head. I won’t tell you how; I won’t tell you why; you just need to watch it. It answers many questions.

He has a verbal mannerism. I tell my trainees never to worry about mannerisms because if their speech is interesting enough no-one will notice. It just happens to be my job, so I notice. He says “By the way”. I haven’t counted how many times he says it in this speech because I’d rather have a life, but it’s a lot. If I hadn’t mentioned it you wouldn’t have noticed because the speech is spell-binding. It’s refreshing as spring water, coming from someone in the government/media bubble.  Nail-head-nail-head all the way through.

By the way, one of the reasons “By the way” comes out so much is that he has a neat line in micro-digressions. It’s almost as if they supply the mortar between the bricks of his theme.

Another neat line is in self-deprecation – not in an overt simpering way but in tiny, easily missable, almost subliminal throw-away lines. At 13:30 he throws open to questions. See if you pick up the nano-self-deprecation in his final sentence, and ask yourself whether you would have done without my drawing your attention to it.

He’s a very good speaker, and this is a hell of a good speech. Nail-head-nail-head. I’d still have liked to have seen his takeoff, by the way.

Raheel Raza being ‘controversial’

On September 3, 2016, the National Secular Society in Britain held a conference. I chanced upon videos of it in YouTube for my previous posting. The first speaker was Raheel Raza.

If you read about her in Wikipedia you are told that she holds “controversial views on Islam”. A few paragraphs later you read that she has “unequivocally condemned terrorism”. What a fascinating definition of ‘controversial’!

She is introduced by Afonso Reis e Sousa.

Her speech is preceded by a video documentary, produced and presented by her. It lasts till 14:30, is refreshingly forthright, honest, and not very comfortable. I commend it.

The controversial theme of Raza’s speech is essentially that of equality under the law, that there should be one law for all.  As Thomas Sowell has written –

If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.

Quite so. You can switch on the TV to almost any current affairs programme today to see some cretin condemning with a straight face that sort of equality.

Raheel Raza is a good speaker, particularly when she resists the lure of that script on the lectern. She has plenty to say, and says it clearly.

At 17:00 she hits us with revelations that certainly surprise me. Her ‘controversial’ theme obviously advocates resisting the advance of Sharia, and she tells us that just four Muslim countries of the world are run by it – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Sudan. She goes on to declare that in some respects Sharia has more influence in Britain than in Pakistan.

Her bottom line is that state and religion should be kept entirely separate. This obviously befits a speech made to a secular society, but it heaps more controversy in a country like Britain that has an established religion – even if it is fast becoming a minority one.

I’m very glad I watched this video. I learnt some interesting and disturbing things, including some that I haven’t mentioned here. I commend the whole thing.

She was followed on the platform by Maajid Nawaz. I plan to look at his speech next.

Douglas Murray and sincerity

There have been times on this blog that I avoided covering speeches by those who I felt had been covered here too often. Douglas Murray is one such. He is just so good that I know before it starts that my rhetor hat will be redundant, that I will sit and simply enjoy the quality of his speaking and be interested by what he says. The only negative will be the feeling of guilt at this self indulgence. Who cares! I’m going to permit myself a little R&R.

A month ago there was posted on YouTube a speech that he gave at Secularism 2016 which took place on 3 September last.

Though not wishing to get mired in semantics, I feel relaxed with secularism more than with atheism. I believe in the concept of a soul, yet organised religion bothers me – not least in its endless bloody bickering. (What on earth possessed factions within the C of E in the last few days with its hounding of Bishop Philip North?)  Secularism seems to be able to live with private spirituality while not caring much for liturgy, and that suits me very well. On the other hand I mistrust fundamentalism in all its guises, and atheists seem too easily to become tiresome ideologues. The late Christopher Hitchens used to be sneery, and even the admirable Matt Ridley in his otherwise excellent book, The Evolution of Everything is so obsessed with “skyhooks” that tedium threatens.

Enough of that. What has Douglas Murray to say?

He speaks with his audience, not to it. He has perfected the current speaking fashion for what I call ‘conversational sincerity’. If I put my rhetor hat on, I register the personal idiosyncrasies, the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’; but as soon as I doff it they disappear because he absorbs me completelyThat for me is the mark of excellence. I discern no trace of artificial persona: this is the real man. It is a stunningly good piece of speaking – but then that’s what he always provides.

He is also very sound on his subject, and very wise. What I like here is how he is tailoring to his audience. He is always well balanced, but here even more tempered and moderate than I have seen him. He recognises that this is an audience with grownup perceptions, so he doesn’t have to ram stark opinions down their throat.

That video above represents fourteen minutes that I am glad I spent. I am also pleased to have spent it twice. I am also pleased to have watched the panel’s Q&A at the same event. I am also pleased to have watched two other speakers at the same event. It shows that it was worth indulging myself. I shall cover their speeches shortly.

Tarek Fatah: as good as I’ve seen.

At the 3rd India Ideas Conclave, held in November 2016 in Goa, Tarek Fatah was called to speak.

I deliberately went looking for this. I had discovered Fatah’s existence as a result of a reTweet. What I found interested me, and I became one of his Twitter followers. Shortly afterwards I went seeking a speech and found two.

This was the most recent.

We immediately discover that he is surprised to be called, so he is mainly shooting from the hip. As an author and journalist he will have opinions a-plenty, but we have found often enough on this blog that those who live by the pen are by no means necessarily able to communicate well by the tongue. Nevertheless it takes only a few seconds to discover that here is a very skilled speaker.

Just listen to his tone colours. He plays his audience wonderfully.

He needs to because although he switches back and forth between languages, and has a habit of switching out of English for the punchline of each point made, I think it is clear that he is confronting group-think. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, he is giving this audience an industrial strength bollocking. And what impresses and amazes me is that they let him.

The audience listens in respectful silence and even applauds sometimes. This is a tribute to the persuasiveness of his speaking, but it is also a tribute to his audience. Although the bilingualism of this speech might be confusing me I think – and if I’m wrong no doubt someone will tell me – that he is scolding India for being too tolerant of Islamisation within their Hindu country.

Can you imagine the reception this would receive in the west (and it’s worth bearing in mind that Fatah lives and works in Canada)? For much less than this we see ferocious street riots, with shop windows broken and cars set alight. The cancer of political correctness has metastasised within western society to such an extent that we have ‘hate speech’ laws whose counter-productiveness is downright imbecilic. This sort of polite and respectful exchange of ideas and opinion is today just a memory in the west. I am reminded of that famous quotation from Mahatma Gandhi when asked what he thought of western civilisation.

I think it would be a good idea.

So do I, and we can apparently look to India to set us a noble example.

Even if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick completely, I am still in awe of this speech. We’ve had a Gandhi quote, let’s have a Fatah one –

There is no democracy without individual liberty (4:20)

Just after 13:30 he moves into his peroration. He  has given us loud power, quiet intensity, and wonderful flavour-enhancing pauses. Now he goes super-quiet for a while, drawing his audience to a focal point just a few inches from his nose. And then a huge auxesis arrives in the last couple of seconds. My word, but he’s good.

I mentioned that I found two speeches of his. This is where you will find the other. That was delivered in Canada in 2011, and he had come from cancer treatment in hospital to deliver it. Again it is brilliant, though his being unwell he doesn’t use quite the same breadth of palette. He is warning of Islamism as distinct from Islam. He is a Muslim.

I have become a fan of his, and delight in the discovery that we were born in the same city – though my being three years older we were born in different countries. I’ll leave you to work that out.

Tony Blair and Bregzit

On 17 February Open Britain hosted a highly publicised speech by a past British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Open Britain is an organisation which deplores the result of the EU Referendum in June 2016 or, to be fair, as True Democrats they accept the result of the referendum but

Good, I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

The media had warned informed us that this speech was coming, and I think most of us found the prospect interesting.

My interest was quickened for two reasons. Blair has an impressive record as a public speaker, and I was keen to see if that was still justified. My other reason, having yearned in vain during the referendum campaign for the remain side to come up with a really strong argument to give me something substantial to chew on, was the hope that he might at last produce something of interest. Shall we see?

The warm-up acts being less than riveting let us turn to Blair himself, beginning at 5:30.

Do you see him plonking paper on that lectern? I remember when he used to speak without script or notes. Has senility set in? Why does he have to consult his script to tell us how nice it is to be with us? And he’s taking no chances with that script. Not only does he have that paper, but also autocue: you can see a perspex screen in front of his right elbow, and he consults it.

Blair always did have some weird pronunciations, and now a new one enters his repertoire. We are repeatedly treated to “Bregzit”. Bless him!

Whoever wrote this script has no notion of the difference between written and spoken English. Or if they have, they are too idle to have learnt how to script the latter. This stuff is ghastly! It’s stiff and stilted. Who, when writing for speaking, churns out pompous rubbish like “rancorous verdict from future generations”? Rancorous is a word I might write, but wouldn’t dream of speaking – except possibly in jest. (Actually I might adopt it for a while to see if it gets laughs. Perhaps I could affect rhotacism – that’s the Jonathan Ross speech impediment.)

My hope of fresh arguments around Bregzit quickly fades. He’s revisiting the same weary avenues, or perhaps I should say culs de sac. He even tries to rub the rust from the ‘reform from within’ line. Let us not forget that this is the man who, when Prime Minister and the EU was clamouring for a reduction in the British rebate, assured us that he would negotiate it only against fundamental reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. In the event he came home with no CAP reform and greatly reduced rebate, thus demonstrating that the EU is not to be reformed and that he is the weakest negotiator since Eve caved in against the serpent.

Speaking of stiff and stilted, take a gander at this doozy at 9:54

“…thus leaving us with no locus on the terrain where the bridge must be constructed.”

That gem should be put in a glass case in a museum somewhere. We know that ‘locus’ is the Latin for ‘place’, but you justifiably break into a foreign language only if it’s a technical term, if doing so uses a nuance not available in English, or you plan to style yourself a prize pillock. Which do you suppose this has contrived?

If you think I am merely exercising a dislike of the man I would point out that he was on this blog four years ago, at which time I defended him against a shoddy sound engineer whose ineptness bordered on sabotage.

Didn’t I read somewhere that he is paid huge amounts to speak? I honestly would pay a fee to not hear him speak. I’d rather stay at home with a good book – or even a bad one.

Leaving aside all of the above I fear that this leaden weasel-fest is an entrenchment speech. It has not the quality to sway anyone; it will merely cause each side to dig in.

Bregzit means Bregzit.