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.
My previous post was of a speech made at the UN Watch Gala Dinner 2018. I later explored further into such speeches, and found Baroness Deech speaking at the Gala Dinner in May of 2017.
I am a quiet admirer of hers, and the causes she espouses. I also like that she is content to be described as a politician while sitting as a Cross-bench peer. When people idly imply that if it isn’t partisan it isn’t politics I want to bang heads. On the contrary, if all parties agree on a viewpoint it usually warrants more careful scrutiny.
In her opening acknowledgements Deech mentions “Hillel”. He is the Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, and you may confidently expect him to appear in this blog before long.
This is an excellent and valuable speech, but she is reading it. She is being a talking head.
Many defenders of that practice, including (so help me!) some public speaking trainers, argue that without a script speakers will not find the best words to utter. I have spent the past quarter of a century proving that to be nonsense. I have videoed trainees reading their sample speech, then tinkered both with the structure of the speech and with the speaker’s mindset, and then videoed the speech delivered again shooting entirely from the hip. The result is more fluent, more animated, more engaging, and it employs phrasing, vocabulary and figures of speech at least as good as the script it replaces.
Yes there can be stumbles just as in ordinary conversation, but stumbles from a speaker shooting from the hip are intrinsically more audience-friendly than stumbles from someone mis-reading. Do you want an example of the latter? It’s a tiny one, but you don’t get this particular type of stumble from someone shooting from the hip. Listen to Deech slightly tripping over the word “in”. It occurs at 0:58.
The presence of that script throws up a screen between speaker and audience. In this case it’s a very thin screen, because Deech is a much better and more expressive reader than most, but still her delivery would soar if she knew how to dispense with that script, and had been shown that she could trust herself to speak spontaneously.
Another argument that is put up in favour of scripts concerns security of timing. Again it’s nonsense. Suppose on an impulse you throw in a digression – which, being spontaneous and shot from the hip, will probably be the best bit of the speech – then suddenly you are destined to over-run. Being shackled to a script you are running on rails so skipping a section is very problematic, so you start speaking faster, which is disastrous. Speaking fast makes you less intelligible and is futile: the time it saves is negligible. If you are shooting the whole speech from the hip you can skip a section easily.
In today’s world where formal oratory is virtually extinct and the ubiquitous fashion is for ‘conversational sincerity’, scripts are the speaker’s enemy.
Back to the subject of timing, any long-term regular reader of this blog will know that I castigate conference organisers who do not provide a clock for speakers to check their timing. At 05:23 we see a shot that shows, placed on the floor in front of the lectern, a large digital clock counting down. A bouquet for UN Watch!
In February 2015 I covered a series of short speeches at an important debate about anti-semitism. One of the speakers was a Muslim, and I made him Man of the Match despite the competition including to my mind one of the finest speakers around.
Maajid Nawaz has since been on this blog a couple of times, because I have been following his progress with interest, and not just as a speaker. He has developed very impressively.
At the UN Watch 2018 Gala Dinner in Geneva in May, Nawaz was presented with the 2018 Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award. His acceptance speech tells his story.
For years I have favoured the bald opening, for strength, for impact, and for busting the hump and, however sceptical at first, all my trainees when they try it find I’m right. But what do you do when protocol and your natural gratitude insists that you thank people? That is when the James Bond film opening comes into its own. If I had advised him Nawaz would have begun with a bald “I will briefly summarise …”, which currently comes in at 0:25, and hold back the thanks in his preamble till after the applause which begins at 0:44. It would have made the opening as strong as the rest of the speech, and been easier to deliver.
And strong is what the speech is. He easily shoots it from the hip, because three quarters of it is structured just on chronology, which is ridiculously simple (who can’t remember their life story?) and therefore effective. The last quarter deals with far-left extremism having infiltrated previously respectable institutions, like Her Majesty’s Opposition in Britain.
Another such institution is the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC have preposterously declared Nawaz and also Ayaan Hirsi Ali, both Muslims and both fighting Muslim extremism, to be anti-Muslim extremists. Nawaz is fighting them through the courts, and raising money for this through his website.
I am very glad I watched this speech. It is powerful, suitably impassioned, coherent, articulate and important. It also alerted me to the work being done by UN Watch. We’ll be hearing more from them on this blog.
On 8 September, 2014, the United Nations hosted a conference entitled Global Anti-Semitism: A threat to International Peace and Security.
One of the speakers was Brigitte Gabriel. If you read my previous post you will not be surprised that she is the subject of this post. When seeking a formal speech from her I was torn between this speech and this one. You have the link if you want to see why I was torn. Though the other has an equally powerful, and very moving message this blog is devoted to speaking skills. I commend both, but I shall be examining this.
Unlike the other speech, she is reading this one. I know why, and I can understand it. When you are in this sort of company you don’t want mistakes, nor is it good manners to over-run your time. I often argue with those reasons, but not with the following one: the press will almost certainly have received a transcript in advance, so she has to stick very closely to it. People like her, who have learnt to speak without the aid of paper, handle paper better. She has written the speech in spoken English as distinct from written English, she limits herself to the merest glances at the paper, and she absolutely doesn’t allow it to interfere with her audience engagement.
Clever opening! The story of the necklace is laden with human interest while also including interlinear ethos. Neat.
She enters the main body of the speech by way of an alliterative triad, “demonisation, double-standards, and delegitimisation”. The first of those enables her to list some of the accusations levelled at Israel and one of them is genocide to which she witheringly replies, “If Israel has been committing ‘genocide’ against the Palestinians, then why has the population of Palestinians increased more than 600% since 1948? Israel must be the most incompetent mass murderers in the history of the world.”
She kicks the legs out from under other criticisms of Israel with the same efficiency.
She turns to the effect of antisemitism on the rest of the world. That is, after all, the theme of the conference. She does it very effectively, and I won’t spoil it for you.
With both this and the other speech I find myself assailed by incredulity at her message. How did it come to this? Anyone who reads a newspaper, and has more than a passing interest in what goes on in the world beyond their own town, already knew the truth of the bare bones of what she is saying if not the horrific details. How did we arrive with our Establishment and mainstream media spinning every story that is remotely connected with the middle east into a narrative with Islamism as the victim? We look around at ugly antisemitism becoming widespread and the accepted norm even in communities where it once was unthinkable, like academia and the arts. A frighteningly skillful, ruthless and mendacious PR exercise has been at work.
Brigitte Gabriel has the courage and ability to fight back. It is up to us to fight back also, and start by supporting people like her.
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.
While I can still get a word in edgeways, allow me to introduce a word that has not previously cropped up in this blog. Ethos has elsewhere varied its meaning, but in classic rhetorical doctrine ethos refers to any attempt by a speaker to establish credentials to maximise his appeal with his audience. In Britain we saw a lot of it when Blair was Prime Minister, affecting blokey estuary vowels, dabbing an eye during one of his emetic grief-bites, that sort of thing. It doesn’t have to consist of devious artifice: merely murmuring that you hold a doctorate in the subject under discussion classifies as ethos.
In November 2012 The Oxford Union held a debate with the motion, “This house would occupy Wall Street”. Speaking for the motion were Errol Damelin and Cornel West; against the motion were Anthony Fry and Daniel Hannan. I’m planning to cover all their speeches, beginning today with Cornel West, which may be slightly tough on the others because he takes a bit of following.
Now you know why I was at pains to explain ethos. This is ethos on legs. From the start he overwhelms the hall with gospel-preacher histrionics. We warm ourselves with the persuasion that this is the noble essence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, conveniently overlooking the implied patronising racism. Our camera cuts to his audience who are all smiles, including the opposing speakers.
Much of the time it is near impossible to discern actual sentences, but who cares! Magnificent sounding, ringing phrases ricochet from the anthem. No doubt you’ve heard of ‘dog-whistles’, those subtle, seemingly innocent words and phrases that subliminally resonate with the ‘right people’. Transmit the dog-whistles through a loud-hailer and you begin to get the idea here. A catalogue of lefty hate-bites, regardless of relevance, rings out to the whooping delight of the helpful innocents in the audience: Israeli occupation, drones, ‘our precious Palestinian brothers and sisters’, anti-Semitism (yes, honestly, who needs consistency when you are mainlining ethos!), homophobia (whaaat?), white supremacy, male supremacy, ecological catastrophe. It’s all there, in a magnificent masterpiece tapestry of non-sequitur. It sounds great, but children: don’t try this at home.
At 2:40 he invents a word – pigmentocratic. I think we’ve probably cracked the code.
To digress slightly in passing, at one point he has a side-swipe at Obama. “I love the Brother – I’m a Christian – but to engage in that kind of activity makes him a war-criminal with a Nobel Peace Prize.” The camera cuts to Anthony Fry who is shaking his head. That’s a mistake on Fry’s part. Attempting, when others are speaking, to make a tacit point in that way somehow weakens you. You see it on programmes like BBC Question Time While novices on the panel are busy gurning, the pros sit impassively giving nothing away till it’s their turn to speak.
The speech is ten and a half minutes of Grand Opera; and it is exactly what the audience wants to hear. Following and countering is a submission from Hannan (Christian name: Daniel – I shall rise above the tempting reference to the lions’ den). This blog has already identified him as a brilliant speaker, but how will he cope here? I previously described him as ‘smooth as a kitten’s wrist’: is that the quality he needs on this occasion? Tune in soon to learn the answers to these and other questions that you never thought to ask.