Yavuz Aydın and sinister pairing

On 18 February, 2020, at the 12th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, there was a plenary address from Yavuz Aydin. He was a Judge in Turkey till the attempted Coup d’État in July 2016, when he was one of tens of thousands of victims of a purge by the Erdoğan administration.

I remember little of detail about that attempted coup, its news having been rather buried under the British reaction to the result of the EU referendum a couple of weeks earlier. Nevertheless I do recall – cynic that I am – how it seemed after its failure to have had for Erdogan the markings of what students of politics call a ‘beneficial crisis’.

At this moment Turkey is heavily in the headlines, as it attempts to help huge numbers of migrants pour into Europe via Greece. So let’s see if we can learn something more about the Turkish government, if only from a source that may have a jaded view of it.

I am also interested to see how a senior and experienced jurist puts his case in a foreign language.

What a gentle, audience-friendly, opening! The slightly shy smile and soft tone are exactly what are needed to generate audience empathy. It may be his genuine natural self, though I wonder whether he looked and sounded like that when sentencing convicted felons.

The way he lays out his story of the mass purge is beautiful. He makes his narrative clearer than the finest crystal. I am impressed. And then at around the seven minute mark everything changes.

He admits it: he says that he’d intended to make this all about himself, but now there were more important matters to cover. The silken narrative gives way to a stumbled, fumbled, rather garbled description of children being drowned trying to cross the sea to freedom in Europe.

The interesting thing is that though this is now rather messy, it is not a jot less compelling. It confirms what I often say to my trainees that passion is worth buckets of technique. It is a very fine address indeed.

But I have a personal conundrum.

Probably because I spend my life helping people express themselves, I have an interest in something called ‘idiom pairs’. These are pairs of words, often clichés, that colloquially are joined at the hip. At root they come in two distinct categories –

  • Antonyms: words that are opposites – e.g. “high and low”
  • Synonyms: words that essentially mean the same – e.g. “bright and shiny”

But often overlooked is a mysterious third category, and this concerns pairs of words that are perceived absolutely to belong together but often actually don’t. For example, “rich and famous”. We all know of many famous people who are definitely not rich, and rich people who shun publicity; and yet that idiom pair is rooted deep in our culture. It is trying to consider why that interests saddos like me. So where am I leading with this?

Aydin repeatedly rattles off a pair of words, obviously translated literally from the idiom of his own language – “judges and prosecutors”. Not “judges and lawyers”, but “judges and prosecutors” suggesting that they are two sides of the same coin. For one brought up in a culture of adversarial, supposedly impartial justice and innocent-till-proved-guilty I find that faintly sinister.

But that’s just me.

Tony Benn: Democrat

I seldom agreed with Tony Benn‘s politics, but was always conscious that his views – however misguided I might find them – stemmed from his passion for democracy.

He died before the EU Referendum took place, but more than a year after David Cameron promised to hold one.

Here he is talking about it.

Can you imagine what he would have to say about the current parliamentary machinations to betray the largest democratic mandate in this country’s history?

Allen West does anger well

On 26 August, 2015, in Dallas, the Heartland Institute held a conference to launch its Constitutional Reform project. Among the speakers was a former member of the United States House of Representatives, Allen West.

I have to admit that I have a problem sometimes understanding him. If this had been an international broadcast, or a speech set up specifically for recording a video for posting on line, I would here take issue with his enunciation. As it is, I am conscious of being merely an eavesdropper for whom there is a difficulty in the interface between his Southern accent and my British ears. This is a video of a conference for a live audience who appear to get every syllable. So my eavesdropping difficulty is my eavesdropping problem.

Regardless of the above, one thing comes across loud and clear. Allen West is angry. He doesn’t want the US Constitution reformed; he wants it restored and upheld. What makes him angry is how the Executive and the Judiciary have been messing around with it.

Between 5:30 and 6:20 there is a very telling section concerning how much the Judiciary, which should interpret the Law, oversteps its authority by contriving to make laws. We all know in principle about case law, but we also can tell when an actor pads up his role. West concludes the section by stating that such symptoms indicate that the Federal Government is off the rails.

That resonates with this particular Brit. Over here we also witness the spectacle of politicians and jurists arrogating the right to circumvent or distort the parliamentary process by finding ways to turn their personal prejudices into law. It’s all part of a re-defining of democracy to mean ‘what we think is good for people, regardless of their view’. In Europe it is typified by the way politicians have steamrollered almost an entire continent in directions contrary to their mandate. The current leader in the race for this year’s biggest unintentional hilarity came a couple of weeks ago from some Euro-twerp who described the EU as a centre of democracy.

Those of us who believe in the sovereignty of people hold to the principle that legislators are merely delegated by us to run things. When they get it wrong we kick them out. When they seek to exceed their brief they need to be brought to heel. The US Constitution grew out of precisely this thinking and was designed to prevent tyranny by keeping authorities in their place. It would appear from what West is saying that some of those authorities are doing their damnedest to subvert it (what the Founding Fathers actually meant to say was…) hence this speech.

West is a good speaker. Though I am pleased, I am not particularly impressed that he shoots the entire speech from the hip. It’s easy. On the contrary I get depressed by how few take the trouble to learn. You can see how well he engages his audience by not having sheets of paper in the way. What really impresses me is how he puts across his anger without getting angry. There’s no table-thumping, no eye-popping, no  bellowing. What we get is a cold laying out of the facts in a manner that leaves us in no doubt where he stands. Put it down to military discipline. He was a colonel in the US Army.

More like him are needed on both sides of the pond.

Brendan Chilton engages.

On 2 October 2015, in Guildford, England, there was a cross-party conference entitled Time to Leave?  There were three speakers, Diane James from UKIP, Daniel Hannan from the Conservative Party, and Brendan Chilton, Director of Labour for Britain.

For a long time I have been yearning for Britain to have a referendum on its membership of the European Union. This was only partially for the referendum itself. What I really wanted was the attendant grown-up debate on the issues involved. Pro-EU people always seem to churn out the same, lame, ingenuous nonsense, and I have assumed that they were saving the real arguments for when it mattered. The trouble is that time ticks on, and I am still waiting.

Meanwhile I am pleased to listen to what a eurosceptic member of the Labour Party has to say. Everyone knows, because the BBC has told them, that only ultra-right-wing people are opposed to the EU – something that must have puzzled Tony Benn.

Chilton is introduced by Daniel Hannan – introduced rather well, actually. Short and to the point, with no messing about. If that man keeps at it he could be rather a good speaker one day.

Good opening. Though euroscepticism observes no party boundaries you can see on the projected slide that this meeting is hosted by the European Conservative and Reformist Group, so Chilton is speaking to an audience that will not share many of his political views. By humorously flagging up the point he puts the audience at its ease. He engages with it from the beginning and keeps it with him.

He’s good. Some might argue that he’s speaking a little too quickly, but I find it indicative of only the passion and sincerity behind what he is saying. No coherence is lost, and we get swept up in his arguments.

The arguments are made in broad brush-strokes. This is something I bang on about with my trainees. When you are writing an opinion-piece, and some of the detail is so fine and complicated that it needs a second look, your reader can always go back. When you are speaking your audience cannot do that: you have to shape your arguments in such a way that they are made clearly in one telling. That means broad brush-strokes, even for bright audiences.

The projected slide to which I referred earlier is still there at the end. Chilton does his own speaking. He doesn’t seek the imagined assistance of intrusive pictures. He’s good!

His closing points are very telling indeed, and excellently expressed. I have nothing to add.