When a few days ago I posted a critique of a Douglas Murray speech at a debate, I rather committed myself to airing a speech that his opponent had made. As rumours are currently circulating that Julian Assange is proposing shortly to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London I thought I would have a look at the speech, the notorious one that he delivered from an embassy window two years ago in August 2012.
I am reluctant to wade into the argument concerning the rights and wrongs of Wikileaks, its activities and existence, because I am terribly torn. On the one hand I am fiercely in favour of free-speech, even (perhaps especially) when that speech is unpalatable; and on the other I recognize the points made so eloquently by Douglas Murray in that speech I covered a few days ago. One day I might sit myself down in a darkened room and try to think the thing through, but today I think I shall keep my rhetor hat on.
This speech is famous for that clever opening sentence. Rightly so.
The quality of the composition is impressive. I’d prefer him not to have written it, but shot it from the hip, because I know it would have gained added power; but I also know that he would point to the lists of names of people and countries whose support he needed to acknowledge. There are ways of addressing that problem.
Concerning what Assange describes, beginning at 0:35, I have none of the ambivalence described earlier. If there was an attempt by British authorities to invade the embassy, then shame on them. If he is making it up, then shame on him.
At 0:55 he begins a neat anadiplosis (“the world was watching”) which morphs into a pretty epistrophe.
I get a little uneasy at his sanctimonious upholding of the importance of the rule of law when this whole business has come about because of his breaking of laws. There are ways, without sanctimony, that he could thank those who assisted him.
Beginning at 3:00 he thanks a list of South American countries which he claims to have supported his asylum. It is long lists like this that you might claim require the use of paper. After all, if he hadn’t written down all these countries’ names he might have mentioned Argentina twice…
He turns his thanks to the people of the countries whose governments he claims to have persecuted him. Essentially he is playing to the crowd, That’s fair enough: the crowd is definitely his market. Nevertheless I sense an urge creeping up on me to doff my rhetor hat for a moment.
This audience, this crowd of fearless front-line commandos in the battle for free speech, I wonder whether they would be quite so accommodating if he were – say – upholding fracking as the answer to the world’s energy problems. Or might they be howling for him to be silenced?
Just a thought.