Maajid Nawaz is doing really well.

My previous two posts have been from Secularism 2016, a conference held in London last November. I accidentally posted them here out of order. Raheel Raza opened a series of three talks on the necessity to reform Islam, and Douglas Murray concluded it. In between them came a talk from Maajid Nawaz. He has been on this blog twice before, the last time here, and his promise as a speaker is so strong that I was looking forward to seeing his progress.

Having been an Islamic terrorist who landed in jail, but later has devoted his life to fighting extremism, he is an obvious choice to speak at a conference like this.

He has fairly recently begun a regular radio programme on LBC. This was bound to effect his public speaking, though in ways that are not obvious. Radio is different from public speaking because you can’t see your audience. The nerves come from a different direction somehow. On radio you can combat The Hump by scripting your opening, and you thus have to learn how to write in spoken English, a subtly different language from written English. As his programme is a phone-in, he has had to hone his ability to think on his feet, duck and weave, shoot very fluently from the hip and all that will not have done any harm. Let’s see how he does with this speech.

Two immediate impressions strike me…

  1. He is very nervous at the start and wants his scripted opening. I think he has learnt it because he looks very seldom at his script, and a tiny stumble in it has the feel of a memory-blip not a thought-blip. There are other, better ways of combatting the hump; and he could be made more relaxed.
  2. He is going too fast. This is a well-known nerve symptom, so it has the double jeopardy of conveying nervousness to the audience. Actually I think in this case it may not be nervousness because he never slows down, even when his nervousness has subsided. Regardless, it is a bad idea. If you have too much material, speaking more quickly doesn’t save time it makes you less coherent. If you are trying to convey urgency in your message there are better ways of doing it. It’s the squeeze on the natural pauses that make it sound wrong.

Having got those two easily-remedied points out of the way, I must say I am delighted with how he is progressing. His mission is so important, and his approach to it so mature, that I would love to spend a couple of hours with him to make him more relaxed on the platform and restructure his material slightly in a way that works better in this particular medium.

If he is interested he can find me easily enough.

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.

Sebastian Gorka has presence

Nearly a year ago on 2 March, 2016 the Institute of World Politics hosted a talk from Dr Sebastian Gorka.

I have watched Dr Gorka a couple of times making mincemeat of aggressive opponents on TV programmes, but that’s dialogue and very different from the one-way traffic of a speech. I was interested to see how good he was in monologue.

Also he is now Deputy Assistant to President Trump, and with the world (as distinct from antipathetic mainstream media) holding its collective breath to see how the new POTUS will shape up, it seems worth while to have a look at those advising him.

He begins by laying out his stall, with particular attention to ethos, and while he is doing it the cameraman experiments with trying to see if he can encompass both the speaker and the screen in a single locked-off shot. We quickly learn that he can’t, so we will hear Gorka refer to slides that we cannot see.

I greet this with mixed feelings. This has happened before with this blog. Sometimes I satisfied myself that nothing was lost, and this raised obviously pertinent questions concerning the need for those slides in the first place. In the event this talk comes close to that same conclusion so, out of curiosity, I went looking for other of his talks to learn more about his use of slides. I found this talk delivered to the Westminster Institute on 23 August 2013. The biggest danger with slides is that they compete with the speaker for the audience’s attention, usually through being too numerous or containing too much information. With that single (and old) sample I found that he used few slides, though they were rather overfilled with verbiage. Nevertheless there is a particular reason that I am confident that his slides will never compete with him.

Dr Gorka has presence.

It is an almost indefinable quality, but unmissable when you meet it. It is a quality that can barely be taught, though it can be nurtured, because it has to come completely from within. It cannot be synthesised, cannot be faked. It is built on a measure of inner confidence in your command of the subject; and that command comes firstly through a huge amount of work and secondly through experience – testing and arguing your opinions to destruction. We in the audience cannot help but believe that Gorka really knows what he is talking about.

That is what makes him so formidable in TV interviews, and what gives him that huge presence. His powerful voice also helps. Note that I said powerful, not loud. There is an important difference.

His self-confidence is not hubris: I picked up a few fleeting glimpses of insecurity, but then everyone has insecurity. So they should: it keeps them sharp.

I earnestly commend both the speech and the brief Q&A. They are both depressing and encouraging. The scenario is depressing, the prognosis reveals pinpoints of daylight. Chief amongst the latter is that he is at the POTUS elbow.

Tom Holland addresses Islam

On 25 May 2015, Tom Holland delivered the inaugural Christopher Hitchens lecture at the Hay Festival. He called it De-radicalising Muhammad. It was an appropriate title for a speech in memory of a man who was so articulate in his condemnation of organised religion in general and Islam in particular.

Holland begins at 1:55 and ends at 37:40. The rest is questions.

He begins with a tribute to Christopher Hitchens whom he never met. He tells us that he has been instructed that to be true to Hitchens’ memory his talk should be controversial. If as a non-Muslim you are speaking about Islam, or any aspect of it, you are hard-pressed not to be controversial. Holland highlights this, while nevertheless pointing out with examples that Hitchens courted controversy on this subject with some eagerness.

“Nothing to do with Islam…” that is the stock phrase, trotted out by politicians after every new abomination committed by jihadists. Holland cites this as an attempt to de-radicalize matters, but also shows why it is counter-productive. Anyone, particularly a non-Muslim, who says those words is implying that he or she knows the nature of authentic Islam, a claim which is transparently absurd when even Muslim scholars can’t agree. He proceeds with a history lesson that starts with the life of Muhammad himself, including matters of contention surrounding its details.

From where I stand, as a faintly bemused outsider, Holland seems to address this history in about as balanced a manner as is possible, and his ultimate target slowly becomes clear. The fulcrum of the speech, the point at which we finish with the background and venture into a suggested route to a solution, arrives at 16:54 with the words, “Unless Islam can draw sustenance from its own traditions to purge itself of what is going on in its name then really there’s very little hope”.

I don’t want to say any more in description of this excellently structured and argued piece of erudition, because it’s time for me to don my rhetor hat.

Holland is doubly equipped with microphones. He has a face mic, and stereo mics on the lectern. One of those sound systems is providing the feed for this video, and I’m pretty certain it’s the one on the lectern. It is ‘splashing’. Splashing is a cousin of popping (and there’s a tiny bit of popping too). It is when sibilant consonants, principally the ‘s’ sound, give a distorted splashing sound on the output. It’s a pity when he is delivering such good stuff. Slap on the wrist for the sound-engineer.

He has a script. You may think it barely matters when he merely glances at it, and you’d be right to a degree. He does handle the script extremely skilfully, but still it detracts from his delivery. Occasionally he quotes someone else’s words and then I have no problem with it, but too much of his looking down is comfort-blanket stuff. Watch an instance when his eyes go down and ask yourself if he really needed to read those particular words to speak them. Most of the time the answer will be no.

If you want fully to appreciate the difference in quality of delivery when he addresses his script and when he doesn’t, watch a sustained period when his eyes stay up and he shoots a section from the hip. There is one such between 31:30 and 33:20. In it he is subtly more engaged with his audience than the rest of the time. More importantly (to him) he is every bit as articulate and coherent, employing the same high quality of phrasing, as when he is reading. It is this that he doesn’t quite trust himself on. He feels he has a need to underpin his natural fluency with the written word. He is wrong, but I suspect he would take some persuading.

For all that Tom Holland is an impressive speaker, and this is an important and valuable speech.

Mordechai Kedar’s history of Islam

I do not know.

Wisdom begins with those words. I picked up that nugget from Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev who has been featured on this blog several times, and whose first posting in April ’13 is by far the widest-read of all my postings – nearly two years later barely a day goes by without its being viewed.

If you start by acknowledging to yourself that you do not know, questions automatically spring up; and surely we all have questions concerning the activities of militant Islamists around the world. The questions usually begin with “why”.

  • Why do militant Palestinians apparently believe they are at liberty, with honour, to renege on every peace deal they make with Israel?
  • Why do Islamists routinely burn Christian churches and murder Christians in barbarous ways?
  • Why do Islamists think it justifiable to fly aeroplanes into skyscrapers in the name of a religion whose name means ‘peace’?
  • Why do the theocratic rulers of Iran deem it respectable to declare an aim to destroy the Jewish race?
  • Etc. ad tedium.

In my previous post we saw Dr Mordechai Kedar speaking in November 2012, and I stated that six months later he made another speech in which he more clearly laid out Islam’s history from his viewpoint. Here it is.

I shall wear my rhetor hat just long enough to observe that beginning a speech with nearly a minute of ‘thankings’ is not good speaking practice – yes, actors do it at the Oscars which makes my point because actors tend to be lousy public speakers. Having watched this speech several times, and also done a little research into Dr Kedar, I conclude that he felt strongly compelled to issue these thanks. Also there is really nowhere else in this speech to put them. So the bottom line  is, don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. Kedar had to.

Rhetor hat off.

Watch this speech and you find those ‘why’ questions very liberally supplied with very plausible answers. Essentially, it would appear, the mere existence of Judaism and Christianity represent an affront because they give the lie to Islam’s claim to have existed for centuries before it actually did.

Is Kedar right?

I do not know.

His version fits a great many current observations very well. It obviously is considerably more complicated than can be told in less than a quarter of an hour, and Kedar said in the speech covered in my previous post that he could speak on the subject all night, but it is very plausible. If this were a scholarly paper there would be a bibliography that we could follow to check details, but it isn’t. Let us just now, however, work with the supposition that he is right. As any seeker after truth knows, every question answered always throws up dozens of other questions. The science is never settled: the whole truth is never found.

Here are some questions that were not in Kedar’s brief but nevertheless need addressing.

  • Why do the western mainstream media routinely take the Palestinian side when they renege on their peace agreements?
  • Why do universities in western democracies think it justified to treat as a pariah the country with the only operating democracy in the middle east?
  • Why are western governments such abject apologists for Islamism?
  • Why is every Islamic atrocity always greeted within minutes by a public pronouncement from some politico-jerk bending over backwards to paint Islam as the victim and warning of “Islamophobic backlash” when such a thing never happens?

I do not know.