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.

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.

Tommy Robinson and free speech

I read on line an article written by Douglas Murray for the Gatestone Institute. It unfavourably compared the official treatment of Tommy Robinson and Anjem Choudary. I found it interesting because, whatever you may think of either of these gentlemen, the one absolute concerning the law is that everyone should be equal under it. This article suggests that in some respects they are not.

Within days I spotted that Tommy Robinson had delivered a talk at the Oxford Union, and although this happened in November 2014 I had not picked it up at the time. I felt rather ashamed of myself, because as a fervent believer in free speech I like to support it by heralding it on this blog. Well, better late than never …

There was also a Q&A session, but you won’t find it here, Robinson holds the floor for this entire video. Occasionally you overhear protest chanting from outside the hall, but inside the audience listens in decorous silence.

Let me get the rhetor stuff out of the way. Robinson could structure a little more clearly, but otherwise this is what public speaking should be. It is sometimes slightly garbled, but transparently sincere. He shoots from the hip a message that he wants to get across, and he sets about it without affectation or pretence. You can disagree with every word he utters, but I don’t believe that you can justifiably accuse him of hiding behind a false persona.

I tip my hat to the Oxford Union for this dramatic and excellent example of free speech. Providing a platform for views you might expect to find abhorrent, is by far the best way to challenge them.

I don’t think I have anything to add. I simply commend the whole talk. You may hate him throughout; you may not. Either way, I suspect you will come to understand better. I did.

The Q&A is pretty good too.

Maajid Nawaz: so-o-o close!

In May 2016, at AJC Europe in Paris, Maajid Nawaz delivered a talk on the global jihadist insurgency. He is a Muslim, founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank. AJC is a Jewish advocacy organisation. This talk represents ecumenism at an exalted level.

This is not the first time he has appeared in this blog. He was the third speaker on the magnificent panel that I featured here. He was very good and I said so. He subsequently sent me an email of thanks. It would be idle and foolish of me to claim that that event was not dangerous and stressful – it was, very – but in terms of the actual process of delivering a piece of speaking he was surrounded by elements of comfort. For instance there were the other speakers, all with varying versions of an agreeing message, they were all sitting behind a desk (curiously comforting), and so on. Therefore when I saw that he had delivered this speech, standing alone at a lectern, I was interested to see how well he coped without those comfort factors. I so want him to be as good as he can be.

Oh no, he has a script!

I could understand if a reader of mine viewed with exasperation my always harping on this point, but it matters even though Nawaz barely looks at it. Even if he never looked at it because he’d learnt it (and I suspect this is close to the case) I would still know it existed, and it would still matter.

I would know it existed because the sentences are just a little too well parsed to be spontaneous, and that’s why it would matter. Because there is a script the passion behind what he is saying is not coming straight from him, but from the script via him. I don’t say that the passion is not genuine: indeed I know it is genuine. My problem is that not being spontaneous the passion crosses the space between him and the audience with a tiny reduction in power. If ever there was a message of such importance that even a subtle reduction in power is a hideous pity, it is this one.

The reduction is so small for several reasons. He feels the passion strongly. He has obviously practised. He is driven by a fierce desire to get his message across. It is actually a  good script, written with the intention (very nearly achieved) that it should sound spoken rather than written.

He has done almost everything right. Almost. He now has to learn how to speak without a script whether or not it is memorised, and also learn that he can. Here and now with total conviction I can tell you that he can; but till he absolutely knows it he won’t dare try.

This is a very well-conceived speech, and such an important one!

At 08:14 someone in the audience shows agreement with a little clap that we can’t hear. It generates a round of applause, and this is just what he needs. Spurred, he departs from the script with a little aside of appreciation and then returns to the fray with added impetus. Now he is speaking as if with no script (I wonder whether he has departed from it and is speaking largely spontaneously around it). Now he is fully in the driving seat, instead of perching with half a buttock on the handbrake. This is how he should have sounded from the start: this borders on excellence.

At 11:50 he reminds us that he knows so much about the Islamist methods of persuasion because he used to be one who practised them. If you want to see how plausible he was, you can get a taste of his former self here.

It is his depth of understanding of the whole problem that makes Maajid Nawaz so valuable, and why his being even a tenth of a notch below excellence such a pity.

Pamela Geller makes a hate speech

In this blog I seem to have covered many speeches recently by ballsy American females. Can I help it if I like ballsy speakers? – and if they happen to be female so what? America seems to supply plenty. My only caveat is when they become shrill. Today’s speaker is not in the least shrill.

On 19 October, 2011, Pamela Geller spoke to the Sugar Land Tea Party in Sugar Land, Texas. The speech was intended to be at the Hyatt Place; but apparently a single email threatening to hold a protest caused the Hyatt Place to clutch its pearls, pick up its petticoats, and run screaming for cover, forcing the organisers to move to the Sugar Land Community Centre. What was so inflammatory that Geller was intending to voice?  Shall we find out?

You see why I like ballsy speaking? From the moment Geller begins you know that she means what she says: honestly and sincerely she means it. You can disagree with everything she says but you cannot accuse her of falsely representing her views. This is why I keep saying to my trainees that by learning to speak without script or notes, you elevate your credibility beyond measure. By daring to be yourself, warts and all, you are going to be believed more readily than some sort of talking-head avatar, however highly polished might be his oratory. Geller sometimes stumbles over words, sometimes scrambles her syntax in her eagerness to convey her message. So what? I bet you hardly noticed, if at all. That’s what a speaker’s transparent passion does – disguises any slips.

Even if you disagree with her you cannot deny that she shows her workings; therefore to repudiate her you are going to have to come up with some counter-evidence. I have searched a huge amount of online material condemning her, but it is nearly all ad hominem. They play the man not the ball. Why? Could it be that the ball is unplayable?

I could have looked at a later speech of Geller’s, but I chose for this posting to go back nearly five years, so that we may reflect on what has happened since and what has changed in the official line that we hear after each successive Islamist outrage. Here is a Wikipedia page that lists Jihad attacks worldwide since 1983. They make sober reading. Just the list since this speech in October 2011 is very long, and it doesn’t end with the appalling massacre in Orlando a few days ago. Today, 14 June 2016,  there was a double stabbing in France by a man who apparently swore allegiance to Isis.

If the media even bother to cover most of these obscene acts at all they do so in a way that paints the perpetrators as victims.  Who is to blame them as they take their lead from officialdom?

Is President Obama pathologically incapable of allowing the words “Jihad” or “Islamist” to pass his lips? Orlando was blamed on extremism – oh yes, and the availability of guns. Was today’s stabbing in France blamed on the availability of knives?

As Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam said in a debate I covered here some months ago, it’s like Voldemort being a name you may not mention.

We don’t stand a chance against this revolting movement till we are prepared to call a spade a spade. But certain very powerful movements in the west effectively shut down any attempt at free speech on the matter. In the light of the ongoing atrocities, we are compelled to question their motives. These powerful movements need to be held to account.

The truth is become hate speech, and it seems that Pamela Geller speaks it.