Mohammed AlKhadra and courage

On 23 July, during the Secular Conference 2017 in London, there was a Plenary Session on the theme of Out, Loud And Proud. On the Panel was Mohammed AlKhadra, Founder of the Jordanian Atheist Group. This video of his speech was uploaded to YouTube by John Smith, and you can see from the strap-line at the top of the still picture what he thought of it.

He speaks for nine and a half minutes, and when the rapturous applause dies down the Chairman of the session, Dan Barker, tells us that this was AlKhadra’s first speech.

He opens almost abruptly. He thanks and indicates Maryam Namazie, whom he describes as the bravest woman he knows, and then he plunges straight into his speech. It’s as near as makes no difference a bald opening, and I would bet money that the first few sentences are memorised. Whoever advised him did well (perhaps it was he himself). Some of my trainees take some persuading that a bald opening is a wonderful way of busting a hump till they try it, at which point a typical reaction is “that was so liberating”. I also recommend that they memorise the first minute or two, and thereafter simply follow a clear structure and shoot from the hip. That looks to me the precise path followed by this young man, and it works beautifully.

At the beginning he is smothered in symptoms of nerves which reduce markedly when he pays tribute, at 0:45, to Richard Dawkins in the audience. By the time he hits an elegant anaphora – “How do I know …” just after 1:30 – hump symptoms have almost evaporated and he is in the driving seat. I feel myself relaxing on his behalf.

The speech is shaming. You don’t have to agree with his atheism to be hugely impressed by the courage he has shown and is showing in being true to himself, and how it compares to the whining of the spoilt brats in the West with their imbecilic victim culture, Safe Spaces, No Platforming, and protestations that everything with which they have been told to disagree is Hate Speech which threatens the comfort they claim they ‘deserve’. Consider what he risks with his apostasy and his determination to speak freely, and you might find yourself thinking that the masked idiots of Antifa, wielding their clubs under an alarmingly familiar flag to deprive people of free speech, should have their bottoms smacked and be sent to bed without supper.

It shames the way western politics has polarised into pathetic but vicious tribal nonsense while real and dangerous issues confront us all.

It shames hate speech laws, every one of which should be instantly repealed. In the UK we have had for many years a law against incitement to violence. What more do we need? If we do not have freedom of speech we do not have freedom. The USA, to its eternal credit, has the First Amendment; and political movements, to their eternal shame, try to chip away at it.

It shames the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service which currently boasts 83% success rate against imagined ‘hate crimes’, while drawing a veil over 0% prosecutions for real and widespread FGM.

Like you, no doubt, I fear for this young man’s future. Perhaps his speech will cause us to reflect on how to make fundamental changes to the political climate that endangers him.

And us. And our children. And theirs.

 

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.