Mordechai Kedar tries to explain.

Unspeakable acts are daily reported being perpetrated, in the name of Islam, upon Christians in the middle east and north Africa. We read of kidnap, mass rape, beheadings and burnings. The word that constantly assails me is, “Why?”

In my perpetual search for speeches of interest I recently found two by Mordechai Kedar, and I want to examine both. Today’s was delivered in November 2012 in the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem to a symposium called The Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East. Dr Kedar is a noted scholar and lecturer in this very subject, so as well as scrutinizing his speaking skill I am eager to learn what he has to teach.

This speech is more than two years old, yet begins with a heart-stopping episode which is brutally topical this week. Kedar shows a video clip of a Muslim preparing to behead a Christian. He mercifully stops the video before the actual act, but informs us that the video itself does not. He summarizes this opening with the words, “Welcome to the Arab Spring”.

So begins a history lesson. I thought I knew a little about all of this, but I knew nothing. I now know a little. I invite you to watch the video and join me in knowing a little.

He has notes, but he barely looks at them. His focus and attention is exactly where it should be, on his audience and how well it is absorbing his message. He is shooting from the hip. His audience engagement is almost total.

Almost? Yes, because there remains one small item that turns out to be separating him from totality of engagement. He tells us more than once that he is going to address the question of why all this is happening, and starts by teaching us the origin of the Coptic Christian church of Egypt and the intriguing and plausible theory of the etymology of the word Copt. And then, at 6:20, something small but significant happens. He removes his spectacles. That is the symbolic moment that his audience engagement becomes total. That is the moment he really gets in the driving seat.

That is also the moment that I begin not to care about the quality of his speaking and simply want to listen.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that there are two speeches by Dr Kedar that I want to examine. I was torn over which to look at first, and decided on this chiefly because it was delivered first – around six months before the other. The other nevertheless is much clearer on the history. I will return with the other one in a day or two.

George Friedman dissects the decade

The Carnegie Council was addressed by George Friedman in January 2011 with a talk entitled The Next Decade. The video of the speech was not posted on YouTube till March this year.

I toyed between covering this speech and another he delivered to a Polish audience entitled Beyond the European Union: Europe in the middle of the 21st Century. The theme of that speech is the re-emergence of the nation state, and I commend it.  You can find it here. What caused me to settle on this one, though, is that as we are now a little more than three years into the decade in question we could watch the speech with a hindsight advantage of around 33%. I’m now not sure I was quite correct on this as the issues with which he dealt seem to be more open-ended than merely a decade.

The video tells you that it lasts just over an hour, but the speech finishes at 38:25 and the rest is questions.

The introduction by Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs for the Carnegie Council, makes it immediately clear that this speech is essentially a promotion of a book of the same name. Immediately my interest is raised, because there are two ways such a speech can be approached. You can either attempt to precis the whole book or you can cover just a part of it in enough detail to excite the audience into buying it to learn the rest. Clearly the latter is the better course because you win both ways: the audience hears a more interesting speech and you get to sell more books. It is a constant amazement to me how many authors foolishly go for the former option.

Within seconds of his starting (at 2:58) it seems clear to me that Friedman is probably adopting the second, more fruitful, course. I ruefully suspect that this will pull me in so much that I shall be diverted from concentrating on his speaking technique, but I resolve that  I shall keep my rhetor hat pulled down firmly over my ears for as long as I can.

What a glorious microphone technique he has! He speaks in barely more than a whisper, and we hear every word. Yes, the camera long-shots show that the room is not very large, but his speech to the Polish audience, mentioned in the second paragraph above, was in a very large hall and he spoke there not much more loudly. He has learnt how to speak quietly and expressively and make the microphone do the rest of the work.

He has a habit of alternating a serious facial expression with flashing little smiles – genuine ones that include the eyes, often to remove the sting when saying rather weighty and serious things. He may not thank me for saying so, but it puts me in mind of George W Bush who operates a similar technique.

I wonder why he needs the paper on the lectern: he barely ever looks at it. To write a book on a subject, you have to have immersed yourself to such a huge degree that shooting a speech such as this from the hip becomes very easy. I’m being picky: his focus is so firmly on the audience that essentially he is shooting it from the hip. I’m only as picky as this when speakers are very good.

Friedman is very good. This speech is fascinating. Yes, I see I noted a neat anadiplosis at 9.12, but frankly my rhetor hat had been thrown to the wind very early, and I was resolving to read the book. As a frank, searching analysis of America’s role in the world at the moment it identifies and leaves unanswered as many if not more questions than it answers; but that is the nature of the issues it addresses.

And the very first question after the speech showed that I was right: he had dealt with only a part of the subject in hand. The book is certainly worth reading.