On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.
That is the fourth time I have published that precise paragraph. The other three were for speeches from –
- Henryk Broder from Germany
- Vebjørn Selbekk from Norway
- Douglas Murray from Britain
That is a roll of honour. I commend all their speeches. I also commend the fourth and last speech at this conference. It is from Mark Steyn.
Though I am certain the conference organisers selected their speakers purely on the strength of their manifest commitment to free speech, they could scarcely have offered up a greater range of tone colour. Compare for instance Murray to Steyn. Where the one fences with an epée the other wields a knobkerry. Don’t try to decree which is more effective: just enjoy the contrast.
Nice opening! I have made a similar observation in this blog concerning the diction of those for whom English is not their first language.
In a formidable communication armoury Steyn has one astonishing skill. He is able to recount the most horrendous stories using dry humour in a way that attracts many little laughs from the audience right up to the moment he unleashes the punchline; and he does it without reducing the horror of the story. He displays this skill repeatedly in this speech, but never more tellingly that in his account of Molly Norris, beginning at 3:50. The most serious section in the whole speech begins at 27:00 where, paradoxically, he is talking about jokes.
My trainees, or readers of my book The Face & Tripod will know the value that I place on making a speech possess a Face. Steyn gives this speech a Face by quoting George Bush.
If it’s not the crusades it’s the cartoons
It’s a good speech. Like all of the speeches at this conference it’s an important speech.
At the beginning of this series of four blog-postings I said that I saluted everyone connected with this conference in Copenhagen last September. Now, after several hours of watching and re-watching those speeches and becoming rather attached to that androgynous figure that is the logo of Trykkefrihedsselskabet constantly overlooking the lectern, I do more.
I applaud them.