Mosab Yousef: a disrupter

The scene is a United Nations Human Rights Council Debate on 25 September, 2017. The council is filled overwhelmingly with people harbouring a shared obsession. Accordingly here they can spew out poison, couched in diplomacy-speak, safe in the belief that no one will gainsay them. Let us watch.

The difficulty with that video is in trying to concentrate on what the lone voice says while being gloriously distracted by the reactions of those who have hitherto been enjoying their cosy hate-fest. We heard that his presence at this debate is to represent United Nations Watch whom we have followed in the previous two postings here and here, and whose terms of reference are to do precisely what this man is doing. But who is he? His name is Mosab Yousef, and he can answer the rest for himself. He is speaking at a multicultural summit in Garden City, Kansas in 2016.

This video appears to have been topped’n’tailed so losing the opening and closing. Or Yousef has deployed a beautiful bald opening. Either way the student of public speaking can see how powerful a bald opening can be. “The mystery of life…” is a fabulous way to start.

It has also been edited: you can easily identify many, unsettlingly many,  edit points. I like to believe that this was not to censor him but to shorten the video a little.

I love the quiet, pensive, almost hesitant way he is delivering. This decorum conveys a level of sincerity that is seldom seen so transparently on a speaking platform.

The speech appears to be essentially autobiographical, pure ethos, and perhaps the editing was intended to restrict the video to that. For me it certainly fleshes out the image of the character who so rudely disrupted the well-manicured diplomats at the UN.

Nevertheless there is also a crucial, kernel, takeaway message between 4:18 and 6:12. If enough people reflected upon this it could become far more disruptive than his contribution to that UN debate.

Ruth Deech: an expressive reader

My previous post was of a speech made at the UN Watch Gala Dinner 2018. I later explored further into such speeches, and found Baroness Deech speaking at the Gala Dinner in May of 2017.

I am a quiet admirer of hers, and the causes she espouses. I also like that she is content to be described as a politician while sitting as a Cross-bench peer. When people idly imply that if it isn’t partisan it isn’t politics I want to bang heads. On the contrary, if all parties agree on a viewpoint it usually warrants more careful scrutiny.

In her opening acknowledgements Deech mentions “Hillel”. He is the Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, and you may confidently expect him to appear in this blog before long.

This is an excellent and valuable speech, but she is reading it. She is being a talking head.

Many defenders of that practice, including (so help me!) some public speaking trainers, argue that without a script speakers will not find the best words to utter. I have spent the past quarter of a century proving that to be nonsense. I have videoed trainees reading their sample speech, then tinkered both with the structure of the speech and with the speaker’s mindset, and then videoed the speech delivered again shooting entirely from the hip. The result is more fluent, more animated, more engaging, and it employs phrasing, vocabulary and figures of speech at least as good as the script it replaces.

Yes there can be stumbles just as in ordinary conversation, but stumbles from a speaker shooting from the hip are intrinsically more audience-friendly than stumbles from someone mis-reading. Do you want an example of the latter? It’s a tiny one, but you don’t get this particular type of stumble from someone shooting from the hip. Listen to Deech slightly tripping over the word “in”. It occurs at 0:58.

The presence of that script throws up a screen between speaker and audience. In this case it’s a very thin screen, because Deech is a much better and more expressive reader than most, but still her delivery would soar if she knew how to dispense with that script, and had been shown that she could trust herself to speak spontaneously.

Another argument that is put up in favour of scripts concerns security of timing. Again it’s nonsense. Suppose on an impulse you throw in a digression – which, being spontaneous and shot from the hip, will probably be the best bit of the speech – then suddenly you are destined to over-run. Being shackled to a script you are running on rails so skipping a section is very problematic, so you start speaking faster, which is disastrous. Speaking fast makes you less intelligible and is futile: the time it saves is negligible. If you are shooting the whole speech from the hip you can skip a section easily.

In today’s world where formal oratory is virtually extinct and the ubiquitous fashion is for ‘conversational sincerity’, scripts are the speaker’s enemy.

Back to the subject of timing, any long-term regular reader of this blog will know that I castigate conference organisers who do not provide a clock for speakers to check their timing. At 05:23 we see a shot that shows, placed on the floor in front of the lectern, a large digital clock counting down. A bouquet for UN Watch!

 

Maajid Nawaz: suitably impassioned

In February 2015 I covered a series of short speeches at an important debate about anti-semitism. One of the speakers was a Muslim, and I made him Man of the Match despite the competition including to my mind one of the finest speakers around.

Maajid Nawaz has since been on this blog a couple of times, because I have been following his progress with interest, and not just as a speaker. He has developed very impressively.

At the UN Watch 2018 Gala Dinner in Geneva in May, Nawaz was presented with the 2018 Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award. His acceptance speech tells his story.

For years I have favoured the bald opening, for strength, for impact, and for busting the hump and, however sceptical at first, all my trainees when they try it find I’m right. But what do you do when protocol and your natural gratitude insists that you thank people? That is when the James Bond film opening comes into its own. If I had advised him Nawaz would have begun with a bald “I will briefly summarise …”, which currently comes in at 0:25, and hold back the thanks in his preamble till after the applause which begins at 0:44. It would have made the opening as strong as the rest of the speech, and been easier to deliver.

And strong is what the speech is. He easily shoots it from the hip, because three quarters of it is structured just on chronology, which is ridiculously simple (who can’t remember their life story?) and therefore effective. The last quarter deals with far-left extremism having infiltrated previously respectable institutions, like Her Majesty’s Opposition in Britain.

Another such institution is the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC have preposterously declared Nawaz and also Ayaan Hirsi Ali, both Muslims and both fighting Muslim extremism, to be anti-Muslim extremists. Nawaz is fighting them through the courts, and raising money for this through his website.

I am very glad I watched this speech. It is powerful, suitably impassioned, coherent, articulate and important. It also alerted me to the work being done by UN Watch. We’ll be hearing more from them on this blog.

Trump at the U.N.

On 19 September President Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly. I have seen the speech described with the word ‘hate’. That word has become a catch-all for any opinion ‘with which I disagree’; in fact, disastrously, that almost amounts to a legal definition these days. Therefore like most who actually bother to think I invariably dismiss the term until and unless I have examined the matter in hand.

For example, we were all regaled with how Trump had threatened “to totally destroy North Korea”. There’s an inflammable headline for you! Having now watched the whole speech several times I can bear witness to the accuracy of the quote, just as I can point out how misleading it is without the qualification that preceded it, “if [USA] is forced to defend itself or its allies we will have no choice but…”

Here is the whole speech.

I have no appetite for picking through all his points. There’s more than 40 minutes of speech in which he did that for himself, and you here have the opportunity to form your own opinion. Therefore I shall limit myself to my own speciality interest, the preparation and delivery of the speech itself.

I like his “Welcome to New York” opening. It’s a velvet glove covering an iron fist that says “your building: my town”.

As representing the USA, it is fitting and traditional that he gives a very potted summary of the state of his nation, on the one hand a country battered by hurricanes and on the other a country resolutely and successfully climbing out of economic doldrums. He doesn’t waste the opportunity to point out that the economic turnaround began with his accession. The Dow Jones had been rising for a time before he entered the Oval Office; but it has accelerated since, along with growth and employment. Crime and food-stamp usage have travelled in the opposite direction.

He is much beloved of triads, and I don’t mean oriental crime syndicates. They are scattered all over this speech. “Peace, sovereignty, and prosperity”, “strong, independent, and free”, and so on. They are everywhere, and the commonest ingredient seems to be “sovereignty”. I was put in mind of my own triad in this blog posting almost exactly a year ago where I pointed out that in eight years the previous administration had seen the U.S. become “less free, less safe, and less prosperous”.

At 02:55 I am impressed with Trump’s presence of mind when he switches between TelePrompter screens, misreads a word and seamlessly corrects himself. Later it happens again, and then again. It goes on happening, always the same type of misreading. With my trainees, whenever asked, I tell them how skilled are operators of this sort of equipment, always holding station with the speaker. I think we can safely assume that the United Nations, and/or the White House, have the most skilled of all, yet it seems here that repeatedly Trump’s screens get just behind him. I hesitate to add to the huge heap of conspiracy-theory-rumours that surround this presidency, but I sense a slight odour of the subtlest of sabotage coming off this. Completely unprovable and, probably by anyone other than a saddo like me, unnoticed.

He commits that most widespread of all the diction errors: swallowing the ends of words. He shares this mistake with some of the best speakers in the business, Hannan and Obama to name but two, and there have been others castigated for it on this blog.  I thought you might want evidence of Trump doing it, so I confidently clicked straight to about the middle of the speech and within seconds had an example. At 21:50 he says, “We must deny the terrorists safe haven…” The second syllable of that last word is virtually inaudible.

My having just mentioned Obama, I feel that you might be expecting a comparison between the two presidents’ speaking abilities. This could be a battle of cliché metaphors, but here goes. Trump is no longer the bull in a china shop that he used to be, but he remains a bit of a blunt instrument. Obama is supremely elegant – a fencing master. None of those metaphors answers the question though, because perhaps the prime purpose of a speech is to be memorable. Quote me a sentence from an Obama speech – just one.

Hasn’t it gone quiet!

If I asked you to quote from this speech you’d probably shout, “totally destroy North Korea” but this speech would be cheating because it’s so recent; therefore try Trump’s inaugural speech. Do you remember “Buy American, hire American”?  – or “You will never be ignored again”? If so, Trump wins.

And I bet you never expected me to say that.

 

 

 

 

Brigitte Gabriel: courage and capability

On 8 September, 2014, the United Nations hosted a conference entitled Global Anti-Semitism: A threat to International Peace and Security.

One of the speakers was Brigitte Gabriel. If you read my previous post you will not be surprised that she is the subject of this post. When seeking a formal speech from her I was torn between this speech and this one. You have the link if you want to see why I was torn. Though the other has an equally powerful, and very moving message this blog is devoted to speaking skills. I commend both, but I shall be examining this.

Unlike the other speech, she is reading this one. I know why, and I can understand it. When you are in this sort of company you don’t want mistakes, nor is it good manners to over-run your time. I often argue with those reasons, but not with the following one: the press will almost certainly have received a transcript in advance, so she has to stick very closely to it. People like her, who have learnt to speak without the aid of paper, handle paper better. She has written the speech in spoken English as distinct from written English, she limits herself to the merest glances at the paper, and she absolutely doesn’t allow it to interfere with her audience engagement.

Clever opening! The story of the necklace is laden with human interest while also including interlinear ethos. Neat.

She enters the main body of the speech by way of an alliterative triad, “demonisation, double-standards, and delegitimisation”. The first of those enables her to list some of the accusations levelled at Israel and one of them is genocide to which she witheringly replies, “If Israel has been committing ‘genocide’ against the Palestinians, then why has the population of Palestinians increased more than 600% since 1948? Israel must be the most incompetent mass murderers in the history of the world.”

She kicks the legs out from under other criticisms of Israel with the same efficiency.

She turns to the effect of antisemitism on the rest of the world. That is, after all, the theme of the conference. She does it very effectively, and I won’t spoil it for you.

With both this and the other speech I find myself assailed by incredulity at her message. How did it come to this? Anyone who reads a newspaper, and has more than a passing interest in what goes on in the world beyond their own town, already knew the truth of the bare bones of what she is saying if not the horrific details. How did we arrive with our Establishment and mainstream media spinning every story that is remotely connected with the middle east into a narrative with Islamism as the victim? We look around at ugly antisemitism becoming widespread and the accepted norm even in communities where it once was unthinkable, like academia and the arts. A frighteningly skillful, ruthless and mendacious PR exercise has been at work.

Brigitte Gabriel has the courage and ability to fight back. It is up to us to fight back also, and start by supporting people like her.

 

Hilary Benn’s tour de force

On the evening of 2 December, I suddenly noticed that Twitter had begun humming with comments on a speech that was being made by Hilary Benn in a debate in the British House of Commons on a motion to allow British forces to begin bombing positions in Syria, held by ISIS or ISIL or Daesh or whatever we are calling them this week. What was startling was that the comments were as favourable from his political opponents as they were from his friends. From this I guessed that he was coming out in support of the motion, but I was so tightly tied up with what I was doing that I was unable to tune in and watch.  A recording was available shortly afterwards.

Comments on the speech quickly appeared in the media. Some were for him some against, and a few offered puerile bleating along the lines of “What would his father say?”.

For my part I am always eager to see for myself any speech that is being heralded as especially good; but also, with my opinions torn over the matter, I wanted to hear his argument.

This recording begins with the end of the previous speech. Clive Efford is opposing the motion on the basis of doubting the effectiveness of airstrikes. Quite so. That is my chief doubt.

Benn stands to cheers from his own side, and begins by reproaching the Prime Minister for remarks he made earlier in this debate when he characterised opponents of the motion as terrorist sympathisers. He’s right. One wonders where the PM finds those who advise him. Certainly there are some in that house who have a dubious record with respect to certain terrorist groups, but a debate of this type is not the time to indulge in name calling. Apart from lack of parliamentary courtesy, name calling always weakens your argument because it suggests you lack confidence in it yourself. While reproaching Cameron Benn reveals that he will vote for the motion.

He continues by paying tribute to previous speakers before launching into his own argument. He cites resolutions by both his party and by the United Nations, thus claiming legal and moral righteousness for supporting the motion.

Then at 5:33 he begins a section that makes me uneasy. He lists some of the crimes of Daesh. I rather feel that there will be few in that house who do not know and would not condemn the obscenities committed by those criminals; but if people are harbouring doubts concerning the effectiveness of bombing, the wickedness of the target is irrelevant. This verges on the  “something must be done” school of idiocy.

At 7:29 -“If we do not act, what message would that send about our solidarity with those countries that have suffered so much?” I’m sorry, but dropping bombs is not a declamatory activity. It is far too serious to be used to send a message.

At 8:00 the speech at last starts addressing the meat of the issue – effectiveness. He begins citing examples of airstrikes having succeeded in harming the progress of Daesh. For three minutes, culminating in the words, “the threat is now” the speech actually tackles the main question, and at last I feel that some of the plaudits I’d read on Twitter were justified.

But then, shortly before the end, the speech again weakens when he gets worked up over how these wretched jihadists hold us in contempt, and believe themselves better than us. So what? People’s opinions matter only if you respect them.

A great speech? For me, in terms of content, not really. For that crucial three minutes it was good, but most of the rest missed the point. The point is not that these people must be stopped by any legal means, including killing them. That’s commonplace. The point is whether the proposed activity will work. For three minutes Benn persuaded me that it might, but that was a small percentage of the whole.

Nevertheless the cheers that greeted the end of the speech were thunderous from both sides of the house, and I know why. Apart from the welcome it received from those voting the same way, the speech was distinguished by being very skilfully delivered. His pacing, variation of tone-colour, telling pauses, everything was beautifully done. And if that seems to reveal cynicism in me it’s because I have yet to cite the most important quality – his transparent sincerity and passion for his message. That’s why his market bought his product.

 

Philippe Sands and climate dissent.

Canadian investigative journalist Donna Laframboise has been publishing on Big Picture News, her blog, a series of articles showing how the international establishment is working to silence free speech on the subject of climate change. The latest of these articles, Silencing Dissent via the Courts, described a lecture by Philippe Sands QC at the UK Supreme Court last week. Laframboise suggests with some justification that Sands is seeking to make it internationally unlawful for anyone to express an opinion on climate change that is contrary to the Establishment line.

Personally I am alarmed that lawyers get involved with the expression of any opinions – particularly scientific ones. If someone wanted to question the existence of gravity, for instance, I’d be outraged if a court tried to stop him.

In the case of climate change this lecture looked to me like just another precursor to the attempted United Nations power grab that the December climate conference in Paris will represent. If the proposed treaty goes through the world will, for the first time, have an unaccountable global supranational power ruling over it. And that’s not a crackpot theory, but documented under UN imprimatur. Climate change has been an extraordinarily convenient instrument with which the UN has been able to crank up its grip on world affairs over the past twenty years. That is why politicians and prelates pronounce their conviction at a volume that varies in inverse proportion to the validity of the evidence. The UN is become the fountainhead of authoritarianism.

Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming began as a tenuous theory, backed up by little more than computer models making predictions. The globe has refused to cooperate with those predictions. You would be hard pressed to find a single one that has been realized by actual events, even though we are already a long way beyond the computers’ projected timetables. Taken from official data, there has been no increase in global temperature for nearly nineteen years, no abnormal rise in sea levels, no reduction in net polar ice, no increase in severe weather patterns, and five times as many polar bears as when I was a boy. That is not to say that the theory is necessarily wrong, but it does increase what have always been serious doubts. Let us see to what extent Philippe Sands QC acknowledges those doubts.  He begins at 8:05

If you are a lawyer you may find this riveting. If not you may not. I am not a lawyer. The etymology of the word ‘lecture’ decrees it to be a reading. This is a reading. The quality of Sands’ delivery notwithstanding, the people in the room seem to be staying awake; but I would rather be at home with a good book – or even a bad one.

After some preliminary niceties he begins with an account of some meeting some years ago in the UN whereat the islands of Palau were making a noise about imminent submerging under rising sea levels. Interestingly, although he does discuss in detail the legal ramifications of all this, he never actually tells us whether sea levels were rising or have since risen or whether the islands have in the mean time gone on their own sweet way. Having just googled them I can tell you that the indications are the last.

And this sets the tone for the entire lecture. Nowhere does he actually supply any hard evidence to support the climate change theory, merely protesting in impenetrable legalese that international courts have no proper influence over the matter.

The nearest he comes to evidence is an extended argumentum ad verecundiam beginning around the 17 minute mark. He extensively quotes the IPCC. As far as I could tell he quotes no actual data.

The Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change was founded in the ’90s under the auspices of the UN. Let us note the words ‘climate change’ in its name. Why is that significant? Because if there is no climate change there is no IPCC. Its existence and a large number of taxpayer-funded jobs depend upon a presumption encapsulated in its name. Over the years several venerable scientists have left it, protesting that they have been misrepresented. Nevertheless, though independent organisations sent in to audit its work have been critical of its being a political rather than a scientific body, the IPCC has produced five assessment reports, each accompanied by a summary for policymakers. The latter begins life as a draft produced by the IPCC and is then for several days subjected to phrase-by-phrase editing by a huge international panel of political beings ensuring that the summary follows the political narrative they wish to pursue. Therefore what began as a political bit of purported science becomes further politicised out of all recognition. And that’s the authority that Sands quotes. Again I say argumentum ad verecundiam, and pretty shoddy verecundiam at that.

At 43:00 Sands says, “the room for real doubt has disappeared”. He is a Professor of Law. I wonder what terminology he would deploy to tell a student, whose research was as shallow as quoting a single and interested source, that he’d been inexcusably idle.

He continues till 56:22; and essentially he has called for the International Court of Justice via the evidence of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be granted extraordinary powers over matters of scientific opinion, in order to facilitate the signing of a treaty in December which would give the UN unaccountable powers that no body – elected or otherwise – has ever had before.

Both the ICJ and the IPCC are UN bodies. All are impervious to the wishes of any electorate. What was it someone once said about absolute power?