Monthly Archives: April 2012
by Simon Gibson | 20 April, 2012
Needless to say there has been much angst during the week over the decision to allow Behring Anders Breivik to make a statement to the court in his defense. This case – many argued – went right to very heart of the freedom of speech debate: should this monster be allowed to speak?
The main objections seemed to be that he was allowed to speak for so long. Indeed he was interrupted by the judge on a number of occasions:
“Arntzen: Breivik …
Arntzen: Are you approaching a conclusion to this written your post?
Breivik: I’m on page six. Of the 13. I have come half way.
Arntzen: Yes, very much. And now it’s been thirty minutes, so I suggest you prepare a termination of your written reading.”
13 pages.. of this…. you could almost feel the judge’s draw drop! Equally there were others who found the length of the diatribe offensive – in that he was allowed to say too much. Helen Pidd “tweeting live” for The Guardian found the statement too distressing relay completely and therefore offered only edited tweets; which sort of missed the point.
In fact there was very little in the speech that was shocking; his evidence under examination has been much more devastating. Instead it was rather boring. It told us very little new about right wing fanatics or extreme political views. But it did have interesting things to say about the mind of the man himself, or what sort of mind it is.
Never Read Your Cuttings
First of all, never believe celebs or criminals who say they don’t read the press. Breivik seems someone who had devoured every column inch about himself:
”They also claimed that I am narcissistic, antisocial, psychopathic, that I suffer from germ phobia and put on a face mask daily for many years. I only like red sweaters and that I have an incestuous relationship with my own mother. They also claimed that I am miserable, pathetic, a baby killer, a child killer despite the fact that I am not accused of having killed someone under the age of 14. That I’m a coward, inbred, homosexual, paedophile, necrophilic, racist, sociopath, fascist, Nazi, Zionist and anarchist…. But it is important that everyone understands why these cultural elites, journalists, editors, and even prosecutors in this case, will continue to ridicule, mock and lie about me.”
From this extract it’s clear Breivik does care deeply what people say about him (what’s wrong with red sweaters!); all the posturing in the court, the fist salutes are narcissistic. That is interesting because that is in line with Nazism; there is a narcissism which runs deep here and it is conveyed in the language. For instance his claim:
“I have implemented the most sophisticated, spectacular, and the most brutal political assassination committed by militant nationalist in Europe since World War II.”
Breivik clearly has to be seen as special; and notice the frame of reference back to World War II, repeated many times in the course of the speech. The War is clearly the anchor line in his outlook/philosophy. It gives him a moral and emotional framework from which to view the world. Past Wars justify future conflict – because they reveal the true dark side of man. Conflict is more “true” to human nature for Breivik than conciliation.
The second thing to notice about the speech is its jargon and overwhelming sense of abstraction:
“There is no foundation for democracy and all our state institutions such as schools and universities permeated by cultural Marxist and multicultural curriculum. … It’s no secret that the opponents of cultural Marxism and multiculturalism have been silenced after World War II. This opinion tyranny is the real terror. “
There is the abstraction of the endlessly repeated terms “cultural Marxism” and “multiculturalism” = which is continued even in his more threatening comments:
“There comes a purifying storm. This civil war will not come suddenly and unexpectedly. There will be a gradual escalation and polarization in society, and we will see more frequent attacks from right-wing patriots and from Islamists.”
“Escalation”, “polarisation”, “right wing-patriots”, “Islamists” – these are all abstractions – there is no sense of real people here – only terms.
And the same is also reflected in Breivik’s use of statistics in the speech:
“A British survey showed that 69 per cent of Britons see immigration as either a problem or as a very big problem. Source references are in the compendium. Another survey from February 2010, from the UK, showed that a massive 70 per cent are dissatisfied with multiculturalism and Islamisation. 70 per cent dissatisfied with multiculturalism and Islamisation.”
His outlook is framed by huge ideological movements, by stats and numbers, and empty lists. The really chilling dimension to all this rhetoric is not its accusations but in the abstraction – the almost complete absence of any human dimension to his thinking and language.
It is in this one might understand the mind of the monster: he shows no pity or remorse for his actions because he does not recognize that they were actions against real, simple, human beings – but a war against abstract ideologies. He does not see people as individuals but as political stats.
One can hear this mind at work in his denial and it dead-sounding, abstract list of causes:
“And I can not admit guilt. I acted with the principle of necessity on behalf of my people, my culture, my religion, my city and my country.”
The chilling moment
There is only one human moment, one piece of everyday language in the whole speech. It comes when he reviews the terrible legacy of “60 years of Labor” of “multiculturalism” and “cultural Marxism” and observes:
“The only thing that we would be left with is sushi and flat panel displays”
Suddenly we have an insight into the real – in the reality of Breivik’s own life and lonely days of “sushi” and video games on “flat panel displays”.
One has the sense that it was a horror of this life, of complete anonymity, from which Breivik has recoiled.
In the end, the argument for the freedom of speech is not that it simply protects but that it reveals. Speech always reveals the mind of the man or woman standing before the crowd.
To read the whole of Anders Breivik’s court statement click http://www.voicegig.com/view-speech/2348/
by Simon Gibson | 13 April, 2012
This week Rick Santorum announced he was dropping out of the Presidential race. The news came during a speech at Gettysburg. No pressure there then.
Santorum referred briefly to the great speech, though interestingly he did not quote from it:
“I think what I tried to bring to the battle was what Abraham Lincoln brought to this battlefield back in 1863 on November 19th, when he talked about this country being conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal back in 1863 in November 19th.”
The bridge between the two speeches is contrived around “battle” and “battlefield”. However although the great Gettysburg Address was made at the battlefield, the speech was not about battle but about sacrifice. The Gettysburg Address was a funeral oration:
“That these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom”
So Santorum missed the connect. While it’s unfair to make comparison between the two speeches – it is fair to say this was not a Presidential speech. But it was revealing about the issues that helped raise Santorum’s Presidential campaign and give him some memorable victories. Or as he put it:
“Miracle after Miracle. This race was as improbable as any you will ever see for President.”
From the stentorian King James tones of Abraham Lincoln, the Santorum style is more Latter Day Saints and Evangelical. He repeats words such as “voice” and “witness” many times.
This speech was a “confessional” in the sense that much of modern American rhetoric is about establishing a common ground with an audience through admission, through admitting human frailty and suffering in its broadest sense.
Take a look at the examples Santorum used in his remarks:
“Our best phone caller asked after Iowa was a young man who came to our first event in Oklahoma in a wheelchair named Nathaniel who had spina bifida.”
“People like Wendy Jensen who was our best volunteer; 5-thousand phone calls. And just a few days before the primary, because she is someone who is dealing with a disability, dealing with an illness, she passed away shortly before the caucus but was someone that I remembered her passion for the least of us.”
Santorum successes came down to being able to connect to people through sharing their basic concerns, their” sufferings”. And it was this that he captured in his trade mark sweater vest:
“Amazing thing, that sweater vest. It happened on a night I was doing an event for Mike Huckabee in Des Moines and showed up and everyone was in suits and ties and I showed up in a sweater vest, and it turned out I gave a pretty good speech that night and all of a sudden the Twitter-verse went wild and said it must be the sweater vest. From that point on the sweater vest became the official wardrobe of the Santorum campaign.”
The Sweater Vest Significance
The success of the sweater vest has been much analysed: The New York Times positioned the vest as grandfatherly; the LA Times called it “avuncular.” Meanwhile, the Boston Herald went out on a limb and accused Santorum of “looking like a McDonald’s trainee.” Scarlett Johansson just declared the sweater vest “so sad”. (That must have hurt). While one can see that the sweater vest might have had connotations of the “ordinary Jock” and “the man next door” – whom you could trust/rely on – I think this speech and language Santorum used in it showed that the real message of the sweater vest, the secret to its huge popularity, was because it spoke of vulnerability. Stretched over Santorum’s slightly paunchy body it made him look vulnerable; the sleeveless style suggesting only a part armour, a vulnerability that was nevertheless still prepared to have a go:
“There’s a lot of greatness… in this country. We just need leaders who believe in that. Who are willing to give voice to that. Who are willing to raise us up instead of trying to provide for us and do for us what we can better do for ourselves.”
Santorum’s acceptable vulnerability lay at the heart of his success and the fact that it struck a chord across America is revealing of how the nation is feeling.
So it may be good bye to the Sweater Vest Man, but – lest we forget – as he said:
“Against all odds we won 11 states. Millions of voters. Millions of votes.”
To read the full text of Rick Santorum’s speech click here: http://www.voicegig.com/view-speech/2345/
by Simon Gibson | 03 April, 2012
Earlier this year, writer Salman Rushdie was prevented from speaking (even via video link) at a literary festival in Jaipur because fears of violent protests.
This week, Rushdie was invited by India Today to speak at its Conclave in Delhi. As he said:
“They called me and suggested that we needed to put that matter right, and that this would be a way of doing it.”
One of the other celebrities due to speak, Imran Khan, subsequently pulled out of the event because of Rushdie’s presence. This did not amuse Salman; and he used the start of the speech as a devastating series of taunts at the former cricketer:
“You know, there was a time when I would have felt very uneasy indeed to face Imran Khan… on the cricket pitch. But times change; and now it seems that it is Imran who is afraid of facing my bouncers.”
“Imran is a man of the old school. Maybe he doesn’t understand how this new-fangled stuff called email works.”
And then, sharpest of all,
“By the way, The Satanic Verses is a book which I would be willing to place a substantial bet that Imran Khan has not read. Back in the day when he was a playboy in London, the most common nickname for him in the London circles was ‘Im the dim’.”
Forget bouncers, this is Bodyline.
At the end of these taunts at Imran Khan, Rushdie remarked:
“This is what we call the exercise of freedom of speech. It feels pretty good.”
One gets the sense of a boxer in a ring, the sense of enjoyment in landing punches. And of course that is the exhilaration of speech making for someone as accomplished as Salman Rushdie, able to take Imran Khan’s claim
“that he wouldn’t dream of being seen with me because of what he calls the “immeasurable hurt” that I have caused to Muslims.”
And use it against his opponent with a simple twist of a word:
“Immeasurable hurt” is caused to Islam by people like the fanatic who killed this young man (Aatish Taseer)’s father and by those who showered the killer with flower petals when he came to court. Immeasurable hurt, Imran? This kind of hurt is measurable.”
In this little twist of immeasurable to measurable not only overturns Imran Khan’s comment but also shows why language is so powerful. Changing just one word can devastate your opponent.
The rest of the speech is devoted to familiar territory for Rushdie, defending freedom of speech:
“Here in India also, a combination of religious fanaticism, political opportunism and, I have to say, public apathy is damaging that freedom upon which all other freedoms depend: the freedom of expression.”
Rushdie is arguing that fanaticism is leading to a new “cultural war” while all about the economic miracle of modern India continues to bloom.
That’s an interesting insight, but not as interesting is the language of violence Rushdie uses to for his argument. For example:
“There is a line in my novel Shalimar, the Clown in which one character says to another, “Freedom is not a tea party, India. Freedom is a war.” You keep the freedoms that you fight for; you lose the freedoms that you neglect.”
“War”, “fight”, “defend” all carry the sense of violence. And suddenly one sees that language is far more than words. It is violence. It is a weapon. A speech is a fist fight. That is why speeches matter and why they are (rightly?) feared: because they are a means of violence, sharper, stronger, more destructive than guns or knives. This insight seems all the more appropriate emanating from a man sentenced to death by a fatwa, issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for the words he used in The Satanic Verses. One can argue Rushdie is an innocent victim of fanatics, or one can recognise that people use language as violence and may not be altogether surprised at the violent reaction it provokes.
Salman Rushdie ended this speech in India with the observation that:
“The human being, let’s remember, is essentially a language animal… The attempt to silence our tongue is not only censorship. It’s also an existential crime about the kind of species that we are.”
We are the language animal indeed, whose deadliest weapon is speech.
To read the full text of Salman Rushdie’s speech in Delhi click here: http://www.voicegig.com/view-speech/2330/