This afternoon I was on the tube trying to decide what to do.
This happens to me quite often lately. Iâ€™m enjoying what is probably the last few months of freedom before working life properly kicks off after graduation in February next year.
In the past few Sundays (and some weekday afternoons) since I had moved to this city, I have been running around town a bit to meet friends, doing stuff and generally checking out the smaller things in London that I had not seen yet. Having purchased a travelpass meant I could take the underground as much as I wanted.
As I was approaching Hyde Park Corner, I suddenly realised that despite being a Toastmaster, I had not checked out the Speakersâ€™ Corner! So I got off and wandered into the beautiful Hyde Park.
London Hyde Park Speakersâ€™ Corner is the original and most well-known speakersâ€™ corner in the world. Apparently even Karl Marx was a regular speaker here.
Iâ€™ve also heard that it is a famous icon for freedom of speech and expression. Anybody can turn up at any time and speak about any topic at all â€“ even if it is offensive – and this right is guaranteed by English common law and the European Convention on Human Rights.
It was a Sunday afternoon with quite an autumn chill, but that did not stop the corner from being packed with people speaking and yelling and debating! Walking into the crowd felt like being in a mob!
It was quite an interesting sight: random people were just pulling up stools, standing on them, and speaking. Good speakers attracted a huge buzzing crowd. Less proficient speakers had to be content with a few or no audience at all.
Because of freedom to talk about any topic the speaker had in mind, most, if not all, of the topics being spoken there were controversial ones.
The first speaker that I saw was a British Jew who was talking about how Muslims in the Arab world were responsible for the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Palestine.
Naturally, this offended a number of Arab Muslim members of the audience who started accusing the Jews instead of being responsible.
The debate, while non-violent, became extremely emotionally-charged and soon degenerated into a religious spat with the Arabs accusing the Jews as arrogant, murderous, and â€˜deserved to be killed by the Nazisâ€™ and the speaker denouncing the Arabs as backward, barbaric and oppressive to women.
A few members of the audience who argued with the speaker were actually quite eloquent. This Arab Muslim girl, for example, had a relatively intellectual and fact-based debate with the speaker:
Some other members of the audience, however, were not so calm. Many were highly agitated when the speaker accused Islam of being the cause of women oppression.
At one point, as the speaker took out a copy of the Quran to look up a passage, many Muslims demanded that the Jew turn over the copy and stop â€˜desecratingâ€™ it.
There were supporters of the speaker as well in the audience. Several times I was sure that violence was brewing but the people always managed to control themselves.
Whenever a member of the audience asked him not to talk about Islam, the speaker always, almost mechanically, yelled that Britain was a free and democratic country and it was his freedom to speak his mind.
I really admired the Arab Muslims who, although clearly offended, were able to stay calm and restrain each other from overreacting. They formulated good counter-arguments and counter-questions that made the debate highly illuminating.
One person, however, got out of control and threw his food on the face of the speaker, and left, cursing. Thatâ€™s not very good.
I took some random short videos of the debate and added in subtitles because people were just yelling here and there and itâ€™s a little hard to listen clearly. Itâ€™s my first time adding subtitles so some might be wrong. Viewersâ€™ discretion advised.
(WARNING: contains content and language that may be highly offensive to some people. If you are sensitive to criticisms to religion, race or politics, you should probably just leave it.)
This was when I started thinking it was indeed a brutal business speaking at the Speakersâ€™ Corner. You are speaking to a diverse group of people who have the right to interrupt you any time in any manner. On the other hand, the audience must be prepared to listen to hard talk and respond in a civilised manner as the speaker also has the right to speak.
I glanced around and noticed plain-clothes police patrolling the area. Iâ€™m quite sure that with the no holds barred debating style, some violence must have occurred in the past.
But of course, not all speakers were that controversial. Like this young schoolgirl:
I arrived half-way through her speech which had something to do with her wanting to become a businesswoman in the future, capitalism, politics and making a change.
But even she was not spared from aggressive audiences who attacked her political view and accused her of being greedy and only wanting to make money. I noted that these arguments were highly hostile and not at all polite.
I think despite her very young age, she handled the aggressive situation very well and formulated well-structured responses and arguments.
Of course, beside racial and political issues, religious speakers were everywhere.
There was this guy who was preaching the Gospel to a crowd of audience who kept contradicted and laughed at him. Although I must say, he wasnâ€™t doing a terribly good job at addressing the criticisms posed to him. He usually responded with a passionate cry of Jesus is the way!
The next Muslim speaker had a relatively soft voice, but I think he gave a reasonably rational speech arguing for the existence of God from an Islamic perspective. Of course, he too was not spared from critics. He was flanked by a group of devout Christians who relentlessly attacked his arguments.
I donâ€™t think any of the two were very good debaters. Hereâ€™s a short video of some random scenes with the two speakers:
I really loved how random this place was. Suddenly some guy would climb a fence or stand on a barrier and start yelling stuff. This guy below held on to some pole and started delivering a charismatic speech in I think Arabic, attracting a horde of Middle Easterners.
After listening to four speeches, I was shocked to find that I had spent almost three hours at the speakersâ€™ corner. I had intended to just check the place out for 20 minutes or so but ended up feeling like I could spend the whole day here.
This was a whole new level of public speaking. Although the speakers could hardly be called professional, they were very good in handling criticisms, or at least good in ignoring them. I must admit that I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m willing to give a speech there in front of that ruthless mob of an audience. At least not yet!
Some day in the future, Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ll develop the guts to stand on a stool and speak in Hyde Park. Just wait for it.View More