Powerful speeches affirm universal values which remain prevalent in human nature’s aspiration to productively approach the future. Noel Pearson’s speech “An Australian history for us all” (1996) and Anwar Sadat’s “Statement to the Knesset” (1977), through effective use of rhetorical devices, creates textual integrity to explore visionary ideas: establishing the need for change by examining “the past, with all its complexities”, and that in overcoming past conflict and uniting for a common goal, a “bold drive towards new horizons” may be undertaken. In his speech, Noel Pearson addresses the need to acknowledge the past mistreatment of Australian Aboriginals. As an Indigenous Australian politician, Pearson gave his speech at the Chancellor’s Club Dinner in the University of Western Sydney to advance equality of Aborigines. Pearson quickly introduces his purpose, “our popular understanding of the colonial past is central to the moral and political turbulence we are still grappling with as Australians”.
The illustrative use of turbulence is used to highlight the prevalence of past disharmonies and he uses the inclusive pronoun “we” as a synecdoche for all Australians to unify the audience. By directly quoting authorities such as John Howard and Bill Stanner, Pearson supplements his ethos and strengthens his case by evaluating both sides of the situation. The metaphor, “cult of forgetfulness” has negative connotations in order to challenge the common social mindset regarding the recognition of the past and induce a desire for change. Pearson effectively uses a cumulative list, “You have taken from us not just our land and not just all of the icons of Indigenous Australia…” to illustrate past injustices.
The diction is divisive between Indigenous and European Australians, but deliberate emphasis is placed on the past tense to suggest hope for the future. Thus Pearson adopts powerful rhetoric to emphasise the need for Australia as whole to move from past conflict. Just as Pearson argues the need to acknowledge past injustices, Sadat addresses a troubled past to unify his audience in a common desire for the visionary idea of change. During the war between Israel and Egypt, Sadat, as Egypt’s President, became the first Arab leader to visit Israel in his visit to the Knesset, the Israel ‘Parliament’, to establish peace with Israel by a mutual recognition of territorial boundaries.
Analogously to Pearson, Sadat emphasises mistreatment in the past, which the audience is encouraged to strive against, using tricolon and hyperbole in “the horrors of new, shocking and destructive wars, the dimensions of which are foreseen by no other than God himself”. The listing of their countries being “…complexed by its sanguinary conflicts, disturbed by its sharp contradictions, menaced now and then by destructive wars…” alongside asyndeton and emotive language augments negative consequences of wars which had occurred in the past. Sadat and Pearson both aim to raise their concerns to a national level and is seen when Sadat describes “a nation reduced to a motionless corpse”. The potent metaphor enhanced with pleonasm emphasises the state of depredation which audience members should reject. Therefore rhetorical devices are used by both Pearson and Sadat to augment their exploration of the timeless importance of acknowledging the past to identify the need for change.
Whilst disharmony and conflict exists in the past, Pearson’s future aspirations place the focus of his speech not on forgetting the past, but acknowledging the past to establish reconciliation. Pearson succinctly outlines the purpose of the speech when stating that “…the psychological unity of this country depends upon our taking responsibility for the future by dealing with the past”. The prerogative language of “taking responsibility” induces a sense that “dealing with the past” is something that Australia is obliged to do and is something that needs to be done. Throughout the speech, Pearson directly attacks the “black armband view of history”, a symbol for the urging of guilt and shame upon Australians regarding the past. Instead, Pearson strives to redirect the national discourse to appreciate the past as a whole rather than just the “prideful bits”. To create a common desire, Pearson uses repetition of “collective conscience”. The alliteration gives the speech rhythm and unifies the audience through evoking moral standards regarding equality for Indigenous Australians. Imagery of “national celebration” highlights the possibilities of gain from reconciliation and presents it to the audience as something desirable.
This is shortly juxtaposed with the phrase “…derogation and a diminution” in which emotive language of negative diction, supported by alliteration, highlights the future without action as disagreeable in an attempt to raise support for his cause to overcome the state of stasis and strive for a productive future with reconciliation. In accordance with Pearson’s aspirations for the future through reconciliation, Sadat effectively employs rhetorical devices to persuade the audience to unite in peace with Egypt. Unlike Pearson, Sadat is presenting his speech in enemy territory which requires him to utilise repetition of “Let us be frank with each other” in order to personalise the speech, engage the audience and build his pathos. Cumulative listing, “for the sake of them all, for the… smile on the face of every child born on our land” allows Sadat to further address his point.
Through anaphora, the sense of benefit for the wider community is invoked and the imagery of a child as a symbol of innocence and a new beginning presents hope for the future if action is taken. Sadat’s artistic use of the extended metaphor of a “huge wall between us” allows him to engage the audience and emphasise the prevalence of barriers to future progression which can be overcome through his goal of peace. Paralleled to Pearson, Sadat’s diction is unifying and accentuates his purpose of peace when he calls the audience, “We must all rise…” His demanding, authoritative tone paired with high modality language makes the need for action imperative and creates a sense of urgency for the audience. In addressing their aspirations for the future, Pearson and Sadat both use effective rhetoric in order to convince their audiences of the need to overcome the past and unite for a common future.
Although these speeches were written and spoken in disparate historical contexts, their exploration of issues at the core of the human experience involving unity and peace allows them to remain relevant and thought provoking. Despite Kevin Rudd’s 2008 Sorry Day apology and temporary resolution in the Middle East following these speeches, it is evident that the humanist ideals explored resonate. Contemporary responders can identify the application of these eternally relevant values in the continued presence of Indigenous disadvantage and ongoing conflicts including the recent unrest in Egypt which led to over 3000 casualties. With the skilful manipulation of rhetoric, Pearson and Sadat are remembered for their “wisdom and clarity of vision” in their conveyance of visionary ideas regarding equality and peace. Whereas context may not have direct application in today’s society, the importance of these ideas is often overlooked and responders could greatly benefit from analysing the concerns of these speeches.