Muslims and non-Muslims who attend debate events or watch the media, commonly hear the ignorant cliche “It’s great that we [in the West] here can have such debates”, or “It’s a shame debates don’t happen in the Muslim world” or my own personal ‘favourite’: “Well, at least we can have debates like these here – you wouldn’t get this in the Muslim world”.
But these comments only betray crass ignorance and Occidental bigotry, since anyone who bothers to actually do an internet search, can see many debates happen all over the Muslim world, both at conferences, and on TV channels. We’d like to offer the following links to debate videos which are available on the internet, as proof of the variety of interesting and topical debates occurring in the Muslim world.
It should be pointed out, that the only places where religious debates are stifled, are countries where all debate is stifled. These regimes are invariably Secular in nature, and we hope the Islamic Awakening around the Muslim world will change that state of affairs, and allow intellectual life to once again flourish as it did during the classical times of Islam.
One of the most famous institutions for debate in the Muslim world is called ‘The Doha Debates’ (website can be found here) held in Bahrain. They are famous for controversial topics and debates, including “This House believes women are superior to men ” (2010), and “This House deplores the release of the Lockerbie bomber to Libya” (2009) and “This House believes the world is better off with Wikileaks” (2011).
Particularly, the Doha Debates held a controversial debate which challenged the very government of the country it was held in: “This House has no confidence in Bahrain’s promise to reform” held on 12 December 2011 led to an end vote that resulted in a victory for the anti-government motion!
As for religious debates, there are many which occur within the Muslim world, here are some easy to find ones, to name but a few:
Interfaith Debate between Jews and Muslims
Doha, United Arab Emirates, Filmed by Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar)
Who is Jesus Christ? In the light of the Bible and the Qur’an
The University of Wollongong, Dubai, United Arab Emirates 20th February 2007
Who is God and How are We Saved?
University of Wollongong, Dubai, United Arab Emirates 2nd March 2009
How Can We Find Forgiveness from a Holy God?
University of Wollongong, Dubai, United Arab Emirates 6th March 2011
Was Jesus Crucified? (Urdu)
Lahore, Pakistan. On November 25th – 27th, 2011
Muslim Sheikh debates a Scholar of the Qadiyani religion on Palestine TV
Categories: Responses to anti-Islamic Polemics
Some insincere ‘Christians’ (I use the term in it’s loosest sense) like Samson think that they can win the argument by calling out to the prevailing prejudices of society and saying things which amount to ‘well obviously Muslims wouldn’t allow debate, no need to bother proving that because it’s SOOOOOOO OBVIOUS!’
Except it’s not. And John Samson just got punked.
And we all know how Americans settle ‘ideological differences’…after all, it’s SOOOOOO OBVIOUS!
The Doha debates is a great initiative. Unfortunately the examples you give don’t really counter the ‘cliches’ you address. It is great that we can have ‘debates like these’ here- debates in which participants and audience members can express themselves freely without fear of death, imprisonment or other reprisals. The same cannot be said of Bahrain or Pakistan I’m afraid- people of certain beliefs and sexual orientation know to keep quiet and would never be able to express freely. I agree that the current period of political change in the arab world is potentially encouraging in this regard.
Well no one has been executed in Pakistan or Bahrain for their speech in living memory, so I fail to see your point. But as for imprisionment, ok Tom, I dare you to go to Germany and debate the Holocaust. It is a Western country right? Or perhaps you could hold a philosophical debate in the UK, about whether victims of Terrorism are morally culpable for the crimes of their elected representatives? (even if you emphasised it would just be an intellectual debate). Or how about hold a debate in France about French War crimes in Algeria. Then you’ll see how ‘free’ the West is.
There are several statutory and common law restrictions to Free speech even in the United States! These include ‘obscenity,defamation,incitement,incitement to riot or imminent lawless action,fighting words,making false statements in “matters within the jurisdiction” of the federal government, information decreed to be related to national security such as classified information,false advertising,perjury,harassment, privileged communications, trade secrets, copyright, patents, military conduct, and time, place and manner restrictions’.
But hey, if we want to debate the numbers killed in the Holocaust, whether some Sexual Orientations are a sin, or the French War crimes – it’s good that we can debate these issues, without fear of repercussions, in most countries of the Muslim world. Unfortunately the West would never allow them to happen there.
well put Abdullah!
The initiative he mentioned was in Bahrain so yeah it shatters stereotypes most definitely
Abdullah are you seriously denying that enshrining blasphemy and apostasy in law as crimes PUNISHABLE BY DEATH has a stifling effect on debate, on the basis that nobody has actually been executed as yet? I’m afraid that’s weak. As if it needed to be said, the principal function of punishment is to deter, and I think we can assume that the death penalty will have effectively deterred many would-be ‘criminals’ from speaking their minds openly.
In any case, formal punishment is not the only issue; state-approved vigilantism ensures that punishments are meted out at street level all the time. Many such incidents have taken place within living memory in Pakistan and elsewhere unfortunately. I’If I was an Ahmadi/homosexual/Christian convert living in Pakistan, I’d probably keep as low a profile as humanly possible or seek asylum in a country where my family would be protected. I certainly wouldn’t run the gauntlet of a public debate.
What’s more, censorship of books and the internet in countries such as Pakistan and Iran are such that certain perspectives could never be adequately researched by would-be debaters.
To respond with US copyright laws (!) and the like as comparable examples of Western suppression of debate is to clutch at the most brittle of straws (and that isn’t to say that the US is without its significant Human Rights problems).
Regarding France, can you be more specific regarding their freedom of Speech laws/cases involving the discussion of war crimes?
I’m opposed to Holocaust denial being criminalised (which is not to say it shouldn’t be condemned as rogorously and vocally as possible), but it should be noted that scholarly debate regarding the numbers of Jews killed during the Second World War takes place freely throughout most of the Western world anyway- indeed, the numbers stated are almost always qualified as estimates. Holocaust revisionists’ arguments are laughable and easily dismantled, and allowing such people to speak publicly would be the best way of ensuring their humiliation, and provide opportunities for the overwhelming evidence for the slaughter of six million Jews to be presented publicly again and again (in raising awareness of mass murder, it might also precipitate higher profile discussions of other atrocities, such as the extermination of one and a half million Armenians by the Ottomans, the murderous neglect of millions of starving Indians and Irish under British ‘protection’, labour camps in Communist Russia, massacres of the Arab and Berber populations of North Africa by the French, Congo, Rwanda and others).
Anyway, it is unlikely that holocaust denial or copyright infringement would form the thrust of an argument of the kind under discussion here. The fact that free and open debate on the topics under discussion can take place uncensored and uninhibited in the UK, with all participants enjoying the same legal rights and protection regardless of religious affiliation, sexual orientation etc, is evidenced by the existence and work of your institution.
When you say that debates on whether certain sexual orientations are sinful can take place without fear of repercussions in the Muslim world, I assume you a) not referring to either Bahrain or Pakistan and b) are presupposing that no practicing homosexuals will take part in these discussions. If this is the case, one wonders why you consider it to be in any way open.
At no point in the discussion, on this thread or the other, has anyone claimed that either the West or the Muslim world is ENTIRELY FAULTLESS in terms of Freedom of speech. In comparative discussions like this one, examples given by the defenders of party A to illustrate suppression by party B do not debunk the defenders of party B’s claims to superiority simply by being true; they would need to demonstrate the situation to be comparatively worse (a claim to superiority does not necessitate a claim to perfection). In fact many comparative analyses have taken place- look up reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Freedom House, and others. Anyone with the slightest regard for freedom of expression and other rights will find them disturbing, and yearn for a time in the future when people the world over can live as safely and freely as we do in the UK. And again, that’s not to say that the situation is perfect here.
If freedom of expression is something we value we should defend it wherever it is suppressed, and applaud it wherever it occurs. There is no place for ideological tribalism in the defence of universal principles (if we recognise them to be so), and to deny that such suppression takes place in the face of overwhelming evidence is to neglect our responsibility to our fellow men and women suffering under such oppression wherever they are.