Posted on September 25, 2015

SELF: The Importance of the Debate

Self

I have always loved debates. They are something I have much passion for but little talent in. My reasons for loving them have changed over the years but their importance has only grown in my mind.

I recently came across three channels on Youtube that I have been binge watching. They are the Cambridge Union debates, Oxford Union debates and the Doha debates. I had no idea these even existed! And I admit they mayyy have consumed far too much of my time for the last few weeks (along with some Netflix Harry Potter movie watching heheh)!

But why are debates important? We all have ideas and beliefs that shape our identity and actions. I believe that these beliefs and ideas should be analysed and critiqued if we wish to use them to base our actions and identities on. Good debates are a fantastic platform for this. But why listen to those we disagree with?

One important reason is confirmation bias. This is a large topic but part of it is that we tend to only read things that we already agree with, and discount different viewpoints and evidence. We all like to believe that we are rational people, but we all suffer from confirmation bias to some degree or another, especially for deeply entrenched beliefs or strongly emotional issues.

This has been found to make people ignore evidence, even when it is greater than their own, for a position they feel attached to. Another equally important reason is given by Andre Maurois when he says:

The difficult part in an argument is not to defend one’s opinion, but rather to know it.

We only really begin to understand how little we know about anything when we try to explain something complicated in a clear and concise manner. If we do not clearly understand something, we need to be careful basing our lives around it.

So what is a good debate? The best kind of debates are those that follow the principle of Imam Abu Hanifa who was reported to have said:

I believe my opinion is right with the possibility it is wrong, and I believe the opinion of those who disagree with me is wrong with the possibility it is right.

It is best to come to a debate with an open mind and the humility to think that the opposing side may be more correct than your side. A poor debate is one where both sides come to the debate certain of being correct, both unwilling to listen to the other side, only prove them wrong.

Another favourite quote comes to mind from Bertrand Russell who said “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts.” …so I take this to basically mean, be careful of those who refuse to listen to opposing views!

A certain event really cemented this notion in my head. Many years ago I was on my way to the prayer room at my university, which was located very close to the evangelical Christian society. I happened to pass two brothers who were having a lively debate with two evangelical union members about whose religion was in fact the correct one (?!?!!!…was my initial reaction loll).

The brothers were reciting verbatim lines from a book, seemingly convinced of the flawlessness of the arguments. The Christians were quoting verbatim from another book which deftly negotiated around the question. The brothers were getting increasingly frustrated as their opponents seemed to be eluding them somehow.

After repeating the question a number of times without success one brother lost his temper and shouted out “answer the question without lying or Wallahi I am going to punch you in the face!” Needless to say both groups walked away equally unsatisfied, and I walked on with a bad taste in my mouth.

So clearly that was a poor debate lol!! They weren’t interested in discussing each religion, or anything at all. They are there to assert their perspective and ignore all others. But it is important to not let bad experiences turn you away from the search for truth, or at least the perspective of others, which can be found in a good debate.

Another important aspect of a good debate is confronting fears you may have, even without realising it. For example when perusing the debates I came across a Cambridge Union debate concerning whether religion has a place in modern society.

To be completely honest, for a moment I was scared to click on the link. In that moment I realised that I was afraid that the arguments against organised religion may have become too strong considering the damage that has been done recently in its name.

So I forced myself to confront that fear and watch the video, to see what arguments there were in favour and against it. At the end, I honestly was convinced neither way, but I had more things to consider and less things to fear.

This is much better put by Joseph Joubert when he said, “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”

And that ultimately is the benefit of a good debate. I pray we all find truth in all its forms, and the humility to seek it from those we disagree with.

Happy debate watching!

Some interesting ones are:
This House believes in the separation of mosque and state
This house believes that Arab women should have full equality with men
Freedom of speech and right to offend
This house believes there are no freedom fighters, only terrorists

And a lot more 🙂

-Muneer

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1 Comment

  • Reply Ayesha September 25, 2015 at 11:02 am

    This is fantastic. It is so true that we naturally tend to seek out material that we already agree with. I do it all the time. It is scary to confront ideas that challenge your views but you are right in that when you are open to understanding other ideas there is less fear. Definitely something to think about. Haha your tale of the brothers’ confrontation with the christians is hilarious (and also so sad)!

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