Monday, March 02, 2009

One point at a time: a proposal for future debates with Islam apologists

My proposal is simple: Any future debates with Islam apologists (whether they be Muslims or PC MC ideologues) should integrate a non-negotiable rule:

The anti-Islam debater should only debate one point at a time, and should not move on to another point nor let the Islam apologist try in sophistical obfuscation to move on to another point, until such time as the Islam apologist concedes his error on that one point.

This rule should pertain, even to the detriment of the overall intended debate: i.e., the debate should continue to focus on the one point that remains unresolved, even if that means that all other points remain unraised and unaddressed for the entirety of the debate.

The standard rule of debates has been to apply a reasonable amount of time to each point, and after that time has passed, the moderator and both debaters usually agree to move on to the next point. This standard rule, however, assumes that the interlocutor in the debate is a reasonable person of good will. Islam apologists are not reasonable people of good will. They are generally speaking either sophistically deceitful and manipulative with an eye to evading honesty and fairness, or they are so deformed by their beliefs that they believe their own webs of lies, half-truths and evasions—or sometimes it is a mixture of the two. With interlocutors like these, a debate ceases to be a genuine debate and quickly devolves into a complex game of prevarication, sophistry and/or demented dancing.

Among many others one could adduce, the debates (both actual person-to-person debates as well as follow-up communications via Internet forums and emails) between Robert Spencer and Dinesh D’Souza, as well as those between Robert Spencer and Ali Eteraz (exclusively via Internet forums) as documented at the Jihad Watch website in 2007 are vividly representative of this problem and its dire need for a solution.

Perhaps the anti-Islamic debater understands fairly clearly the points, and perhaps he or she finds it invigorating and even takes pleasure in such games of dancing with sophists, but if the purpose of these debates is a more general education in the context of our communications effort in the War of Ideas against Islam, then our representatives in these debates owe it to us to find a better way to maintain utmost clarity and substance. To the extent that our representatives in these debates countenance the dancing games of their interlocutors, our representatives too often tend to become complicit—even if they sincerely do not intend to be—in the obfuscation tactics of the Islam apologists.

In order therefore to avoid this devolution and maintain clarity on any of the points, each point must be exclusively focused upon the one point in question, and this exclusive focus must last as long as it takes to expose the sophistry and/or the deformed logic of the Islam apologist. If an entire debate becomes dominated by only this one point, then so be it. Better to expose one point with clarity and substance, than to allow the Islam apologist to obfuscate most or all of the points in a tangle of sophistry which only careful readers of the transcripts after the fact must labor to tease out in unnecessary wastes of their good time better spent on more pleasant, more profitable things in life.

A good example of this is the fascinating debate from 2008 in text between anti-Islam debater David Wood and Islam apologist Bassam in the comments section of this page of the Answering Muslims website (to find the text debate, search or scroll down).

While David Wood did an excellent job against Bassam, that excellence is for the most part only rendered visible by the rather rare reader who would take the care and trouble to peruse that copious and complex exchange. I suggest, in keeping with my proposal here, that Wood would have served a better pedagogical purpose by fixating on any one of the dozens of points about which Bassam was screamingly in error—to the utter exclusion of all other points—and not letting Bassam move on to any other points until he admits defeat on that one point. As it stands, what we have in that exchange is a fireworks display of obscure facts and interpretations in a clotted jumble of argumentation, which may be easily navigable by an expert like David Wood, but which becomes bewildering and off-putting to most readers.

And besides, by following Bassam’s tactic of exploding the debate into radiating fragments of subsidiary points and sub-points, David Wood effectively allows Bassam to postpone his concession to defeat on any one of the points. It would be much better to have one concession from an Islam apologist, even if that means leaving unaddressed other important points, than to have a bewildering display of sophistical obfuscation. Or, there is no reason why we cannot have both, at different times, since those bewildering displays of Islamic mental savagery also have their pedagogical value. The problem is, in these debates we only get the latter, and never the former.


Blode0322 said...

Another sensible post, and this time it's a plan of action I can commit to! What more can I ask for?

Let me rehearse. Ahem.

Blode: I think we all need to consider the possibility that there is a connection between elements of Muslim teaching which call for the faithful to smite the infidel, and the fact that the faithful smite the infidel all the time.

Libby: That's racist! It's people like you who created Islamic extremism - maybe I should just call it "extremism". It's just like when we killed that nice President of Iran in the 70s and replaced him with that nasty Shah. That all happened because he was going to nationalize the oil industry, which was giving all its profits to us!

Blode: Do you think Muslims are a race?

Libby: No, they're a religion, duh.

Blode: How can opposition to a non-racial religion be racism?

Libby: Cause it's unfair.

Blode: So if I stole your car, would that be racism?

Libby: No!

Blode: So criticism of Islam - based not on esthetics or prejudice but textual analysis and criminology - can't be racism either. Isn't that correct?

Libby: What you said was mean and it hurt my feelings.

Blode: Will you please admit that criticism of Islam cannot be racism so I can correct the half-dozen or so historical mistakes you made regarding Iran.

[It now takes Libby over ten minutes to admit that criticism of Islam is not racist.]

Blode: Okay, just so you know - nothing like that happened in the 1970s. Mosaddeq was never President, the decision to nationalize happened before he was Prime Minister in 1951, the Shah had reigned since 1941, having come to the throne when Stalin forced his father to abdicate. The United States did not profit at all from Anglo-Iranian oil operations. Also you're wrong to blame "us" for this. "We" are not part of the CIA or the Eisenhower administration.

Libby: You're wrong. Iran was a democratic republic until the United States came in and made it capitalist.

[It now takes Libby over ten months to look up something on Iran and figure out that s/he knew nothing about Iranian history except what was muttered at meetings of the Progressive Student Union.]

It's an amusing scenario. In reality no one I debate this stuff with has nearly the required attention span - but your approach is sound.

Erich said...


You've got the right idea. Your scenario illustrates the point of my essay in both its sides -- your interchange with "Libby" about "racism" is what I'm talking about: relentlessly sticking to one point until the other side squeals "uncle". In your scenario, you didn't move on until you had apparently got her to do so (though in actual exchanges this might never happen).

Then your move into other territory revealed the problem of too much complexity: your challenge to her about Iran involves so many subsidiary issues, and some of them are so complex that they seem subjective or open to ambiguities, it becomes difficult again to pin the person down. The Iran part would have to be broken down into specific, distinct points -- each one of which should be treated the same way you treated the racism point, in my view.

(Recently, I had an experience with my own sister, who is a die-hard PC MC idiot I must say when it comes to Islam: I told her about how clerics and other Muslims in Iraq were terrorizing Christians who had liquor stores in Iraq, and almost immediately, my sister started to introduce radiations of a dozen unrelated sub-points -- but I stuck to my guns and brought the discussion back to that one point. She grudgingly acknowledged that point, but of course, that point does not necessarily indict Islam or all Muslims, so a lot of work needs to be done.

Thus, my recommendation here like I said in the essay is not going to solve any major problems, but I think it will help to manage the tendency in these interchanges of needless obfuscation with too many unrelated and complex points -- whereby most of them or all of them become lost in a bewildering richness of too much information which then leads the spectator to think it's all just ambiguous.

Nobody said...


If your sister is die-hard PCMC, you chose the wrong target by picking the plight of Iraqi Christians. You didn't mention whether she's pro-religious or not (I'm assuming no), but if she's PCMC, she'd not care a whit about Christians anywhere, because of their role as honorary whites, as you pointed out in a previous essay.

If she's a feminist, a better target would have been the plight of women in KSA, or gays in Iran, or honor killings. And how it's related to what the Sunnah says about these topics. You may have a tough sell convincing her here as well, but at least, it's a case where if convinced of the truth, she's likely to oppose Islam, whereas in the above case, it's unlikely to make a difference.


Brilliant rehearsal. I particularly liked your line, "So if I stole your car, would that be racism?"

It's funny how people bring up this topic of Iran, but probably don't know the first thing about it, other than the Shah's SAVAK secret service. Other canards are the US supporting the Taliban (never happened) or al Qaeda (ditto). If you actually were to describe what happened in Iran in the 50s, you'd be greeted with yawns, but if you were to react the same way to their description of what happened there (in case you didn't know all those details), you'd be greeted with contempt.

I once had 2 heated debates in a group of our friends - my wife and one of her friends being pro-Islam, and me and another 3 friends of mine being anti-Islam. And we were coming at it from 3 POVs - 2 of us Conservative, another Classical Atheistic Liberal, and yet another was a minority from a Muslim country. And we pummelled heavily on halal slaughter, polygamy, hatred of Infidels, and a few topics guaranteed to show Muslims in a bad light. At the end of the night, at 3:00AM, they all but conceded.

student said...

thanks for this analysis and proposal. i think it is the only way forward in discussions on this subject of Islam. if the building blocks of a world view or opinion is picked at one brick at a time then at some point the edifice will collapse.

in email correspondence with Muslims i end up with a very narrow focus on one point, which can only be conceded in my favour, or so i think, that often what happens is silence! When changing the subject or calling me names does not work they just go away!

thanks again

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