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.