Tuesday, August 16, 2011
A pointer for Robert Spencer and anyone else when debating Muslims: One point at a time.
Robert Spencer's recent debate with Moustafa Zayed on women in Islam illustrates one seemingly minor -- but I would argue crucial -- problem when those in the A.I.M. (the anti-Islam movement) debate Muslims: Too often (if not, in fact, virtually every time), we let the Muslim exploit the multiplicity of points that inevitably crop up in any debate, in order to generate obfuscation of any (and every) single point we might score.
In the above mentioned debate, the Islam apologist Zayed comes to the table with the broad claim that Islam supports, and encourages, equality of men and women. The moderator lets him go first, and of course, for a few minutes he lays it on thick with the usual slatherings of slick taqiyya. When it's Spencer's turn to rebut, Spencer begins well --but then makes a critically flawed move. Instead of sticking to his first point, he immediately begins to clutter his own presentation with a multitude of points, which then, predictably, Zayed uses to go off on tangents and generate obfuscation, which lasts throughout the debate, ultimately creating more smoke and fire than the clarity of light.
What Spencer should have done was the following:
1) For starters, only make his trenchant first point: namely, that the crucial passage of the Koran on this issue (4:34) begins by saying that "Men are superior to women..."
2) point out that this obviously and logically excludes "equality of men and women"
3) challenge Zayed to address this logical contradiction.
At that point, STOP. Pass the ball to Zayed -- and when Zayed proceeds to try to blow smoke up everyone's ass, and spends all his allotted time not answering the simple question, Spencer with his intellectual acuity can easily catch Zayed trying to tap-dance around the contradiction. When it's Spencer's turn again, he should not address any of the tangential or unrelated points Zayed blew into the room with his smoke-machine; but rather, like a tenacious terrier, Spencer should stick to the original point that Zayed has not answered. And Spencer should not let go of Zayed's pant leg on this, but persist in pressing the issue until it becomes clear that Zayed is trying to avoid the challenge, or until Zayed concedes that in fact, the Koran teaches the opposite of "equality" of men and women.
This may well take several turns, back and forth, to play out; and Spencer will have to sacrifice any other points he may wish to raise. But, as I argue in an earlier essay I wrote on this subject (linked below), it will be better as a spectacle for the audience of the debate to see a Muslim like Zayed fail miserably in answering a simple -- and important -- question, rather than to see a debate devolve (if not degenerate) into an overly complicated obfuscation of a variety of points, counterpoints, subpoints, and counter-subpoints, none of them resolved to satisfaction.
It would be more educational for the audience to see Zayed transparently tap-dance -- and the best way to do that is to let him, and positively encourage him to, tap-dance alone. The way it played out in this debate, however (as it has in countless other such debates), is that Spencer proceeded to dance with Zayed on the stage, and to huff and puff and tussle and grapple with him on this, that and the other point and sub-point -- which in turn tended to obscure the mendacious desperation of Zayed, and to deflect the spotlight that should have been trained on him, and him alone.
For a more detailed analysis of this strategy, see my earlier essay:
One point at a time: a proposal for future debates with Islam apologists