Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Debating Well

(I'm posting this here because it turns out that there's no need for it to be in the top Pages section. If you commented, don't worry - I'm going to copy/paste your comments below in the Comments section. Thanks for understanding!)

I'm not sorry for the length. I believe it was necessary.

Pre-post: This should be helpful most for Pashtuns and Muslims. Why? Because, apparently, one Muslim represents ALL of Islam and ALL Muslims; and just one Pashtun represents everything about Pashtuns! That’s just how life works, especially for minorities (Muslims being a minority in the west, that is).
Before you involve yourself in any discussion, be it religious or political or social or of any other sort, please try to remember that not all those who belong to your religion/race will have the same beliefs as you do. That doesn’t mean you get personal with them or play the role of a judge and decide who’s right and who’s wrong. Also keep in mind that we all need to know how to have discussions before we get into them.Why?
A 9th grade English teacher who wished to make his students fit for healthy and intellectual discussions once said to his shy, uninterested-in-talking class, "I think women lack the intellect of men."
And that got everyone talking. As we talked, he listened to us, would nod at times, and then let another person talks as she/he would raise her/his hand.
Once the discussion was over, he said, "I do not personally believe that women lack the intellect of men; I said that only to push you all to talk, to see if you can support your arguments and views or not. We will do this frequently in this class."

The Purpose of Debates? 
Unlike many people, I do not believe that debating has to always come to "common terms." Why does it have to? Doesn't that mean one side has to submit to the beliefs of the other side, or be convinced by it? If "coming to common terms" means, however, that they agree to disagree while trying hard to understand each other in order to respect and tolerate each other, then good; that's fine. But otherwise, no.

How Scholars Talk of/to Each Other I was noting the way that Dr. Khaled Abou el-Fadl, author of Speaking in God's Name, expressed his views in Gender Jihad by Amina Wadud. Abou el-Fadl wrote the introduction of the book. Now, he wrote something that made me respect him a thousand times more than I did before that moment. It went something like: "Although I disagree with some of what the author says about Islamic law, I must say that my respect for her has increased with the way she has formulated her argument."
I thought to myself, how do you disagree with someone this strongly and still speak so honorably of her/him? Is that even possible? And then I realized ... yes, yes it is. Most of my close friends and I rarely agree on anything, but we still get alongvery  well and value each other's judgments and opinions.

Then right now [e.g., April 2010], I'm reading a book called Islamism: Contested Perspectives on Political Islam, a compilation of several articles on what "Islamism" is; it's edited by Richard Martin and Abbas Barzegar. Each article is worth a read, but this one has a few hints for how to hold a discussion more properly, and I thought it necessary to share those here.
They are from the article "Terminological Problems for Muslim Lives" by Amir Hussain. The article starts on page 57 of the said book, but what I'm about to quote is from page 58. I understand, though, that these suggestions are more useful in terms of wars and political enemies and political dialogues. Still, I think they apply to ours as well. (Everything I write below this is from the book.)
In our course, Derek [Evans] articulated six principles of dialogue:
  • Listen to understand (not to convince, correct, refute, re-load)
  • Mutual (a dialogue, not a monologue)
  • Rooted in recognition and respect (disagree agreeably)
  • Honest and real
  • Open to the possibility of relationship
  • Functions by declaring and testing assumptions
Conflict exists--it is a natural element of any relationship or community or system. The question is whether it is destructive to the relationship, community, or system, or whether it leads to health and understanding; to stronger relationships, communities, or systems; to reconciliation.
And what do I mean by reconciliation? In his 2004 book, Before the War, Derek Evans gives these beginnings of a good definition of reconciliation.
  • It is not about enemies coming to like each other.
  • Instead, it is about recognizing, whether we like it or not, that we are in each other's future.
  • It is a move from agreeing to terms of separation to creating conditions for collaboration.
  • Practicing reconciliation involves finding ways, and helping each other to find ways, to build our necessary relationship on a new foundation.
  •  ...
  • Reconciliation may or may not involve measures such as compensation, punishment or forgiveness, but will certainly require acknowledgment of suffering and well-founded assurance that it will not happen again.
(End quote.)

Representing Yourself
I’m sure we all realize the importance of representing oneself or someone/something else. We ALL here represent our religion, especially in the case of Muslims, and our cultures, especially in the case of Pashtuns.  I hate that we have to live with this burden, but we can’t deny it any longer. What I mean by this is that when one Muslim/Pashtun does something bad, the entire world judges ALL Muslims/Pashtuns as bad people who don’t know how to make a point properly, or who always turn to cursing and abuses as their best weapon in arguments. Yet, when one or even most of us refuse to curse and always use a respectful language in all arguments, no one attributes it to our religion or culture.

Besides, we also represent our families and our own selves as individuals, and whether we like it or not, everyone – EVERYONE – judges us by the way we present our perspectives on public forums/blogs/etc.

The point: Talk properly; the world is watching you, and you don’t want to worsen your image universally. And you want people to respect you just as they expect you to respect them.

If you don't know how to appreciate yourself and your identity, or refuse to believe that your identity plays a role in allowing others to treat you a certain way, you may read a blog entry of mine that discusses this. It's called "Embracing Your Identity." 

Do not curse. It makes you look pathetic. And I’m one of those people who just CANNOT read a post that has curse words in it. I don’t skim through it: I completely ignore it.

Capital Letters
Avoid using capital letters as much as possible in your posts. It makes YOU LOOK LIKE YOU ARE YELLING EVEN WHEN YOU MIGHT NOT MEAN TO BE YELLING (See what I mean? I wasn’t yelling, but it must have seemed that way to most.) Besides, no one likes to be yelled at, and we’re all mature adults here so I’d expect that there’s no need for anyone to yell at anyone else.

Too many Exclamation/Question Marks
Do not use more than one exclamation point and/or question mark at a time. It’s just not professional!!!!!!!!! Do you get my point????? (no, wait, lemme make it worse: DO YOU GET MY POINT????!!!) (Sorry – that’s an example.) No more than one should ever be necessary, but even if they are, don’t make it a habit.
(Oh, and while we’re at it … lemme also remind you that it’s not professional to use more than “three” dots (...) either. The most is 4, but the last period indicates the end of a sentence; otherwise, it’s 3 and is called an ellipsis).

Always provide references for your claims. If you can’t find proof for something you say, then you must not make such a claim at all. Just saying "scholars say so" doesn’t work because you gotta name or list the scholars; what is their credibility? What exactly are they scholars in? Where did they get their "ijaazah" (permission or certificate) and/or degrees from? Who are/were their teachers? And so on.

Not all Humans are Alike
Yes, whether we like to accept it or not, not all humans are alike. Not all Muslims believe the same way (or express their faith in the same way), and not all Pashtuns practice Pashtunwali the same way, either. So when you label something as “Islamic/un-Islamic” or “Pashtun/un-Pashtun,” remember that you’re defining Islam and Pashtunwali right there and limiting it for every other Muslim/Pashtun, and that means you shouldn’t be afraid of being challenged, then, ‘cause someone is bound to disagree with your definition, concepts, and understanding. I certainly will.

If you don’t like to accept this fact, then just don’t ever, EVER get into ANY discussions 'cause you're going to have a miserable experience and may constantly allow yourself to be attacked by others. It's just not a good feeling. (Whaaat, I was once a dumb little girl, and always got offended when someone would disagree with me! Now, it's not like that anymore. Perhaps a result of several years of debates on controversial topics. All worth it, I tell you.)

My point:
Don’t expect everyone to agree with you on even a few things; there will be disagreements, and they should be tolerated as long as they are expressed in a respectful manner.

When someone challenges your view, you should be happy; it’s a chance  for you to not only share your knowledge with someone (which may be your explanation for your particular perspective that’s being challenged), but also a chance for you to learn something from a peer.

When disagreements DO arise, which they will more often than we might want them to, remember the Quran's advice:

"Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best" (4:149).

Of course, we don't have to limit this to discussions/arguments/debates with just non-Muslims; it could, and in fact should, apply to all people. So, when you want to make a point or support your arguments, you want to use good manners and argue in a way that is best. "Best" here, I would propose, means that you want to talk to them in a way that you expect them to talk to you. 

Be respectful towards everyone participating in the discussion/debate. Be mindful of the fact that the good things you do are always attributed solely to you while the bad things you do are attributed to all those groups of people you represent (your religion, race, country, family, colleagues, etc.). In other words, talk to the other interlocutors in the same manner you expect them to talk to you. Maybe this whole world would be such a pleasant place if we actually did that. 

Peace to us all!


  1. Hina Khan said...

    Hey I must have missed this page. Everything you said is really well put! <-- I was about to use more than one exclamation mark there, you know me :P I can't stand full on swear words either and some people are plain rude, hey-ho, it does take all sorts to make the world!

  2. Me:
    Na, I posted this like yesterday, so it's new! (LOL @ the one more exclamation mark! :p)

  3. Snuze said...
    Mileage will vary, yes? It is all right to disagree, just do so respectfully.

    Nice elucidation.

  4. Me:
    Totally! Thank you for your comment, Snuze! :)

  5. Anonymous said...

    Anonymous said...

    Qratugai, very nice blog.... came across some topics. I really appreciate your appraoch that at least v have such bold pashtuns female.
    I agree for certain issue you raised but am disagree for some... as like the gender issue.
    Just have only one question.... Why female has menstrual cycle and male has no?
    why women can be pregnant and male cannot (naturally). why women are allowed not to pray during the period and after child birth?
    I am father of 5, the eldest is daughter and rest are boys. I love my daughter more than my sons and am trying to educate them equally... and is my struggle to consider daughter(s) as like son(s) (in education and other rights).
    Also is there any psychological changes happening during her cycle or after child birth? what mainly happens during these time? consider all circumstances....! Hope you will not take offensively....
    Khan... Riyadh

  6. Me:
    Hello, Riyadh! Thank you very much for your comment! Very kind of you!

    I'm not sure what you mean by your questions. We are biologically different, and that's obvious and everyone acknowledges it. Do you have a specific purpose for asking that? I suppose you want to say that because we're biologically different, that because our biological roles are different, women should have different social, political, etc. roles and rights than men. Is that so?

    And why do you love your daughters more than your sons? I find that unjust, personally, although I'm no one to tell others whom to love and whom not to love :)

    Thank you again for your comment! God bless you and your family!


Dare to opine :)

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