Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Doha Debates Dazzle

I recommend highly The Doha Debates. This is a debate forum presented by the Qatar Foundation:

Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is a private, chartered, nonprofit organization, founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar. Guided by the principle that a nation's greatest resource is the potential of its people, Qatar Foundation aims to develop that potential through a network of centers devoted to progressive education, research and community welfare.

The Doha Debates are an inspiring expression of the human spirit and the faith that discussion of controversial issues followed by a vote is the best way to decide issues. The debates are conducted in English.

The Doha Debates have a format similar to the traditional `Oxford Union' debate, where discussion centres on a "motion", usually a controversial statement. Two teams argue for and against the motion; the discussion is then thrown open to the audience, directed by the chairman, Tim Sebastian. At the end of the debate, a vote is taken and the chairman announces the result, declaring the motion to have been passed or rejected by "the House".

Among the challenging motions that have been considered are:

"This House believes it is time to talk to Al Qaeda."
"This House believes the pro-Israeli lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel's actions."
"This House believes the face veil is a barrier to integration in the West."
"This House believes only a new dictator can end the violence in Iraq."
"This House believes that the international community must accept Hamas as a political partner."
"This House believes it is time for the Arab League to disband."
"This House believes that oil has been more of a curse than a blessing for the Middle East."
"This House believes that Arab women should have full equality with men."

As you can see, arguing these motions from the heart of the Middle East is quite an inspiring endeavor.

The Doha Debates are an amazing educational forum that works on many levels. First, the debates educate in the process of how to engage in pointed discussion over sensitive questions without resorting to fighting. Second, the Debates provide the informative content of diverse views that are seldom heard together in the same venue. Then the vote taken at the end of the debate is itself an educational tool for teaching the fundamentals of democracy and trusting in the wisdom of "the House" to reach the best conclusion. This is a subtle and profound education.

And as if that were not enough, in addition to the education of the participants, an equally important and profound education is given to the viewers in the West to observe how the diverse audience of "the House," composed of people primarily from the many Arab states, engage wholeheartedly in the debates and their voting conclusions. The Debates make it clear that the participants are not "aliens" or radically different human beings, but are simply people with the same hopes and aspirations of people everywhere. In other words, the Debates provide insight into the views of educated bilingual Arabs and shows that those views are as diverse and reasonable as the views of educated peoples everywhere.

I must admit that of the 20 debates presented in their video formats, when I voted at home I was in the majority of 19 of the debates. So I feel pretty in tune with the audience there. I was in the minority on the motion "This House believes that the Middle East road Map for peace is dead". I won't say why I decided as I did, or whether the motion passed or was rejected, because part of the fun of watching the Debates is to hear and consider them and to vote along with the House.

If you want to learn something about how the people of the Middle East think without the filter of US propaganda in the US media, please watch the Doha Debates.

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