Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Get Smart: IQ2US Includes Women’s Voices in Debate about Islam

A few days ago, I caught an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on the radio. The series evaluates a claim through Oxford-style debate. The resolution was “Islam is dominated by radicals.” The wording of the issue is flawed, as participant Reza Aslan (against) pointed out in his opening speech, and the supporting team’s attempts to clarify the intent of the resolution led to inconsistent interpretation on both sides of the debate.

Nevertheless, the debate was commendable in its choice of participants. For an issue about Islam, both sides included Muslims — more notably, Muslim women.

Asra Nomani argued on the “for” side, and Edina Levovik, with Aslan, represented the Muslim voice on “against.” The debate also included the opinions of non-Muslims: two top figures in conservative think tanks (for) and a Columbia University history professor with an emphasis in Muslim countries (against).

It’s important that Muslim women’s voices be a part of all discussions of Islam. This resolution did not focus on women, so it was surprising (but refreshing) to see women comprising the majority of the Muslim debaters. This sends the message that women are an engaged part of Islam, not passive victims. Because Muslim women were shown on both sides of the debate, it’s clear that that within that community, there’s a diversity of opinions.

The live debate was held April 15. You can read more about it, see profiles of the debaters, and listen to the full debate here.