On Thursday 14 November 2013, I was invited to speak at debate held at Oxford University, hosted by the Oxford Union, against the debate motion ‘This House is Proud to be Patriotic’
To be honest, I thought it would be very difficult to win a debate arguing against patriotism/nationalism only three days after Remembrance Day (commemorating the UK’s war dead). Patriotism is an emotional phenomenon and its hard to persuade people using only a short speech and intellectual arguments, to go against something they’ve spent their entire life being emotionally inculcated with, and mentally attached to the idea of loving their country. I actually thought our side may lose.
The Proposition (i.e. those arguing FOR the motion) were very formidable, featuring a very polished and smooth professional American speaker, a Guardian newspaper journalist (using very sophisticated arguments), and an British politician (who invoked World War 1 and 2, and cited how the ex-presidents of the Oxford Union had given their lives in the wars!). A very formidable team indeed!
It was one of the most hardest debate challenges I’ve faced up till now. In the space of the 8 minutes that was given to me for my turn, I had to contribute my bit to persuading the audience to go against a life-long strongly held belief and attachment to country. Islam believes in a universalist humanitarian stance on humanity as the tribe of Adam (a.s.), so I appealed to the fitra (innate humanity) of the audience, and engaged the topic with rational argument.
The Oxford Union has had a close attachment to government, with many speakers there later becoming Prime Ministers of the UK. The strong sense of tradition and national leadership permeate every nook and cranny of that prestigious student institution.
But rational argument is stronger than emotional argument, and I refuted much of the Proposition team’s arguments, and demonstrated the truth of the Islamic position regarding humanity – namely, all humans are equal, and of equal concern, with only morality and virtue being the basis for distinguishing between people’s worth. My team were good, and together we made a very strong case, with Matthew Handley, Edie and Peter Tatchell making similar lines of arguments in their various and unique styles.
The audience voted at the end of the debate, and our side won! The motion ‘This House is Proud to be Patriotic’ was successfully opposed and defeated. Allah (swt) granted us an amazing victory!
La Nusr ila biLLAH
(No Victory except from God)
The Oxford Union have told me they will be putting up the video of the debate on their youtube channel.