When I was invited to this debate, I could see it would be a challenging one. The self-righteous slogan cited as a ‘defence’ of ‘Free Speech’ ‘Je Suis Charlie Hebdo’ has become a rallying cry throughout Europe, expressed with a blind zeal approaching fanaticism. The debate motion was clearly going to be opposed by a majority – it has become fashionable to do so in the West. So how to approach the subject? I, together with an Imam and a student debater (who joined last minute) communicated in the limited time we had a rational argument that the media’s republishing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons was unwise, and should be regretted as an unnecessary and counter-productive act. I also argued that the Paris attacks, and the subsequent French spin and claim to champion ‘freedom of speech’ was false – and in fact, hypocritical. Arrayed against us on the opposing side, were two student debaters and the Secular Liberal journalist, Lejla Kuric, who blogs for left-wing blog, leftfootforward.org.
The majority of the audience supported the opposition (that we should not regret republishing the cartoons) – of the 211 initial attendees (vast majority non-Muslim):
29.4% Agreed with Motion
47.4% DISAGREED with Motion
After all our presentations, then responses to Q/A from the audience, we intellectually demolished the arguments of what were a very tough opposition. We won the argument decisively when we made them go into knots to try to refute us, and made them accidently agree with our principal point that Charlie Hebdo cartoons are not beneficial, only insulting – and insulting is morally wrong, and ‘just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you had to do that thing’ – therefore, it may not be legally wrong to republish the cartoons – but it was morally wrong, and hence regretful.
During the Q/A a french student stood up, and said ‘bonjour’ to the audience to emphasise he was french. He then made the argument that Charlie Hebdo represents ‘typical’ french culture and is not malign. I replied IN FRENCH (yes, I speak it relatively fluently), and CORRECTED his French, saying ‘you should say bonsoir – because it is evening’)! I then disabused the audience of this ‘myth’ and showed how France holds many many anti-free-speech taboos it doesn’t tolerate being insulted.
I made the final summary for my team, to rousing applause, and after the opposition had said theirs, the voting was done again, producing the following results:
49.7% AGREED with Motion!!
38.6% Disagree with Motion
We successfully turned around the (vastly majority non-Muslim) audience. We managed to get half of them to agree, whereas before the debate, half of them disagreed and most of the rest where undecided.
Just wanted to thank you all for your duas (supplications) – a great results against the odds on an controversial and emotionally charged topic.
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