Empassioned, fierce but rational: an ideal debate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 12:00am

It was fiercely argued, passionate and very well attended. Debated against the backdrop of increasing evidence of US brutality in Iraq, the much-anticipated seminar 'The Oriental Challenge - Hopes and Realities in the Face of Conflicting Western and Islamic Value Systems' did not disappoint.

Describing it as probably 'the intellectual highpoint' of the symposium, and 'a very complex subject', Hans-Peter Raddatz (left), an author and scholar of Islamic Studies based in Munich, argued controversially that many German politicians had failed to criticise Islamic terrorist activities and that Sharia law, which subjugates the will of the individual to that of God, was incompatible with western democratic institutions that value individual human rights. 'The internal coherence of the shariatic mindset inside the community is strengthening. The renaissance of orthodoxy in Islam and the Islamistic expansion into western countries may build up to a new global solidarity,' Dr Raddatz said.

'The more ideological western collaboration with Islamism becomes, the more westerners themselves have to assume Islamic enemy ideas. Muslim enmity against the Jews has given impulses to a new anti-semitism in Europe, especially France,' he warned.

But Professor Udo Steinbach (right), director of the German Institute for Middle East studies in Hamburg, argued that, religious differences notwithstanding, the west had largely brought the problem on itself. 'The west is as much a challenge to Muslims as Muslims to the west,' he said, arguing that the 'Iranian experiment' with democracy, and predominantly secular Turkey, were examples of a cultural compromise. The goodwill achieved was being squandered by 'the politics of arrogance', not least by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said there could be no 'homogenous approach to the Islamic world' because it changed from country to country, and debate and understanding were preferable to confrontation. 'The west has to give up double standards and look for a more co-operative approach. We have lost credibility.'

The debate was a fine example of the ISC ideal of rational dialogue - no matter how passionate - over confrontation, but had to be brought to an abrupt end in extra time for dinner, where the only argument was likely to be about whether to carry on drinking or hit the hay in time for conference in the morning. Tricky one that.