Uni of Bath debates how to tackle Islamic extremism

The Bath University Debating Society and Middle Eastern Awareness Society jointly held a debate last night attempting to comprehend if the West is doing enough to combat Islamic Extremism. Apparently it is as the motion was passed, but with little conviction.

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The debate challenged the West’s response to Islamic Extremism

Opening comments from Maitham Deeb accused the West, particularly the US, of continually tackling symptoms in the Middle East and not the cause. Maitham suggested the cause to be Wahhabi ideologies of Sunni Islam that call for adherence to the original texts, rejecting any later interpretations or doctrines held by other sects. The fact that Saudi Arabia, an ally of the US, upholds Wahhabism was not voiced with the weighty conviction it deserved, allowing the opposition speaker, Matteo Rodolfo, to claim that allying with Saudi Arabia was reasonable due to their interests in destroying ISIS, namely because ISIS damages the reputation of Salafis. This point is incredibly debatable yet was not particularly challenged. It cannot be the beheadings, the fierce rejection of other religious beliefs or the prohibiting of idolatry that is seen as damaging reputation when these are upheld in Saudi Arabia. What then, is the reasoning behind Saudi Arabia being a trustworthy ally against ISIS? No concrete answer was found in last night’s debate.

Indication by John Kerry that the US planned to re-negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad to end the Syrian conflict was presented by Alex Polkey of the proposition as absurd. Alex highlighted that to negotiate with a government accused of numerous war crimes by the UN indicates the short-sightedness of Western intervention. In contrast, Matteo argued that it showed the West to be learning and attempting to find non-military solutions. Joe Turnbull, also for the opposition pointed out that ISIS needs territory; it is not an underground organization like Al Qaeda so perhaps can be fought on the ground. Consequently, the line of argument from the opposition was often unclear.

Lack of clarity was a bigger problem for the proposition with Charlotte Villain arguing that the West is doing enough to prevent ‘homegrown’ extremists yet Maitham flatly denying it. Charlotte was well informed on the programs offering advice and raising awareness yet these seemed vague and were criticised by John Heath, claiming that until these efforts delivered results they were not enough. Enough meaning results was as close to a definition the debate saw. Neither side defined the motions key concepts with sufficient clarify, often leaving their arguments lacking foundation and structure.

When credibly arguing that previous Western military intervention has only catalyzed violence, the proposition failed to prove the West is doing enough and simply exposed what the West is doing as ineffective; if anything suggesting efforts need increasing. The opposition put up a defense of the West that fell short of winning the audience over. The opposition made the valid point that the Iraqi government has requested Western help and not had it imposed upon them, however, the expected hardline argument for the West needing to do more to tackle Islamist extremism due to their contribution towards fueling it was skimmed over. The US trained and armed many of the Syrian rebels who defected to ISIS. As ISIS sweeps through Iraq crushing the Iraqi army it collects the US provided arms and uses them against the very people the arms were intended to protect. The call for the US thus being obligated to clean up the repercussions of its actions unfortunately wasn’t heard.

This debate attempted to take on an issue unsolved by world leaders and displayed why; even with the majority voting with the proposition many still abstained and the proposition’s case was certainly not strong enough to make tangible decisions from. The debate explored many ideas with differing proficiencies and succeeded in prompting conversation on a challenging topic but lacked the to-and-fro nature of a gritty debate to yield a satisfactorily strong outcome.

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