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UCC Law Society hosts Islam Debate

LAW SOCIETY: The Law Society’s Islam Debate ‘A Threat to the West?’ was one of the most hotly anticipated events of its debating calendar, and frankly, it didn’t disappoint.

The Society pitted Dr Azzam Tamimi, the controversial head of the London-based Institute of Islamic Political thought, against Dr Ruth Dudley Edwards, journalist for several English broadsheets and popular crime fiction writer. Karen Coleman, currently best known for her role presenting ‘The Wide Angle’ on Newstalk, took the ’neutral seat’.  Dr Tamimi spoke first. His speech engaged the debate poorly and was mostly given over to an explanation of the rise of Islam, its origins, and development. If one was listening closely, though, subtle hints at Dr Tamimi’s radicalism were evident even in these brief opening remarks. He spoke of the plentiful resources of ‘the enemies’, and insinuated (actually, explicitly stated) that these resources were: ‘used to control and influence the media’, before going on to highlight the ‘greed’ of certain individuals as the cause of all the world’s ‘turmoil’. Although these vague insinuations at some of the most scurrilous anti-Semitic libels  probably went over the heads of most of the audience, Dr Tamimi’s stark radicalism became more and more transparent as the debate waged on.

Following Dr Tamimi’s rather unconvincingly articulated case that Islam was not, indeed, a threat to the West, Dr Edwards took the floor, and began by giving a brief character sketch of this seemingly charming and well-mannered ‘Dr Tamimi’.  Dr Tamimi is an extreme radical. An open Hamas sympathizer (considered a terrorist group almost worldwide), he last year landed himself in hot water (and threw his reputation into almost universal disrepute), when he said during an interview with the BBC’s Hardtalk that suicide bombings were ‘a noble cause’, and that ‘It is the straight way to pleasing my God and I would do it if I had the opportunity”. Dr Edwards also drew the audience’s attention to video footage of Dr Tamimi on YouTube in which he called for the obliteration of the State of Israel and compared it to a body part that must be amputated from the world.

Watching closely Dr Tamimi’s body language as he reacted to these remarks, it was noticeable that he turned a little red and hung his head slightly, almost as if in shame, as Edwards read out these rather unsettling and disconcerting facts about him. Dr Tamimi later called these remarks ’an attack’ on his character. An attack indeed they were, but the relevance of Dr Edwards’ words in exposing Tamimi for what he truly is was beyond doubt and certainly hardly irrelevant as Tamimi later claimed. Tamimi’s openly expressed aspiration for a global Islamic Caliphate was also drawn to the audience’s attention; effectively, Tamimi seeks a world under the inhumane rigours of Sharia (Islamic religious law). I initially doubted Dr Edward’s truthfulness here, doubting that any rational human, let alone the Director of an influential London think-tank, would regard as plausible the idea that our entire world could somehow be subjugated to Sharia, but I was proved wrong. When challenged on the propriety of such an idea, Dr Tamimi emphatically shouted ‘Yes! So what, I want a Caliphate!’. More insidiously perhaps, Tamimi expressed agreement with his friend’s view that having some sort of Islamic symbol super-imposed on the Dáil would be good; an integral (though thoroughly repulsive) trapping of Tamimi’s dream Irish Caliphate.  If these sound to you like the statements of a madman, I think you’d be right, yet worryingly Dr Tamimi is a man with global credence, appearing regularly on mainstream television and being supposedly influential in political spheres at various echelons of power.

Karen Coleman sided slightly more with Dr Edwards than with Dr Tamimi. She roundly criticized Dr Tamimi’s preposterous goal of setting up a global Caliphate/Emirate (synonymous really), and repeatedly stressed the need for a broad global secularization. Some of her remarks, though, betrayed a lack of understanding of both Islam and Christianity. She remarked, time and again, that some of the atrocities committed in the name of modern Christianity were comparable to those committed in the name of Islam and suggested we take a good hard look at ourselves before we start knocking others. As an example, she cited the clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked this country and plummeted confidence in the Church to a new all-time low.

A lot of talking points came out of the discussion. Sharia seemed very brutal, and as Dr Edwards said, stuck in the 7th Century. Its treatment of women seems nothing short of despicable and totally incompatible with the social mores of the post-feminist society we now live in. Sharia’s place as a ‘parallel system of law’ seems worrying, especially when many of its most fundamental tenants are so wildly divergent from those of the secular law.

Secondly, the distinction between radical Islam (for which Dr Tamimi is tireless advocate), and more moderate Islam was clearly outlined throughout the debate. While the radical fringe of Islam cannot be disguised to be anything other than a threat to any civilized democracy, there is also thankfully an overwhelming tide of opposition to Shariah. There is a widespread view among modern Muslims that reform is long overdue  if Sharia is ever to fit within the confines of a modern liberal demorcracy. The burqah question featured throughout (Karen Coleman has a minor obsession with this topic), with some good debate for and against.

Dr Tamimi admitted more than once (to belittling sneers from the audience) that he felt emotionally wounded by the round criticism of Islam, saying that he felt ‘hurt’ by how the debate had turned out. Dr Edwards, to her credit, was quick to retort that Tamimi better grow up and get used to the ‘cut and thrust’ of debate if he were to choose to take part in one. Tamimi’s final comeback to the arguments against Islam was an impassioned and furiously gesticulated diatribe against the ‘Zionists’, who, ‘took his house’. It should be noted, to those not used to reading coverage of the Middle East conflict, that the only people who refuse to refer to Israelis as anything other than ‘Zionists’ (or ‘Zionist pigs’) tend to be either from the Hamas party or members of its paramilitary offshoots. Cathal Molone of the Law Soc finished the evening by drawing an analogy between our discomfort with the burqa and, hypothetically, a court judge’s discomfort with a counsel coming dressed in board shorts. With respect to Mr Malone, the analogy is not a good one. Who’s ever felt intimidated by the sight of a florid pair of board-shorts; and whose cultural norms have ever been so vigorously shook by such a sight?

The debate, all told, was nothing short of outstanding. The Law Soc invited an extreme radical, and I was happy to leave G19 with the vindicated feeling that Dr Tamimi’s near-lunacy had been adequately demonstrated. Edwards provided great rebuttal to Tamimi’s lies, and Coleman added some interesting though (I felt) inaccurate analyses of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without detracting from the central debate between Tamimi and Edwards. All in all, this was one of the best and most passionately argued debates I’ve had the pleasure of attending in a long time, whether at the Phiolosoph or the Law Soc. I’m sure that the Law Soc can continue to supply us with such stimulating and thought-provoking evenings in the future.

Daniel O’Carroll

Ruth posts articles that interest or amuse her and replies to comments from her eclectic group of friends and followers.

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