It’s time we had a place to debate the issues of the day

Debate is something we really need to do in this part of the world, says Su'ad Yousif

Much has been made of the recent comments about unmarried women in the UAE and the perceived impact of their status on the country. Without getting into too much detail about an already well-reported issue, the Federal National Council member who raised the issue highlighted the perceived problem, presented a solution and then outlined why he felt this was a good answer to the problem. 

Needless to say, his comments were met with many strong rebuttals and were discussed in many different forums.

For my part, I’m not interested in arguing my own position with regards to this issue. But I would like to thank the FNC member in question for raising the matter. Allow me to explain why.

I’m not thanking him because I agree with him or because I think the matter was something worthy of being discussed in a forum like the FNC. Rather, I thank him for raising an issue that kicked off a far-reaching national debate on a sensitive topic. 

To have this issue thrust out onto the national stage in such a manner meant that you couldn’t really ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen. You had to discuss it and have an opinion on it, and if you didn’t have one before discussing it, you certainly did have one afterwards.

You had to present what you thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the position you were arguing. You had to offer up your own solutions and counter other arguments being presented. Basically, it forced us to have a debate on a national scale, and if that was the only positive thing that happened as a result of those comments, I for one am very thankful for it.

Debate is not something that we really do in this part of the world. An evening spent watching some of the region’s TV channels will show you that our idea of discourse is not people presenting arguments for and against a certain idea, and then allowing the audience to make up their own minds. Instead, we seem to think of it more as a shouting match, with the “winner” being the person who shouts the loudest. In addition to being quite off-putting, it’s obvious that in such forums the idea is not to debate an issue, as much as to argue your own position and totally destroy your adversary. There is no willingness to listen to the other person as much as to shout over them.

Obviously we all have our own positions on various matters, as we should. But there is merit in hearing opposing arguments, and perhaps even adjusting one’s own position.

Having fair and open debate is like that. It allows you to hear both sides of the argument and then make up your own mind. A lot of us take up positions born out of prejudice, customs, traditions and social conventions, but challenging those to figure out what we really think is a worthwhile exercise.

Today a lot of debate goes on in the world of social media. But how far can an argument go when you’re limited by a number of characters? In such matters social media feels like another example of people shouting.

Returning to the FNC member’s comments, I didn’t agree with the gentleman’s argument, but it was nonetheless interesting to hear his justifications for his position. How else are we supposed to understand the thinking of people whose positions are so different to our own?

I think we should have spaces where people can come together to debate such issues – not necessarily at a government level, but at a citizen level. If anyone ever gets around to doing something like this, please be sure to invite me.

Su’ad Yousif is a civil servant based in Abu Dhabi

Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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