Such has been my limited intellectual expansion over the last few years that it was only on the 31st of March 2012, that I actually watched an entire episode of the 8 year old series ‘The Doha Debates’. It wasn’t something I planned to do, it sort’ve just happened. I was having lunch and switched on the TV, and this just happened to be on.
I realise now I have been missing out.
The topic being discussed was the discouragement of first cousin marriages within the region. What surprised me more than the topic being discussed on TV in such a sensitive area, was the incredibly lucid, intellectual and convincing arguments and questions that were being thrown up by the panel and the audience. I have never seen anything like this before in this region, but this is an incredibly powerful medium which the Qatar Foundation have provided Arabs in this region to voice opinions and debate powerful and relevant social topics that are infinitely more important than the usual fluff that we are subjected to in our newspapers, which mostly cover international hard news.
Having piqued my interest, I spent the rest of the afternoon on The Doha Debates website, combing through their past eight year backlog of debates and finally found one that resonated incredibly closely with me, ‘Dubai is a bad idea’. For those of you who have not seen it and are linked with this city, I encourage you to watch it. It is eye-opening and incredibly heartening to see the kind of decent cerebral exchange of ideas on a topic that has been bandied about with the least amount of respect in newspapers across the globe. The debate, in true Arab fashion, got a little more heated than it should’ve, but if anything that undermined the sort of incessant and nagging negativism that we have continued to hear regarding Dubai since the recession hit.
Another topic that hit home with me was, ‘Muslims get a bad deal in India’. What followed was 45 minutes of the most thought-provoking and stimulating discussion I have ever seen on the issue of India’s largest minority. Several points were raised that I had never really considered, and numerous questions were asked that I had, as an Indian Muslim, never really thought off, but once I had heard them, seemed the most obvious questions in the world. Having looked past the shame of my apathetical ignorance, I further drifted further and further along with the panel and audience, after which several audience members weren’t happy with the result of the debate but were magnanimous enough to admit, ‘…such is democracy’.
The Doha Debates are one of the most important intellectual and social stimulus and benchmarks for the region. As an expatriate living in the Arab world for most of my life, this is by far the most accessible form of solid social discussion I have found, which goes far beyond the usual information that is usually dissipated in this region. I only hope this leads to further discussion and education for everybody involved in the region where such endeavours aren’t unique but the norm.