After some recent debates, there’s been a lot of renewed interest in the activity of debating and discussions as part of sharing Islam (and critically engaging speakers from other worldviews).
Over the course of many years, a hilarious and useful shorthand of vocabulary has built up – mostly used ‘inside the profession’ of Muslim public speakers and debaters, about debating, styles, tactics and strategies.
Many of the terms are already used in English idiom, but carry special meanings when applied to the realm of debates. I thought it would be interesting to share these terms and idioms with the wider public – perhaps in the hope that if you even re-examine some of the debates over the past 15 years, you might find this opens up a whole new understanding and reveals a lot of the subtext behind the most famous debates you’ve seen.
Debate Circumstance. That point in a panel debate with two sides, where your supposed “ally” brings your side down with calamitously bad arguments. [Could also be “Wing-*person* failure” – sorry feminists].
Example: In debates between abrahamic religions and Secularists and Atheists, many modern Christians who were expected to back-up the Muslim side’s arguments for Abrahamic religion, end up doing the opposite and conceding points to the Secularist side. It is usually because many modern Christians in the West, have already conceded ground to liberalism and liberal theology, turning a seemingly “fair” debate between two atheists and a Muslim and Christian, into a debate between two liberal Atheists and , and Muslim alongside a weak navel-gazing liberal Christian who’s only argument is a forlorn attempt to show how Christianity can conform to liberal values and morality. This might end up with the debate being unfairly skewed as the Muslim speaker has to waste their limited time making up for what was essentially a throw-away comment or speech by their timid and feebly argued (liberal) Christian colleague.
“CATASTROPHIC WING-MAN FAILURE”
See “WING-MAN FAILURE”
Debate Circumstance. Same as “Wing-Man failure”, but worse to the extent that an “ally” in a panel debate begins saying self-defeating points that need to be refuted by yourself, or sometimes, the ally may even argue for the other side. This may turn, say a two on two debate, into a three on one debate.
UMAM – “Unhelpful Muslim Audience Member”
Person Description. A Muslim member of the audience who makes ignorant comments on the topic in the Q/A session of an event, that is pointless at best, at worst it offers the opponents a useful counter or diversion from the Islamic position painstakingly constructed by the Muslim speaker on the stage. An UMAM sometimes may be related to an ‘UncleLemmeEsplainYou’.
Person Description. An older Muslim man, usually someone who remembers colonialism, who practices Islam but only has a superficial grasp of Islamic creed, doctrine and sharia. Because he is a respected elder of the Muslim community, he’ll usually be approached by TV cameras and interviewers outside of a Mosque, in order to gauge Muslim opinion. Unfortunately, this includes being asked advanced questions of politics and theology. This term was invented by the Comedian, Azhar Usman. Female version: AuntyLemmeEsplainYou.
Debate tactic. Speaker talks to the audience directly about the debate or the opponent, explaining (or narrating) what the opponent is doing in order to expose the opponents rhetorical tactics to the audience, to, for example, making the audience realise the opponent is avoiding/hiding the weak spots in their own arguments, or using fallacious arguments against the opponent.
Example: “Ladies and gentlemen, do you see what my opponent is doing? they’re attempting to change the discussion to the authenticity of the Quran to distract you from the fact that the New Testament has no evidence for its authenticity, so they’re trying to divert todays debate, which is about the “Who Wrote the Bible?”, and has nothing to do with the Quran – don’t let them change the subject ladies and gentlemen…”
REMINDING / BUMPING UP
Debate Tactic. Speaker reiterates something they already said in order to remind the audience or push home a significant point, show how it is connected to other points, or prevent an opponent from running away from a question or challenge.
PREEMPTION / AREA DENIAL
Debate Tactic. A speaker preempts opponents arguments against their position in their opening presentation, thereby forcing the opponent to avoid the argument, or adjust their presentation.
GOING “OFF BOOK”
Debate Tactic. Speaker goes off script during a debate. Due to radically different or dramatically changing circumstances in a debate, “Going OFF BOOK” Speaker abandons their pre-debate strategy and/or presentation and speaks extemporaneously.
MODERATOR FAIL / THE IMMODERATOR
Debate Circumstance. When a moderator suddenly changes the rules during the debate, granting one side undue advantage, cutting one speaker’s time short, arguing for one of the sides, and in the worst case scenario, getting involved as an active participant in the debate.
RED HERRING / SHOOTING FLAK / CASTING CHAFF
Debate Tactic. A speaker uses an argument or evidence that is irrelevant to the debate subject or topic, to throw off the opponent or getting them to waste time answering issues not related to the debate.
Origins, “Red Herring” used by 1807 English polemicist William Cobbett, who wrote of having used a smoked Herring (turned red) to divert hunting dogs from chasing a rabbit.”Shooting flak”, comes from name of German AA gun used to disrupt Allied air campaigns.”Casting Chaff”, countermeasures (usually metal strips) deployed on modern aircraft to divert anti-air missiles.
Debate tactic. Speaker misrepresents the opponent’s position into something that can be easily refuted, giving the audience the impression that the opponent’s position has been refuted.
Debate tactic. Speaker makes personal attacks (insults or mocking), and/or questions the authority of the opponent, in order for the audience to disregard their arguments.
DOUBLE BIND QUESTION
Debate Circumstance. When a speaker gets asked a yes or no question based upon a wrongly assumed premise. Example: Have you stopped beating your wife yet? Yes or no?
Debate tactic. Hitting an opponent with a few key arguments but mountains of evidence to back them up, so much so that the conclusion becomes very difficult to deny. (This is not to be confused with someone the tactic of using a lot arguments to the degree that the opponent will not have the time to be able to answer all of them – see MACHINE GUNNING)
LEAVING AN OPEN GOAL / THE MARINA MANOEUVER
Debate strategy. When a Speaker is so overwhelmed by their opponent’s knowledge, arguments or position, they pretend to not disagree, even though this goes completely against their previously well known position. This allows the speaker to escape being refuted in a debate, because they don’t dare to declare or defend their actual beliefs. This would be the football equivalent of a team deliberately ‘leaving an open goal’. They can always say “well you only scored because we weren’t defending it”.
This tactic is also called the ‘Marina Manoeuver’, due to the infamous case of Marina Mahathir (daughter of Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad), who is a well know secularist and feminist and infamous for criticising Sharia and Islamic activists in Malaysia – but radically appeared to change her position when in a debate with MDI’s Zara Faris in the UK (see debate here).
MUDDYING THE WATERS
Debate strategy. Speaker uses arguments and evidence that question the underlying assumptions behind the opposing position, rendering itneither likely nor completely certain.
Debate strategy. Speaker brazenly takes on an opponent on the opponents strongest topic/subject, of whom the opponent is an expert on, with the speaker using arguments the opponent has probably heard before. When this goes well, it is an amazing accomplishment, but if the arguments/evidence is faulty, it can turn into a MARSHAL HAIG.
S.U.Q – Striking from an Unexpected Quarter / COMING FROM LEFT-FIELD
Debate strategy. Speaker uses a brand new angle or new arguments, or new ways of explaining an old argument, that an opponent has never heard before.
Debate Strategy. Speaker repeats the same combination of arguments (and/or evidence) again, and again and again, despite them being refuted, hoping for a different result.
These failed arguments/ evidence may even have already been refuted in a past debate – but the speaker chooses to use them again despite the complete failure of their use previously by another speaker (or even the same one!).
Origins: Marshal Haig was an (in)famous WW1 British General is known for sending thousands of troops in futile, bloody and self-defeating human wave charges in front of enemy machine gunners…again..and again.
FLOGGING A DEAD HORSE
Debate tactic. Speaker continues to defend an argument that has long been refuted by the opponent, without bringing up new evidence or rationales. When this occurs with all their arguments, this becomes a MARSHAL HAIG.
Debate Circumstance. Speaker goes to debate an opponent that completely outmatches them, and only discovers this when it’s too late.
H.E.P – Hostile Environment protocol
Debate Strategy. The protocol used when a speaker is faced with an audience (or panel of speakers) that is mostly hostile to the speaker and their position. H.E.P. is when the speaker uses an intellectually disruptive approach to the discussion, which casts doubts on everyone’s common assumptions and beliefs they are all taking for granted. This is usually accompanied with the speaker assuming an unashamed and positive demeanour.
M.A.D – “Mutually Assured Destruction”
1. Debate Circumstance. When two speakers (or sides) refute each others’ position/beliefs but do not adequately defend their own side’s position or beliefs. Thereby they’ve mutually assured each other’s ideological destruction in the debate (though the debate is also technically a draw, it is different from a STANDOFF).
2. Debate Tactic. When a speaker uses an argument against an opponent that inadvertently refutes (or can be used against) their own position or beliefs. When this occurs, it can be pointed out by the opponent (see TU QUO QUE).
TU QUO QUE / WHATABOUTERY
Debate Tactic. When a speaker points out that their opponent’s argument can also be successfully used against the opponents own position/beliefs (see Debate Tactic M.A.D). Term Tu Quo Que comes from Latin, “You as well”. “WhatAboutery” comes from English “What About You?”.
STANDOFF / STALEMATE
Debate Circumstance. The situation that occurs when both sides of a debate cannot successfully refute the other side. This usually occurs when neither side possesses strong evidence that refutes the other side.
TALKING PAST EACH OTHER
Debate Circumstance. The situation that occurs when both sides of a debate don’t refute each other’s arguments or counter-arguments.
Debate Circumstance. A debate that occurs in a society or in front of an audience, where the subject of the debate is surrounded with a lot of emotionally charged, sensitive or “Triggering” tropics or positions to that particular society or audience. Minefields usually describe topics where speaking directly and plainly about the truth will incite strong emotional and visceral reactions from the audience, or society (see FALLOUT).
Post-Debate Circumstance. The reactions from the speakers, public (or other public personalities) that occur after a debate occurs, is broadcast or published online. Usually used to describe strong emotional reactions to what happens in a debate – but could also describe CALL OUTS that get popular.
CALL OUT / CAUGHT OUT
Debate/Post-Debate Circumstance. What happens when a speaker uses factually wrong information that gets pointed out and public corrected by their opponent. This could also happen after a debate by members of the public (or the speakers themselves), but when it happens in a debate, it is also called “Caught out”.
Debate Circumstance. A subject or topic where a speaker finds themself taking a position in a debate that goes against what most of the audience (or society the debate is occurring within) believe. This happens when a debate rests of underlying assumptions that the audience mostly adopts and strongly believes in.
PULLING THE RUG
Debate Tactic. Tactic when a speaker refutes the underlying assumptions behind a debate topic or subject before actually addressing the topic and subject itself.
The term comes from English idiom, “Pulling the rug from underneath them”, implying causing people to fall when they have nothing to stand on.
Debate Circumstance. Speaker is invited to a debate at short notice, and/or without knowing who they’ll be facing in the debate.
Origins: Military term. Example: Being parachuted into a warzone not knowing who or what you’ll face.
“BITING THE BULLET”
Debate Tactic. When evidence on a topic appears initially unflattering to a speaker’s position, and the best response is just to accept it and use it to their advantage to explain the wider context – where ultimately it works to their advantage.
Example: Islamophobic opponent: “Muslim majority countries are mostly backward, because of Islam”
Speaker who is “Biting the Bullet”: “Yes many of them may be technologically backward, but they weren’t always so, and if it was Islam, then they all would be backward. In fact, the most technologically advanced out of these countries, are the more vocally Islamic countries of all of them. This points to other factors being the reason for backwardness, like history, colonialism, cyclical rise and fall of nations/civilisations….
[Also known as “Shotgunning”, “Scatter-gunning”, known in formal debating internationally as “Spreading”]
Debate Tactic. The tactic employed by some debaters where they pepper their opponent with some many arguments, that they simply have no hope of reasonably answering all of them in the time they have to respond.
The tactic is often especially used by unscrupulous opponents when the audience has already been primed with Islamophobic concepts, that allow the “Machine Gunner” to simply name drop arguments, so that they take longer to answer than initially said – which makes the defending speaker lose time they could’ve spent speaking about other more important topics.
Example: Islamophobe: “Before I begin my presentation, I have only seven words to say about Islam: Honour-killing, death for apostates, wife beating and Jihad…now onto my main points that also need a response…”
“NAMING THE DEMON”
Debate Tactic. A tactic often employed by some debaters, where if they name their opponent’s ideological position or the ideological position of their argument, that exposes their biases and makes the audience realise their arguments are not universal, but just one approach to the debate topic that may be wrong or right. A person’s bias is considered nameable when the assumptions behind their argument fall into an ideological category, for example, someone who rejects the possibility of any miraculous explanations, is called a naturalist. This starting assumption means they would deny any proof, no matter how compelling. Therefore it is expected they would reject off-hand the divine creation of the universe. Pointing this out to the audience (along with exposing why it’s a wrong assumption) would help them realise that this is the assumption behind all of the opponent’s arguments and that the opponent isn’t approaching the debate from a neutral or objective basis.
The term “naming the demon” comes from European mythology, where it is believed that to control a demon, you simply have to know and intone its name. In the case of the debates, the “demon” is the hidden assumptions behind an opponent’s seemly objective arguments.
MORE TERMS TO COME:
M&M – Excogitating / Mental Dueling
Bull by the Horns
Trapping / Baiting
Pushing the Eject Button / The Gash Dash
Evidence Alchemist / Data Conjurer