Lawrence Krauss, iERA, and secular assumptions and prerequisites

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

This post is about a row that transpired some weeks ago, when the atheist professor Lawrence Krauss stormed out of a debate hosted by the Islamic Education and Research Academy due to a voluntary gender-segregation arrangement made by the iERA. (The news article describing this row has been archived here).

Now, I really do not think highly of public debates, for the simple reason that there are too many factors at play other than the content of the debate in deciding which side has taken the upper hand in debates – and this incident was a very good example of how such factors are used to skew the debates on topics not centrally related to the topic at hand.

To be honest, the title of the debate itself, “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense”, could have been reworded, not to indicate what many may perceive as “common sense” devoid of sound logical grounding, but rather to show that this is a discussion concerning the truth value of divergent ideologies. I personally feel that this was a major problem with the structuring of the debate even before anyone arrived at the scene, but I can only think good of the Muslims, since I have no idea as to how this title came about.

What I have seen is that most of the subsequent analysis on this topic has been focused on how the iERA has been banned by University College from holding any further events due to this row (and by extension, due to the ideology behind this row). But what really strikes me about this incident is that it shows that the propagation of Islam is going to be in deep problems unless it undertakes a robust decision-making overhaul, including its consideration of how to deal with the current secularly dominated world order.

This aspect cannot be overemphasized enough; for what we witnessed from Mr. Krauss was basically showing through his actions his belief that the secular world-order is unquestionably the supreme law in the lives of all the people in attendance, even as the debate was supposed to discuss this very point. That is, one of the points of discussion – albeit in the background- was concerning the supreme law that is to be applied in the lives of people, whether it is the atheistic worldview with its secular offspring, or whether it is the Islamic worldview. Perhaps a more well-organized decision-making process with the coordination of the scholars of this Ummah may have led to better planning on how to conduct this discussion/debate.

I have to say that part of the problem was that the Muslim members and organizers acquiesced to Krauss’ demands, showing mismanagement and lack of coordination surrounding the handling of the event. But then again, it seems as if the atheist camp forced the issue as well, because in addition to Mr. Krauss’ actions there were, according to the news report, three men trying to force their way into the women’s seating area, as an indirect way of saying that Muslims are not egalitarian – the inference being that Muslims are not rational (because they do not treat men and women equally, even though they are equal) and do not understand the basic syllogisms involved in a sober and rational discussion, so there is no point in discussing with those who do not understand basic logical premises.

[Of course, let it be known that on this point we radically disagree, there is no syllogism or premise anywhere in logic stating that women and men are exactly equal. Even if we were to say that men and women were identical in their inherent composition, this would not indicate that the way of treating them should be the same as per the laws. This is again one of the assumptions of modern secularism, but it cannot be used as an introductory premise by the secularist or atheist before starting a discussion with the Muslim.]

Interestingly, it cannot be said that holding one debate for men and another one for women would have solved the issue, since Islam and the Muslims would again be attacked on the basis of segregation. The problem would still remain, that the other side insists on the falsity of Islam to be held by both sides as a prerequisite to start the debate. All the talk about the “public arena” not being fit for segregation, or on the Muslim individuals having to decide how to mesh within the broader society also follow this general mindset, that of the Muslim side being permitted to practice some of their peculiar and strange rules by the larger (almost paternalistic) secular order, but that such strange and irrational rules are not to be transported over to the public arena, the domain of “wise” secularism.

I know that I have not at all spoken on the content of the debate itself, but I wanted to post this as a simple way to show that the assumptions and presuppositions of the non-Muslims in fact run very deep, and almost always handicap the Muslims during the course of many discussions and debates. Only through recognizing the inappropriateness of such assumptions and taking different routes in our presentation of Islam to the wider world may we be able, by the grace and help of Allah, to achieve better results. And our success is only through Allah.