Why you should avoid online debates

by Mikail Adil


I don't want to bash the internet; it's a fantastic place to find various resources, videos, articles etcetera. I would certainly be even more ignorant then I am now without it; I've read many scholarly papers, and managed to see recordings of talks from great speakers. A few weeks ago met a lady who'd converted to Islam following an extensive journey of research mainly using the internet; it definitely has value.


To be sure, it has its downsides; the comments section of almost any article discussing religion, even from a mainstream newspaper will always be jampacked with irate and crude remarks from the gaggle of militant atheists who generally confine their existence to the internet. When the topic veers towards Islamic issues, the comments section will have an even greater intensity of unmitigated fury. Again, you don't have to find an anti Muslim website to observe this; the comments section of The Guardian, the leftist of the lefty papers will be do.


Furthermore, many Islamic websites on the internet I've come across feature content that doesn't seem especially thought out, nor theologically responsible. I'm not talking extremism in the sense of endorsing or sympathising with violence or anything like that, just that many of them give quite an un-nuanced version of Islam.


Another problem with the internet is that it accommodates many weird cult beliefs which no real life academic would even consider taking seriously. An example which any Christian readers might be familiar with is the Zeitgeist movie which seemed to suggest that Jesus didn't exist or that his life was based on the story of Horus or something like that; and then 'comedian' Bill Maher (one of the least funny people I've ever heard) seemed to incorporate these ideas into his film 'Religulous' and everyone lapped it up. The alleged similarities between Jesus and Horus have been unanimously dismissed by Egyptologists as fringe nonsense as would many of the conspiracy theories on the internet would be disregarded by the relevant scholars.


So there is a mix, and I would say that when used responsibly with the knowledge that some things must be taken with a pinch of salt, except for anything I write which is naturally always spot on - (*Ahem* whatever you say!! - Admin), the internet can be good resource.


When it comes to debating however, whether on forums or the comments sections of various websites, I think there are few, if any cases where it's appropriate, and it has the potential to do far more harm than good. In the rest of this article I'll make the case for why I don't think it is a good idea to debate with people who criticise Islam and Muslims online.


1. It increases the amount of Islamophobic activity online: many anti Muslim forums are only kept going because well meaning Muslims argue with them; it only takes a couple of posts from a Muslim to attract a whole contingent of Islamophobes for several days. Without anyone to argue with, the novelty will wear off and the activity on such forums will decrease.


2. You won't convince them: (see my article: 'The Best Way to Share Islam'). This is an almost universal rule for any online debate, whatever the topic is. Your arguments are just squiggles on a computer screen which can be whitewashed or flicked through if they're starting to look like they're difficult to refute, or they can respond with semantics or just change the subject. Or ignore you. The only exception I've ever considered making is linking or posting basic, simple, undeniable and irrefutable facts; for example that according to data recorded by the security services, and not only are most Muslims not terrorists, but the majority of terrorists are not Muslims either. But I don't argue.


3. It is a ridiculous waste of time: People who debate online waste hours and days of their lives. Posting something. Waiting for a response. Reading the response. Finding links to address each part of the response. Writing an answer to each part of the response. Trying to think of something witty to make the person you are replying to look silly. It takes ages; just think what you could actually achieve in the real world. Instead of trying to tell some internet phantoms how great your religion is, in the same time you could have demonstrated this to many more real people by doing something productive and helpful.


4. Online 'haters' don't represent real life people: This goes for haters of just about anything; just go on a sports forum and the venom you'll see for various athletes from people will make you gasp. The internet attracts crazies and people who lack the social acceptability to discuss their ideas in the real world. I would say I've met at most two people who are comparable to the endless hordes of say, militant atheists who's life consists of liking any atheism promoting video on YouTube on principle, disliking any religious video however pragmatic it might be and flooding the comments section of any website with furious and baseless assertions. You won't find many of these people in real life because many of them don't have much of a stake in the real world; so even if you did convince them it probably wouldn't change much. The English Defence League facebook group has well over a hundred thousand followers yet they often struggle to get more than a couple of hundred in real life. They have a Jewish division, a Sikh division and even an LGTB division.....online. Where are they in real life? They don't exist.


5. Haters just become more adept and sophisticated: If you 'beat' someone from some 'counter Jihad' forum in an online debate using facts and logical arguments do you really think they'd suddenly agree with you? No, they'd just ask a more seasoned anti Muslim bigot how to address you or Google something like 'Islam a religion of violence' 'How Islam abuses women' 'Islam and infidels' or something similar and copy what they can or try to attack you from a different angle. Now they've just got more lines of attack This is not possible in a real life dialogue. In a real life dialogue even if you can't change someone's mind at least you can demonstrate that a particular line of argument is wrong and give them nothing to come back with.


6. It's not a fun pastime: Sure you aren't doing this for fun, but if it's demonstrable that certain online debates are counterproductive anyway then the fact that they aren't even fun should put the nail in the coffin. Okay, sometimes it can be fun to 'own' someone but in the long run, online debates about Islam will most often consist of people making outrageous and quite revolting allegations about your faith and you having to find ways to refute it. It doesn't matter how strong and secure in your faith you might be, it won't feel great! Also if you start an argument then you'll feel obliged to continue it lest the people you are arguing with allow themselves to believe that their argument is the stronger.


In conclusion, online debates about politics and religion are invariably a futile escapade and in many cases actually counterproductive. I believe that there is no better way of promoting your world view then doing so in real life with real people.


Yes, the internet has its place and I do not believe there is anything wrong with having blogs, posting videos (responsibly) and writing articles refuting claims which attack your position, and exposing the claimants. I can even see the value in making single posts on comments sections with hard evidence like real facts about terrorism which undermine many village Islamophobic claims. Back and forth arguments however will get you absolutely nowhere. Don't do it, stick to real life, and the haters, the bigots, the phobes residing in their subterranean basements will invariably get fed up, get bored, and soon realise that saving the West from the onslaught of 'Islamic Jihad' is nowhere near as fun as saving the World of Warcraft from the shapeshifting reptilian overlords.