The moment a person allows someone to push them into an emotional response is the moment they lose the argument. It doesn’t matter if he or she is ultimately on the right side of the argument because if they get emotional they are no longer the levelheaded one.
In public debates, there are so many people who are not really interested in winning on facts, but pushing the other person to make an emotional outburst and invoking the emotions of those around them. By manipulating people’s emotions, they can win the debate without having to deal with the burdensome task of actually presenting facts.
There are people whose knee jerk reaction may be to disagree with this: facts are facts. Yes, that is true, but people are not as strongly moved by facts as they are by the emotions of others or their own emotions. If facts and evidence were so important to swaying public opinion, then we wouldn’t be having a debate on climate change and people would not be panicking over Ebola.
This is one of the major problems with public debates in American politics. The goal is to spur an emotional response, not to have a productive and informative discussion.
This is why we cannot have a real discussion on the topics of terrorism, defining war, anything involving the U.S.’s foreign policy in the Middle East, illegal immigration, climate change, creating jobs, wages, spurring economic growth, any social issue and really any topic that is at the forefront of public discourse.
Take, for instance, the debate between Ben Affleck and Sam Harris on The Real Time with Bill Maher during the episode that aired on Friday, October 3. Unfortunately, the video of this specific segment is not available on YouTube — at least not yet, but there are other videos from that show, including the overtime, which talks about some interesting topics.
Now, Harris and Maher are in agreement that the religion of Islam instills hostility toward people who are not Muslims and anyone who tries to leave the Islamic faith. Before Harris could finish talking, however, he was interrupted by Affleck who fell into the trap of relying solely on an emotional response based on what he has seen with his own eyes from people in the Middle East and surrounding regions.
In the U.S., regardless of where one stands on the topic of Islam, they typically approach it from some preconceived notion because most people don’t have first-hand experience in North Africa or the Middle East.
Now, Affleck had an opportunity to present what he has seen from Muslims in this region as evidence that a majority of the over one billion people who practice the Islamic faith worldwide are not violent, they’re not terrorists, they’re peaceful people who just want to live and to be educated and to be happy.
If people read books like Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, they would be given a fresh, first-hand perspective on how many Muslims live in the Middle East, and most of them are not too concerned with Americans or Christians or anyone who is not of Islamic faith, because they just want to live.
They don’t want to be burdened by the troubles of the world, just like most people, but when radical militant groups form, they often manipulate people in this region by threatening then with violence. We often don’t think about many people in this region as being victims of these groups, but they are.
Affleck, along with Nicholas Kristof, had an opportunity to present this very valid point about life in the Middle East, but Affleck kept interrupting Harris. He was getting flustered and responding emotionally to what Harris was saying. While it is an emotional topic, from the viewer’s perspective, Affleck came off as unhinged and uninformed.
Affleck lost the debate. It doesn’t matter if he was on the right side of the debate. He lost it because he lost his cool. He was no longer the levelheaded one in the debate
Now, the reality is that when people discuss the most radical factions of Islam and compare it to the most radical factions of, say, Christianity, the radical factions of Islam are more extreme, they are more violent, and they are mostly terrorist organizations.
Typically, when we think of the most radical groups within Christianity, we think of churches like the Westboro Baptist Church, which at worst is just a public and social nuisance. Society views their behavior as unacceptable, but they never get violent. They hope to get a hostile reaction from opponents so they can sue them to keep their operations going, but that is about it.
When we see the Middle East portrayed on the news, all we see are the radical militant groups like ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and others like them. We don’t see the average Muslim, the man or woman who is just trying to provide for their family, the child who just wants to be educated, and the people who just want to live their lives in peace without bothering anyone or being bothered.
There is no better example of how Americans view the Middle East and the surrounding region than the U.S.’s drone policy. When we send a drone to take out a target, we don’t look at it as violating sovereign airspace, we don’t see the dozens of innocent people who may be killed in the strike, we only see the person or persons we are targeting. Innocent casualties far outnumber the terrorists we have taken out from these strikes.
The United States has killed someone in a drone strike just because they were a tall, Muslim male and therefore looked like Bin Laden, without even caring if the person was actually a terrorist or about the other people who were killed in the strike. While collateral damage has always been an unfortunate side effect of war, it has become an acceptable part of the nation’s foreign policy.
We don’t see what it does to communities in this region or how it has an adverse effect in preventing terrorist organizations from growing.
Many people only see what television news wants to report on and what television news usually wants to report on is whatever can spur the most emotion from their audience, because that is good for ratings. If it bleeds, it leads, and if it spurs outrage or fear, it is all the media wants to talk about, because people will tune in.
We ignore facts; we ignore reason. We are mostly swayed by emotion — one way or another. Because of this, we will never have a productive discussion on the subject of Islam and terrorism.