Dialogue and Debate Clubs: a Means for the Youth to Promote Social Cohesion
Hamdi Ahmed Beledey
Policy Briefing Paper 2021 /3, Jan 2021
Support dialogue and debating clubs’ Policy issue:
Libyans are divided by constant and complex localized conflicts and by a national confrontation. The large-scale dissemination of hate speech, and political and tribal intolerance further restrict space for dialogue and peaceful debate within the Libyan society. Dialogue and debate are two rare and valuable tools to fight against mistrust, partisanship, and division, and to build a cohesive nation based on citizenship and the rule of law. However, the few existing dialogue and debate initiatives do not receive any significant support. Worse, the authorities’ failure to understand the functioning of dialogue and debate clubs prompts them to impede their work or to block their activities altogether.
- Foster a culture of dialogue and debate among all social segments, particularly among those who fuel hate speech and intolerance.
- Support dialogue and debating clubs
- Modify the approach in national education by shifting from memorization to reasoning through dialogue, conviction, argumentation, and acceptance of differences.
- Involve authorities in the functioning of dialogue and debate clubs
This paper aims to highlight the role of youth in promoting social cohesion by means of dialogue and debating clubs. This will be achieved through findings of interviews conducted with some dialogue and debating clubs’ presidents in Libya, as well as a number of parties concerned with Libyan affairs.
The research results underline the importance of debating clubs in the social cohesion process, as they play a direct role in breaking down barriers among young people so as to bring their views closer together. Moreover, such clubs contribute to developing the capacities of young people to become effective leaders, able to end conflicts, bridge the gap between different community components, avoid divisions, and strengthen social cohesion.
This paper closes with a number of recommendations.
- The Issue
Since the revolution of February 17, 2011, European and American cultural institutions have launched a number of youth training programs for local capacity-building. Such programs came as a response to the growing demands from young people in Libya for participation in new forms of civil society activities, as well as their readiness to assume more comprehensive roles.
Unfortunately, most of these programs failed to overcome difficulties of past years. Moreover, conditions have not always been favorable for young people in the region to participate in determining their futures.
The regional realities experienced by the Libyan society from civil wars, struggles for power, and divisions have made it difficult –if not impossible- to mend societal rift, especially in the absence of any practical steps to promote social cohesion.
The incorporation of dialogue and debating clubs into the foundations of community work in Libya has enabled young people to express their views in a significant manner, and participate in solving societal issues through the practical application of a civilized and constructive one-to-one approach, which grasps the culture of differences, and enhances social cohesion.
The work of dialogue and debating clubs has become evident; over the past years such clubs have proven their effectiveness in developing youth capacities, and providing them with the opportunity to enhance their participation in civil and political life. Moreover, the need for these groups has grown with the increase in societal rifts so as to bring the parties’ views closer together, as in the case of the Sabha experience that will be mentioned further on.
First, we must identify some important terms before we dive into the paper:
Dialogue is defined as a quiet, respectful and prejudice-free discussion of a specific opinion. It can also be defined as a collaborative effort between interlocutors to reach the truth, exposing each other to previously unknown views in the process.
Dialogue is considered to be an essential life requirement, through which interlocutors communicate in order to exchange ideas and understand them.
Dialogue is used to uncover the truth; as interlocutors expose each other to previously unknown views. Moreover, dialogue fulfills the human need for social communication and inclusion within one’s immediate surroundings. It also helps interlocutors to identify different points of view.
Debate is considered to be an intellectual practice that tests the human mind. It is a means to analyze issues and ideas.
Debate is a cultural activity practiced by different people, groups, bodies, and boards.
The importance of debating is that it helps the learner to refine his or her talents, and master the arts of rhetoric and argumentation aimed at forming views with respect for differing ones. Debating contributes to the development of one’s personality and self-confidence. Moreover, it helps to develop methods of scientific and persuasive discourse, and to shape future leaders (Sallami, 2014).
The techniques of debate
A debate typically takes the form of a public discourse between two knowledgeable people or teams of people, who possess the ability to discuss a specific topic.
Debates are based on two opposing views on a specific topic or public issue wherein opposing arguments are put forward and discussed by both sides. The main point of contention could involve the issue itself or the way to solve it.
The debate is a mutual dialogue between two panels of speakers, representing two different stances on a particular issue, each side strives to prove its point of view and defend it by various scientific and logical means including the use of arguments and evidence aiming at convincing the public and the opposing side of the credibility of their position (Sallami, 2014).
Various educational institutions all over the world have integrated the system of debate into their learning activities as a teaching tool aiming at establishing and fostering a culture of dialogue among students. It is used to foster respect for the opinions and privacy of others among generations, and to teach the youth modern interpersonal skills.
In this spirit; teachers, researchers, academics, and specialists are calling for the integration of debating methods into the curriculum so as to establish a space where the principles and values of balanced dialogue, open and meaningful discussions, productive cooperation, and mutual respect are promoted. This would contribute to the dispelling of harmful stereotypes and preconceived notions about others (Sallami, 2014).
Over recent decades, academic research has demonstrated the unprecedented potential benefits of engaging in debates, as the experience gained from this practice results in the acquisition of life, personal, cognitive, and organizational skills. Furthermore, debates offer exceptional educational benefits that no other learning environment does; not only do debaters acquire knowledge in fields outside of their traditional education, but they are also able to advance and refine their personal skills simultaneously.
At the very least, engaging in debates allows learners witness first-hand the importance of logical arguments and irrefutable evidence. It also enables them to utilize rhetoric to make their points of view very clear.
Debates play a pivotal role in consolidating in the debater’s mind the notions of focus in conversations and dialogues, and hearing and listening. Moreover, debates contribute significantly to one’s ability to prepare and deliver effective speeches, work in groups, and develop high-level thinking and critical skills. In addition to, the acquisition of knowledge in various fields outside of the learner’s courses.
Social cohesion is considered to be the founding basis of democracy, and a reflection of relationships and interactions in society.
Social cohesion builds upon the democratic effort to establish social balance, economic dynamics and a shared identity.
Social Cohesion aims at establishing a system based on equality and justice, controlling the growth of capitalism, and preventing social divisions.
Therefore, Social cohesion constitutes the process through which citizenship is promoted by reducing all forms of inequality in society.
Ibn Khaldun stressed the importance of Social Cohesion considering that “No society could be brought into being or develop through dispersed and divided efforts. Those who naturally understand the means of their livelihood understand the need for social cooperation and cohesion as no one could fulfill his/her own needs on his/her own. Cooperation and cohesion among people is required.”
Ibn Khaldun sets a great example that demonstrates the importance of social cohesion and the division of labor among people; an individual in possession of a day’s worth of food in wheat would not be able to eat it before it had gone through a number of processes, such as: grinding, kneading, and cooking. Each one of these processes requires cooperation and joint efforts. Therefore, social cohesion and cooperation are, according to Ibn Khaldun, necessary for individuals’ survival and society’s existence.
In the absence of solidarity, individuals would fail to secure the means of their livelihood -e.g. acquire food- and to protect themselves.
- The current situation
Libya is currently facing a variety of highly complex issues, all of which have had serious repercussions; including, the erosion of the pillars and foundations of the state and country, in addition to disruptions at the grassroots level. This is a very dangerous situation and a threat to ours, as well as to future generations.
The wars and divisions that Libya has experienced since the revolution of February 17, 2011 threatened social peace and caused the political and economic crises, as well as the proliferation of terrorism, and the lack of law enforcement. Moreover, the role of the elite and social leaders has been passive and non-existent.
In this section, I will highlight some of the issues that relate to the core of the policy underlined in this paper.
The cultural realm in Libya has been suffering greatly. This is in reference to the significant lack in such cultures as those of dialogue, coexistence, the acceptance of differences, and the reliance on reason. While cultures of hate, violence, and the reliance on emotion over reason have unfortunately been exacerbated.
There is an urgent need to concentrate extra efforts to addressing all social sensitivities. The elite, public speakers and figures should play a more active in promoting and strengthening cultures of dialogue and acceptance of differing opinions.
This paper recommends the adoption of the functioning of dialogue and debating clubs, in light of their positive social impact by reducing the repercussions of harmful practices so as to overcome this social issue, and encourage people to reject hate speech and remedy the redress the prevailing culture.
Issues in Libya are not restricted to the cultural realm; they include the educational realm and the different groups of learners. Chief among which is, educational system’s reliance on memorization, and learning by heart with no understanding of what is being taught.
In this sense; study success is measured by the learner’s ability to pass exams, with complete neglect of the main role of education.
Education should focus on the stimulation of innovation and the learner’s development required for problem solving.
Prevalent educational approaches fail to challenge either the learner or the teacher’s minds.
Universities are failing to train staff with the required competencies to offer adequate solutions to the country’s issues, and drive its development. On the contrary, leaners tend to leave behind the most basic knowledge acquired despite their high level of education. Thus instead of helping the country, they tend to harm it by disregarding and transgressing the law, possibly abusing their position, and permitting the exploitation of others.
In light of these educational shortcomings; lack of substance, weak approaches, and poor curricula, it is vital to adopt the system of debates as an effective learning tool in order to correct the aforementioned weaknesses in the Libyan system for education.
The system of debates would supplant memorization and learning by heart with capacities foe argumentation and explanation.
Additionally, social cohesion has become a necessity in the twenty first century, and in the current climate that is dominated by widespread concern about worsening conflict conditions that threaten respect for diversity, inclusion, and basic human rights. Moreover, hate speech has encroached upon tolerance, inclusion, diversity, and core human rights’ values and principles within us. This undermines social cohesion on a broader scope, weakens shared values, and might even fuel violence. Moreover, it impedes the establishment of peace, stability, sustainable development, and the commitment to human rights
- The experience of a debate club in Sabha
The city of Sabha is considered to be the capital of the south of Libya. It is home to about half a million people and it is about 770 kilometers away from the capital Tripoli.
Residents of the South, particularly those of Sabha, have always complained about the lack of basic services, such as; petrol, gas, electricity and sanitation services. In addition to the damage caused to such historical buildings as the castle of Sabha by armed conflicts during civil wars. The main conflicts occurred amongst such Libyan tribes as: Tebu, Awlad Suleiman, Gaddadfa, and Tuaregs. These extended between 2012 and 2019 and have had devastating ramifications; hundreds dead and injured, thousands of IDPs, destroyed houses, streets and fields.
More importantly, it has resulted in serious social divisions and grudges, and never-ending ambushes.
In 2012, after the first war in the city, Sabha debating club started training young people on the cultures of dialogue and acceptance of differences by educating them on the basics of debating.
Up until 2016, the club’s work was solely based on training activities.
In 2017, the club launched the very first debating competition in the Libyan south under the slogan “Toward Tolerance”. The competition lasted for 3 days with the participation of 70 members from 8 debating clubs in Sabha, Murzuk,Taraghin, Ubari, Gatrone, Wadi al Shat, Sabha University, and Sabha Scouts.
The competition aimed at gathering young people from the different conflicting tribes in one place so as to free them of antagonism and intolerance. It constituted the perfect opportunity to discuss some important issues, that these young people could not dare discussing in the past. Differing points of view were exchanged and discussed in a safe and friendly space. This constitutes one of the competition’s main achievements.
In 2018, after former club trainees took on effective leadership roles within society, the club’s functioning expanded to include peace building programs. It launched the “Fezzan platform for dialogue” project under the slogan “Youth toward Peace” in an effort to foster a culture of dialogue in society and among young people. Moreover, the project aimed at providing youth with the opportunity to express their views, develop their capacities, and strengthen shared values for peaceful coexistence and participation in conflict resolutions.
Once the club’s staff had realized that issues in the South were mainly of a social nature as they resulted from the prevailing political differences and conflicts, they launched a “Social Policy Forum for Stability in the South” in pursuance of youth empowerment and inclusion in the formulation of social policies.
Research papers from participants in various social themes have contributed to the formulation of a number of solutions and recommendations to be provided to the relevant authorities.
The positive impact that the debate club has had and continues to have in Sabah, constitutes irrefutable evidence of the effectiveness of debate clubs in strengthening social cohesion and implementing societal change by shifting the prevailing culture among its segments, the youth in particular, from one of hatred to acceptance of differences.
This transformation heralds the creation of a generation that is aware and well-informed of the issues and obstacles surrounding it, thus enabling it to deal with them with care and positivity.
Based on the aforementioned findings, I propose the following recommendations:
- Support dialogue and debating clubs’ ability to carry out their educational role through in-kind and material contributions.
- Facilitate the work of dialogue and debate clubs within the different forms of educational institutions, particularly those focusing on higher education.
- Reduce the security limitations on the functioning of dialogue and debate clubs.
- Incorporate the “scientific and practical” debate approach into school and university curricula.
- Adopt a debate-based learning strategy in national education institutions.
- Involve authorities in the functioning of dialogue and debate clubs
Working on the aforementioned recommendations would contribute greatly to the revival of the cultural realm in all its aspects: it would provide the intellectual elite with work and advancement opportunities, thus allowing the best and the most qualified to shine, and take on leadership roles in society. This would counter hate speech and strengthen social inclusion.