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 Volume 3 | Issue 11 | March 20, 2011 |


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Cover photo: IIUM


Triumph for the Bangladeshi debaters

Md. Masudur Rahman
Photo Courtesy : IIUM

“Those of you who think IIUM would emerge as the winner, please give them a big round of applause.” The crowd responded well with claps. “Those of you who think IBA will emerge as the winners, please give them a big round of applause.” The crowd roared with approval. The next few moments redefined Bangladesh's debating history. Bangladesh had its first international debating champions.

The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) is a supranational organisation with 57 Muslim state members. In its 36th council of foreign ministers, it endorsed a debating tournament open for all the OIC member countries. International Islamic University, Malaysia (IIUM) was chosen to be the organiser of the inaugural tournament. 25 teams from 11 countries including Egypt, Qatar, Uganda, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Brunei, Bahrain and Bangladesh participated in the tournament. Among the participants were IIUM, UCTI (University of Central Asia Technological Institute) and UTMara (University of Technology Mara), who were way above any Bangladeshi team in the World rankings. IIUM has even become the worlds debating champion in ESL (English as a Second Language) category in recent years.

IIUM central auditorium was a full house for the finals.

Team IBA participating in OIC IV Debating Championship was represented by Abir hasan, Ashfaqul Haq Chowdhury and Gaushey Shahriar. Formed according to IBA Communication Club's internal debater ranking, this team had three former national champions in it. Abir and Ashfaq are currently in their 7th semester of BBA 16th batch. A year junior to them, Gaushey is in the 17th batch. Apart from debating, all three of them have their own separate interests. Abir is IBA cricket captain, Gaushey a journalist and Ashfaq a musician. “We may have separate interests and lifestyles but we three have a common perspective about debate. That is, we debate because we dare to stand and speak on what we believe,” said Ashfaq. Abir is also the Vice President of West Asia region of Australasian Intervarsity Debating Association (AIDA), world's second largest debating body. The trio has plans to participate in a few more international tournaments in the coming year and after OIC, their only target, from now on, is to take the Bangladesh flag one step higher.

Founded in 1983 and funded by eight different governments, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) is one of the leading universities of Malaysia. Inspired by the world-view of Tawhid and the Islamic philosophy of the unity of knowledge as well as its concept of holistic education, IIUM has selected 'The Garden of Knowledge and Virtue' as its motto. Having a worldwide recognition for debating activities, IIUM has been Asian and worlds ESL champion. IIUM was handed the duty of organising the first OIC Intervarsity Debating Championship in the 36th foreign minister's council of OIC. Having had prior experience of organising international tournaments, IIUM has given OIC a very successful tournament. Apart from providing a pool of highly qualified adjudicators, the accommodation, food and transportation during the tournament have been flawless. The team representing IIUM were comprised of Khalida, Meor and Tasneem. Khalida and Meor were Worlds ESL finalists in 2010. Tasneem was the Worlds ESL champion of 2007. They also have significant achievements in many other International and Malaysian championships.

The adjudication panel for the final was chaired by Mabroor Wassey, chairperson of Bangladesh Debate Council. The other 8 panelists were from various countries. Dr. Omar, the most senior of the panelists, is the former chairperson of Worlds Universities Debating Council. Imran Rahim and Robin Teo form National University of Singapore (NUS) are the current champions of Asians British Parliamentary Debate 2010 and World Universities Peace Invitational Debate (WUPID) 2010. Imran Rahim was one of the DCAs of the tournament. The other DCA, Iqbaal Hafeez is the founder of Malaysian Institute for Debate and Public Speaking. He was the chief adjudicator of UTMara Australs 2008. Ashok Kumar Roy, another representative of NUS is a national champion in Singapore and has also won tournaments in a few other countries. Ahmed Ismail, a breaking adjudicator from WUPID 2009 was another panelist. From Qatar, the panel had Kelly who is the author of the book, Modern Art: Is it Really Art? Sarfi, the former Secretary of Worlds Universities Debating Council, and now resident in Malaysia was also adjudicating in the final of OIDC 2010.

Bangladesh sent out their best possible contingent for this tournament. Teams from North South University, Islamic University of Technology, BRAC University, Independent University and Institute of Business Administration took part. All of them went ahead with one aim in their minds. With a strong contingent, it was about time for Bangladesh to prove its flair in debating.

“We had a strong feeling that we can reach the quarter finals of this tournament. And if we can click then the semis are not that distant a dream as well,” commented Abir Hasan of team IBA about their aspirations before the tournament. “We also knew that with having other Bangladeshi teams in good form, Bangladesh can emerge as a surprise in this tournament.” Abir was right. Bangladesh surprised the debating fraternity.

The teams from Bangladesh had something to be proud of even before the debates had begun. Mabroor Wassey, the chairperson of the Bangladesh Debate Council, was announced as one of the deputy chief adjudicators of the tournament. The chief adjudicator was Mohammed Abdul Latif from IIUM. Other deputy chief adjudicators were from NUS (National University of Singapore) and MIDP (Malaysian Institute of Debate and Public Speaking).

The tournament started on December 15. The highlight for the Bangladeshi teams in the preliminary rounds was when the two top-notch teams from Bangladesh, NSU and IBA, faced each other. In a close debate, IBA won with a split of 2 to 1. But it was the quarter finals announcement when tension reached its climax. Proving their recent success in debating, three teams from Bangladesh, namely IUT, NSU and IBA, qualified for the quarter finals. The expatriate Bangladeshi students broke into celebrations upon the announcement. A good number of supporters were seen coming out of their dorms to show their support for Bangladesh.

The quarter final draw made the tournament even more interesting for Bangladesh. It was NSU versus IBA. Both the teams gave in their best in front of an energetic crowd. IBA won again with a split of 2 to 1. And with IUT winning in their debate, Bangladesh boasted two teams for the semi finals. At this stage, the tournament took a bipartisan look. It was Malaysia versus Bangladesh. IBA confronted University of Malaya while IUT was up against the mighty IIUM.

IUT lost to IIUM by 4-1 in one of the semis. But the other semi final was a different story. IBA rode the stage with the Bangladeshi flag in their hands. It emerged as the winner against University of Malaya with a split of 3-2 and the victory day came very much alive in Malaysia. The Bangladesh contingent as well as the resident Bangladeshi students of IIUM broke into celebrations with the announcement. While all the teams thought Bangladesh contingent had won the fight, the team from IBA held different ideas. For them, it was not the end of the dream. Rather, it was the beginning.

The finals were scheduled to be held in the morning of December 17. IIUM, with one former Worlds ESL champion and two worlds ESL finalists in their team was the runaway favourites. But IBA was not about to give up. “We are just so sure that we can beat this team if we stick to our core strategy as a unit,” said Gaushey Shahriar, the first speaker for the team, just before entering the auditorium for the grand final. IBA probably had fewer people to bet for them before the final started. The motion for the final was -- This house believes that OIC should have its own elected parliament. IIUM was the government while IBA was the opposition. The final saw a panel of nine judges. Mabroor Wassey, one of the DCAs of the tournament, was the chair for the finals. The panel also included Sarfi, an expatriate from Bangladesh, as a judge. Most of the other judges were from Malaysia and Singapore.

Thirty minutes after the motion was given, the debaters were taken to the auditorium where they were given a spectacular reception. IIUM, the government, started the debate from a principal ground that Islam has never opposed democracy and it is high time that OIC showcases that to the world. IBA argued against it on two fronts. They said that a parliament in OIC would not be effective as the practice of democracy should always start from the grass root level and given that, there were many non-democracies along with weaker democracies in OIC members, the parliament will only have a nominal impact. They added that the disparity inherent in OIC members is also a barrier. “We knew IIUM is extremely efficient in constructing their arguments. So we decided to oppose with very few, but well-argumented and exemplified points,” commented Ashfaqul Haq Chowdhury, the second speaker for IBA in the final.

L-R: Team IBA with the Bangladesh flag during the semi finals on December 16.
Abir Hasan of IBA winning the best speaker's award.

The debate started with a doubt that it might well be a one sided one. But the mood changed very soon. As time passed by, it became clear that the momentum was with IBA as their points were more practical and clearly demonstrated. When second speakers from both the sides ended their speech, the crowd was firmly behind team IBA, who by then had showed exceptional clarity in their confident debating. IIUM triggered a last ditch effort through their third speaker Tasneem, the former Worlds ESL champion. But IBA's third speaker, Abir, bagged all the points from the opposition in his electrifying speech. By the time the rebuttal round begun, IBA had already turned the debate around. They seemed to be the favourite to clinch the title.

After the finals, it was time for the closing speeches by the invited guests. Though the session lasted for only about 30 minutes, it seemed like an endless stretch of time to the waiting crowd. In that session, the guests praised the debaters and expressed their opinion on the motion for the debate.

Clockwise: Adjudication panel for the final debate.
Gaushey Shahriar at the finals. IBA team receiving the champion's trophy.

The speech session was to be followed by the prize giving ceremony. After the customary awards given out to sponsors, it was time to announce the best speaker. Abir Hasan from IBA, whose excellence outshined everyone else in the debate, was declared as the winner.

And then came the moment to announce the champions. After a much theatrical prelude, IBA was announced to have won the OIC IV Debating Championship 2010 with a split of 6-3. The auditorium exploded with cheers from expatriate Bangladeshis and almost all of the non Malaysian crowds. Members of team IBA were jubilant in the moment of triumph. Before receiving the trophy and the prize, cash of 2000$, they waved the flag while the crowd shouted out in applause for Bangladesh. The ambassadors of the different OIC member states stood up to show their honour. The deputy minister for higher education in Malaysia handed out the trophies.

L-R: Abir receiving the best speaker's award. IIUM team during the finals.

Team IBA's success story was covered by major Malaysian newspapers, including Berita Harian and Kosmo. But the biggest coverage was from Al Jazeera, the famous international news network.


L-R: The Runner-up title goes to IIUM. Khalida from IIUM raises a question.

So that was it? The debates, the wins, the press conferences? Not at all. In fact, that is only half the story. The other half is an even more passionate account of victory. As stated earlier, IIUM has a few Bangladeshi students living in the dormitories. During the debate competition they actually became very good friends of the debaters from Bangladesh and they told them a tale of distress. In Malaysia, Bangladeshis are subjected to racial discrimination almost everywhere. Bangladesh, for the Malaysians, is a country of hunger, flood, corruption and illiteracy. Even then, the support they had extended to all the Bangladeshi teams during the tournament was fantastic. “They were the biggest inspiration for us during the final. We knew we can't let these guys down,” stated team IBA when asked about the issue. “We made good friends from almost all other participating nations and they gave us good support but the biggest inspiration was obviously the expatriates as we knew our win will make them so very proud.” With the victory, Bangladesh proved that she can grab a win, no matter how challenging the odds are against her.

The Malaysian deputy minister for higher education praised team IBA.

L-R: Team IBA receiving Champion's Trophy from the Malays ian
Deputy Minister for Higher Education and Rector of IIUM. Ashfaqul Haq Chowdhury,
the second speaker for IBA in the finals.


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