Now what follows is by no means the definitive debate on this subject. However, it was interesting to me for two reasons: one that the debate occurred in Australia and secondly my personal belief that frank and open discussion is the only way we, as a people, can overcome our differences and live in a world where there is peace!
I do not paste this to offend but if anyone drops by and feels the need to comment, then go for it, as I said frank and open discussion!
What follows is cut and pasted in its entirety as it appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.
IT was a debate over one of the most vexed issues of our times - one that pitted not only ideas and opinions against each other, but entire civilisations.
In front of a packed audience of 1200 passionate souls, a panel of experts on politics and Islam opened the Intelligence2 debate series by ripping into the proposition that Islam is incompatible with democracy.
The security guards and flyer-wielding campaigners at the doors gave some indication of the fraught nature of the subject matter from the outset. And those on stage did not disappoint, taking the discussion from the soaring heights of Islam's philosophical antecedents to the cold, hard reality of suppression under Sharia law.
Having told another Sydney audience earlier this week that Islam would dominate Europe, the director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, immediately provided a cutting criticism of the world's second largest religion.
"Islam is undemocratic in spirit," he said. "It takes a lot of learning to have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association. These are things that are learnt over a period of time and it is that which the West has achieved and which Islam is a long way from learning.
"Yes, there are Muslim states which are democratic in form, but true democracy is yet to take root. The great obstacle to this change is the fact that in the Middle East the social system is fundamentally tribal and that obstructs the development of the key requisites of democracy."
The rebuttal from the Pakistan-born director of the University of Western Australia's Centre for Muslim States and Societies, Samina Yasmeen, was a cool cloth to Pipes's fire.
"You will see what you want to see and if you want to identify Islam as incompatible I have no doubt that you will continue seeing that," she said.
"How is it, though, that Muslims in non-Muslim societies are able to get on so well when Islam is incompatible? I would argue that Muslim majority states do show a lot of tolerance, not only of the Muslim community, but also of the non-Muslim community."
Amina Rasul, a human rights activist and director of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy, followed the theme. "What the West should not do is criticise states which are not democratic while supporting despots who suppress human rights because it is in their economic benefit," Rasul said.
"There are 800 million Muslims living happily and successfully in democratic nations - why is it that the extremes are always focused on?"
The Herald columnist Paul Sheehan brought the question into stark relief by comparing a trip to Mecca with a trip to Rome.
"When you visit the Vatican, one thing that is for certain is that you will be allowed in," Sheehan said. "When you visit Saudi Arabia the checks at the airport and for those travelling into Mecca are not just for security reasons, they are to prevent non-Muslims from coming in."
Finally the statements were brought back to first principles by Waleed Aly, the young lawyer, writer and spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria.
"My opponents have defined terms such as Islam and Sharia law to suit their arguments and in so doing have ignored the myriad interpretations of these terms."
In the end, the audience had the final call and it delivered a victory to hope - but only just. A poll conducted as the audience entered found 38 per cent for the affirmative, 42 per cent for the negative and the remaining 20 per cent undecided. In the tradition of many a democratic poll, the numbers had tightened by the end of the night - with the proposition going down by a narrow margin of 52 to 48 per cent.
"The response to this debate has been phenomenal and I've been trying to find an explanation for this overwhelming response," said Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre. "For the past decade people have not really engaged with these issues. People have formed hasty judgments and not engaged with the details. They've been more focused on their own concerns in their community and in their backyard. But there has been a change in mood in Australia."
Indeed, it could have been a hostile affair, but there were no howls from the audience. Sheehan referred to threats against Pipes before the event and the need for security to protect him. As it turned out, the guards had little to do.
Not even Michael Darby could get a reaction in the foyer afterwards as he handed out pamphlets on "how you can ensure Australia remains a Christian nation". Darby said: "I may have handed out some to Muslim people but I can't tell who is Muslim. I can say ladies with scarves did not rush me."
The IQ2 debate series is a partnership between the St James Ethics Centre, The Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC and the City of Sydney.