The centerpiece "summit debate" on Saturday "Better Dictators than Elected Islamists" saw four stellar speakers grapple with a key global issue: whether political Islam was at odds with democracy.
Daniel Pipes, who is often reviled as an Islamophobe, weighed in first with a powerful opening line.
"Dictators are better than elected nonsense," he said. Pipes argued that non-violent and violent Islamists all had the same goal: application of Shariah and establishment of an Islamic Caliphate.
"Preposterous," New York Times columnist Roger Cohen retorted. "To lump together the AKP (Turkey’s ruling party) with Kalashnikov-wielding extremists is plain intellectual dishonesty." Dictators, such as Gaddafi, were worst for their "repression, farcical election and prying into bedrooms".
Arguing against the motion, former ambassador MK Bhadrakumar said one mustn’t forget the key word in the debate was "elected".
"There’s a distinction between a fugitive from the Tora Bora mountains and people (Islamists) who have gone through the key test of elections," he argued.
Author Doughlas Murray of the Henry Jackson Society said he wasn’t pro-tyrant, but dictators were a better alternative if the choice was between them and the Islamists.
Moderator Jonathan Freedland put the motion to vote among the audience twice, as is done in an Oxford-style debate. The first was a pre-vote, before the speakers took to the lectern and then another vote when they were done.
There was no confusion what the audience in the world’s largest democracy thought was better: elected representatives. The motion was squarely defeated.