ISLAMABAD: The International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI), on Sunday, removed the dean of the Faculty of Management Sciences (FMS) and a student adviser who were responsible for a three-day Model United Nations (MUN) event, which began on Friday.
The move followed unconfirmed reports that the university had organised an “Israeli cultural stall”, which began circulating on the Internet and via social media. This drew the ire of right-wing organisations, including the IIUI chapter of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), which staged a demonstration outside the National Press Club on Sunday to condemn the stall.
The stall in question, photographs of which were circulated on social media, was organised by students of the FMS as part of the MUN event. MUNs held around the world feature several debates, committee sessions, as well as social events where teams are expected to showcase the culture of the countries they are representing. This exercise is aimed at contributing to students’ understanding of other peoples and countries around the world, while the debate portion of the event allows them to discuss and thrash out questions of global political significance amongst each other.
A statement issued by the university’s spokesperson, Mr Hairan Khattak, on Sunday, disowned responsibility for the event, saying “a few students arranged a stall for Israel without the knowledge and permission of the university authorities. IIUI strongly condemns the incident and no sooner did they come to know about the matter than the programme was cancelled without any further delay.”
Educationists worried by ‘intolerance’ of other cultures at educational events
The IIUI, in an apparent response to criticism from right-wing quarters, suspended FMS Dean Dr Bashir Khan and Student Adviser Tasneem Fatima. Dr Azizur Rehman, an assistant professor at the IIUI's Faculty of Law and also adviser to the IIUI president, confirmed to Dawn that punitive action was being taken against the two individuals.
Mr Rehman told Dawn that although the university administration was informed that the MUN event would be taking place, he maintained that the organisers had not provided details regarding the cultural event, nor had they sought permission to set up a stall depicting Israel.
“Since Pakistan does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and any mention of the country is a sensitive issue for the public at large, the administration feels that such a stall should not have been allowed at the event,” Dr Rehman said.
Both Dr Khan and Ms Fatima were not available for comment, despite repeated attempts.
Commenting on the issue, noted educationist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy told Dawn that having a model United Nations event was a step towards integration, while fully recognizing defects existing in the international world order.
“Sadly, what happened at IIUI indicates that we are bent upon emphasizing our differences with other cultures and nations, and that we shall not tolerate any that are different from ours. This rigidity will not win us friends internationally, nor will this lead to a more internally peaceful Pakistan,” he said.
Saim Sadiq, an alumnus of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and former director general of Lumun, the Lums MUN society, told Dawn that freedom of speech is already a rare thing in Pakistan. “MUNs are one of the few forums where students can learn about the world and absorb differing world views without being bullied into accepting just one side of the story as the absolute truth. The unfortunate mix-up at IIUI should not be misconstrued to affect other such conferences in the future,” he said.
Mr Sadiq, who was declared ‘Best Delegate’ at the 2014 Harvard MUN, held in Brussels this year, said that debates, MUNs and legal moots are very important to the development of students and makes them well-rounded individuals. “Curbing such events will put students of our generation a step behind every other country competing at the global level,” he concluded.
Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2014