The Model UN fiasco: A dialogue with intolerance

28 Oct 2014


The Israel stall at the mock UN fair at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. —Online Photo
The Israel stall at the mock UN fair at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. —Online Photo

You know you’re intolerant, when you cannot even bear a ‘mock’ Israeli delegation in your university, let alone handle dialogue with a real one.

Recently, turmoil ensued at the model United Nations conference in the International Islamic University of Islamabad (IIUI), when the Israeli cultural stall caused outrage among the right-wing student body. I imagine the stall being part of the ‘Global Village’ festival, in which all participating delegations set up stalls representing their assigned countries.

The IIUI chapter of Islami Jamiat Taliba (IJT) staged a boisterous demonstration against the stall outside the National Press Club, resulting in the suspension of key staff members from the university. The event was cancelled after students smashed the contents of the Israeli stall and allegedly began terrorising the attendees.

Also read: State failure or failed state?

I’m an ardent fan of model UN conferences, having both hosted and participated in quite a few of them. It is a remarkable way to teach young people about diplomacy and international relations, and open them up to new, broader perspectives. Or as the IJT might put it, “Western agenda”.

I don’t believe the students and supervisors who set up the Israeli stall were actually Israeli or Jewish, and I strongly doubt they even truly believed in the arguments they made during the course of the conference.

Also read: Countering intolerance

I remember the last time I attended a model UN event in LUMS, I was assigned ‘Iran’. Despite my renowned repugnance for the Iranian legal system and the country’s political policies, I managed to play a convincing ‘Ahmedinejad-ian’ delegate, because that’s what model UN is about.

One may be forced to play the devil’s advocate, because we can’t all be assigned countries that we personally believe in. God knows, we can’t have a mock United Nations conference in Islamabad with 129 Pakistani delegations, and no Western representation!

The university’s response was to validate on-campus fanaticism by pandering to IJT’s demands. The IIUI spokesperson said that the university “strongly condemns” the Israeli cultural stall, but found it unnecessary to officially reprimand the baton-wielding, slogan-screaming, stall-smashing students; in doing so, setting a precedent that the university tolerates hooliganism as long as the indignation is righteous.

Not tolerated in IIUI, are faculty members who are simply doing their job, conducting the event the same way it has been conducted countless times before in other worthy educational institutes in Pakistan, not yet fully dominated by right-wing radicals. The event resulted in the suspension of the dean of the faculty of management sciences; a student advisor, and an assistant professor.

Also read: Patterns of intolerance

The fact that you can no longer even “pretend” to dispute the right-wing’s viewpoints without the fear of harsh retribution, epitomises the depth to which we have fallen in terms of ideological intolerance.