RECENTLY the International Islamic University in Islamabad held a Model UN conference, where students simulate what takes place at the UN General Assembly, by role-playing as ambassadors of different countries and engaging in debates on world issues and global conflicts.
It’s a wonderful extracurricular activity that stimulates students intellectually, and encourages them to learn about diplomacy and international relations. MUN conferences take place all over the world and hundreds of students have benefited greatly from participating as delegates in the many conferences.
As a complement to the debates, the MUN organisers at this particular university had students set up a Global Village promoting the countries that were participating in the event. Diplomats from various countries living in Islamabad were invited to visit the stalls.
Unfortunately, things went sour when students from the ultra-conservative Jamaat-i Islami noticed that there was a stall representing Israel amongst the rest of the world’s countries, and the whole thing spiralled into a fiasco. A hundred students showed up with batons and threatened violence if the Global Village wasn’t shut down.
The state has no right to dictate the ideals of individuals.
The consequences the day after the event were even worse. The blame game started up almost immediately, with the university administration claiming the Israeli stall had been set up without their knowledge or permission. The students responded that the MUN faculty advisers had approved of the inclusion of Israel in the debates because they were discussing issues related to Palestine and the UN resolutions against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Therefore, Israel had to be a part of the activities, including the Global Village. “We were not promoting Israel, but representing it,” said the students, in the most logical response to the entire brouhaha.
Then, the Higher Education Commission decided to get involved, and released an ominously worded instruction to all universities, titled ‘Adherence to Ideology and the Principles of Pakistan’. The title alone should be enough to make your heart sink, considering exactly how helpful this constant argument about the “ideology of Pakistan” has been for our progress as a nation.
But wait, there’s more. The directive says, “Universities and degree- awarding institutions have a great responsibility of promoting ideology and principles of Pakistan … demonstration of such rightful perceptions promote nationalism, dispel confusion and infuse beliefs and principles that bring harmony in a society, and bolsters unity and performance.”
The statement goes on to lambast universities holding activities that “include discussions or presentations contrary to the ideology and principles of Pakistan” which it deems “tarnish the image of an institution” and “fortify negativism and chaos”. And then it instructs all universities to “remain vigilant” against any activity that challenges the ideology and principles of Pakistan and/or the perspective of the government of Pakistan”.
Bytes For All, the digital rights organisation that encourages development and democracy through Internet and computer technology, strongly protested the statement. It tweeted, “Acts of impunity don’t always involve guns. These can also be HEC Pakistan directives sabotaging education’s future.” Indeed, instructing universities to promote ‘ideology’ is something you would expect from repressive regimes like North Korea, the Third Reich, or Stalin’s Russia — all company that Pakistan should not find itself honoured to keep.
Anyone with any knowledge of the purpose of education knows that it isn’t meant to ‘promote the ideology’ of any country — that’s called brainwashing. The state has no right to dictate the closely held values and ideals of individuals, nor to teach complete obedience to the government and threaten dire consequences for non-adherence. All we have to do is look around us to see negativity and chaos, disunity and disharmony: the result of many years of trying to teach state-sanctioned ideology but in reality only sowing the seeds of hate and intolerance for many generations.
The students at the Model UN should be congratulated for their courage in going against the popular belief that sticking our heads in the sand will solve any of the world’s problems — in this case, pretending that Israel doesn’t exist in order to help Palestine. These students were intelligent enough to realise that dialogue and discussion are the ways out of conflict; they were brave enough to mirror the world as it really is, not as Pakistan’s ‘ideology’ might wish it to be.
Top quality education encourages critical thinking in students, not adhering to state-sponsored dogma. The best advice I can give to students today is that if anyone pushes ‘ideology’ on you, reject it. Read history, politics, literature. Ask questions. Form your own conclusions. Don’t be intellectually lazy and swallow everything your elders tell you. They made huge mistakes; don’t perpetuate them by blindly imitating their prejudices and narrow vision. You want a better Pakistan? This is the real way to obtain it.
The writer is an author.
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2014