Three people were removed from their positions over the issue of having an Israeli stall at a mock United Nations debating contest at the Islamic International University, Islamabad. This was done because of their ‘culpability’ in promoting Israel’s agenda. Well, actually no, they did not do anything of the sort. They were suspended because they organised a Model UN conference — a simulation of the United Nations — where Israel was represented as a country.
At a Model UN conference, participants are usually assigned different countries as they discuss issues of global relevance. For example, at the Harvard World MUN 2014, I was part of the Disarmament and Security Committee where I represented the Syrian Arab Republic as we discussed the pressing issue of drone attacks. Every delegate is required to put forward his or her country’s stance. Indian delegates, therefore, will not agree on giving up Kashmir to Pakistan. Likewise, American delegates will not admit to their country’s duplicitous foreign policy over the years. What they will do, however, is provide a real-life taste of what the Indian or American delegates would say in such debates.
A delegate’s debating skills are tested by the contribution that he or she makes to the debate. More important, though, is the skill of diplomacy and such conferences provide you with the best opportunity of learning how to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. In a committee of 400 delegates at the Harvard World MUN, there were delegates from around 80 different countries.
So while I debated with some wonderful people from India, Venezuela, England, the US and Turkey — to name a few — I also had the opportunity to interact with them during the social events, promoting an image of Pakistan that was quite different from what they had been seeing in the news media. These social events are primarily designed to promote interaction and cultural exchanges between students from different parts of the world. Personally speaking, this is the best part of MUN conferences since it allows you to break all stereotypes and gives you a chance to know people beyond boundaries and borders.
Following the same line of thinking, the Model UN conference at the International Islamic University in Islamabad organised a social event where students had to set up stalls representing the countries that they were representing. Just to give you some context, at international conferences with people from different countries taking part, you usually set up stalls representing your country of origin.
This should give you an idea of how this particular event — a global village — is really meant to act as a cultural event that allows you to get familiarised with different countries. With little or no international participation, delegates were asked to set up stalls representing their assigned countries by the organisers of this particular conference.
This, of course, did not go down well with people who wish to stifle academic debate in Pakistan. Like it or not, Israel happens to be an important world player. This importance means that Israel cannot be left out of debates, especially if it is a political debate. How do you expect an all-encompassing debate on the Middle Eastern crisis without Israel? How can you ever have a meaningful debate on the Palestinian issue without anyone representing Israel?
There will be detractors who will point out that these conferences are an excuse for high school students to skip school and party, and to those detractors, my answer is simple: there are always two sides to a coin. So, while you give that argument, remember that students at LUMS and IBA have used MUN conferences to promote Pakistan internationally. I, and countless other LUMS Model UN members, have participated in various international MUN conferences such as the Harvard World MUN and the Model UN Turkey.
The LUMS team has won the best delegation award five times — competing with most of the world’s top universities. At the Turkey conference, the LUMS team has won seven times in a row. Every time this happens, the world gets to know about a Pakistan that is tolerant and willing to engage in meaningful debate. To its credit, LUMUN (LUMS Model UN society) has also organised Pakistan’s premier MUN conference 10 years in a row, apart from co-hosting a conference in Passau, Germany.
The solution to solving a conflict often lies in your ability to listen to others, for it is only then that you end up understanding where the other party is coming from. Model UN conferences are an excellent platform for such grooming and we must not add controversy to an entirely harmless — in fact beneficial — activity.
MUN participants take pride in breaking barriers and building bridges. So, let a conference be a conference. Let a simulation of debate be just that and nothing more. Let people understand perspectives.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2014.