The episode involving the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) and the Israeli stall exhibited for the “Global Village”, one of the routine events that make up the Model United Nations, has revealed the intolerance and ineptitude plaguing our society as well as institutions, academic or otherwise. It is difficult to argue that this controversy could have been completely avoided but that has no bearing on the series of mistakes that were committed and are still being made. For starters, the university should have made an assessment of the prevalent environment. If the IIUI is yet to evolve intellectually to a stage where harmless activities such as MUNs, which have been conducted by several universities and schools for years, will not be tolerated, then perhaps they should be avoided altogether. Of course, there is another way. You can communicate with the students, explain to them the purpose of such events, and take them on board. Context is important here. Attendees erected a stall for Israel in an Islamic university with Palestanian students present on campus as well as a heavy presence of Jamat-e-Islami’s notorious student wing, the Islami Jamiat Tuleba (IJI). Perhaps it would have been wise of the administration to consult student organisations and especially the Palestinians in order to cater to their sensitivities. This is not to be confused with seeking permission, since one cannot expect the IJI to comprehend reasonable ideas far too complicated for its collective intelligence. Still, measures aimed at placating emotions and spreading awareness would have been a smart move. Those in charge of organising such events have a certain responsibility towards participants and their respective institutions, which was not fulfilled on this occasion.

Now, the IIUI has completely disowned the event and taken action against the dean and student adviser. “Strict disciplinary action” may be taken against students who put up the controversial stall. This is yet another error. In a MUN, participants are supposed to represent countries which are a part of the United Nations. Israel happens to be one of them. The aim of the “Global Village” is to give them an opportunity to learn about different countries, their cultures, popular cuisines, traditional attires and so on. The stall for Israel was one of the many put up by participants during the exhibition. It wasn’t a conscious provocation, a deliberate insult or a malicious attempt to ‘promote Israel’ contrary to what is being propagated. The university administration should take ownership of the event, and explain facts to people instead of appeasing them and kneeling before raging mobs. An ideal situation would have been this: the stall is allowed to remain intact, the Palestinians are given the freedom to protest peacefully and the IJI goons are taken to task for causing disruption and threatening with violence to pressurise the administration. If nothing else, this entire episode makes it clear why this country needs more events such as MUN to counter intolerance, prejudice and misinformation in a dignified way.