July - Sept 2002, USA

My Trip to the United Nations

By Yasmeen Figueroa

I thought I might share with you my experience at the United Nations in New York. Two students from our University were chosen to attend a conference held at the United Nations. Model U. N is basically an authentic simulation of the debates and deliberations of U.N. bodies such as the General Assembly, the Security Council and other organs in which students (like me =) step into the shoes of ambassadors of the U.N member states. We basically do a whole lot of research and debate some of the world’s most complex problems while learning about the U.N. system. Model UN’s aim is for participants to explore the intricacies of multilateral diplomacy and most important to develop the problem solving skills that will serve in real life situations in the peace making process. In doing so, we write position papers and research as much as we can to be efficient delegates. Later we come up with resolutions to these global issues.

I had such a wonderful time at the conference. I met so many new faces and even more wonderful, I met a Latina Muslimah. She and I hit it off immediately. She reminds me a lot of my mother. Very outgoing, with a vibrant personality. And the funny thing is, she has two daughters one is Khadijah (like my older sis) and the other is Yasmeen (like me!). Isn’t that awesome??? I knew you would agree.

Anyway, at the conference we were also given the privilege to attend some educational sessions regarding some current world issues. There were two UN panel discussion sessions that really stayed in my mind and are of great importance, not to mention very interesting. One was about the Palestinian-Israeli issue, and the other was about Children in Armed Conflict. I learned SOOO much mashaAllah. We had this one guy Saleem Fahmawi (who is the Chief of the Palestinian Decolonization Section) discuss the history of Palestine, and then he gave an update about the status of the people today. This other dude, Ramu Damodaran, talked about how media plays into the situation. He was blunt and honest about how the media is biased and that it controls the world’s sentiments about all kinds of issues. It is at the root of what stirs anger, arouses violence and creates havoc. We all get bits and pieces of the Palestinian/Israeli situation and as Muslims, we usually just feed into any information given to us about Jews especially about how they don’t have right to the land. But, subhanAllah, after hearing the complete breakdown of the history behind it all, no one can disagree that Jews have NO right to the land. It amazes me now how countless promises, treaties, “resolutions,” and the like have been made in support of Jews when they are the transgressors. Anyway, I walked away with a new perspective and a sense of better understanding.

The second issue also brought a new awareness to me. We were shown a slideshow of children in armed conflict. You would have shed warm tears if you saw how many young children are used for meaningless political reasons. I’m talking ages 4 and up. Little kids with cute chubby cheeks fighting in wars! In the past decade alone, more than 2 million children have been ruthlessly killed in armed conflict, and more than 6 million have been seriously injured or permanently disabled. Some of these kids are used as bait or sent as spies to neighboring enemies. A lot of the kids are forced to witness even worse, take part in horrifying acts of violence. Violence that even you and I would probably hurl at the thought of. This one boy was taken from his home and inducted into the army at age 4. He was manipulated and coerced to become a combatant. He was by all means and to all ends brainwashed and conditioned to be a machine. A boy stolen to become inhuman.

At 11, he and his entourage raided his once familiar village, slaughtering all the inhabitants. The most heart wrenching part was when he even killed his mother, brothers, and sisters with no remorse. I thought long about that. How can anyone allow themselves to kill their own, let alone their mother!? But then again when it comes down to it, we all have animal instincts, and the power of the mind can easily overpower that of the heart. After years of conditioning and desensitization, you act like a robot. I guess when you’re taken away from your mother, and you receive no affection, love or self-worth, you loose a piece of your humanness. Your heart no longer beats the same. And I guess that’s exactly what happened to this boy. The worst part is that his fighting involved tribal conflict and was ultimately over land =(. I took a picture of the boy on the screen, because if you saw him, his face, you’d be speechless. He held a huge gun in his hand, the face and body of an angry boy, but the heart of a mad man. The presentation got worse.

For girls, their participation in armed conflict usually entails being forced to provide sexual service. This African girl at the age of 10 was made to witness her mother’s rape and murder, and she herself was forced to serve four years as a concubine for rebel soldiers. She was forced to have sex with at least 12 of the soldiers on a daily basis, subhanallah. Rape is not always incidental to conflict. It can occur on a random and uncontrolled basis usually because of the general disruption of social boundaries. But most the time and in this girl’s case, it functions as a tactical weapon of war to humiliate and weaken the morale of the “enemy.” The girl was pregnant twice, and ended up abandoning her babies, and then tried to commit suicide. After finally managing to escape, she went for treatment at a provincial hospital when she was 15. She had contracted a sexually transmitted infection, was extremely withdrawn and depressed. But alhamdulilah she was able to receive help. Needless to say she will never be the same.

I look at these two situations, and it blows my mind that this sort of stuff is still happening in the 21st century. That with all the money, resources, technology, etc., we still cannot control this chaos. These situations are not alien to Muslims at large. Going to the UN to be reminded of my responsibility was good. It kinda helps me remember that dawah will not be given by any prophets to come. Rather Allah has left it to us. In essence going to the U. N gave me the fuel needed to charge my battery to get a move on change inshaAllah. Although I have a lot of “beef” with the UN, I admire its original dream. My eyes twinkle at the idea of making this world somewhat better. It is my plan inshaAllah to work in Allah’s way. walaikum salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu