“I’m conservative dude.”
I stared blankly at my friend. After an awkward silence, I made a bad joke, and all was good in the world. However, that conversation left a lingering taste in my mouth. Here was a good, decent man, and he was conservative? It was then that I realized that throughout my first month at NYU Abu Dhabi, I hadn’t heard a single conservative viewpoint.
When I told my friends that I thought Donald Trump was a racist
, there was no one to argue about how he has reduced African-American unemployment
. When I exclaimed in D2 that the Indian Prime Minister was fueling hate
, no one contended that he was a “man of development.”
When a friend suggested that open borders are the future, no one told him that he was utopian. When a professor talked about the need for government intervention in healthcare, no one intervened to ask him about the effectiveness of the free market.
When we all signed up for NYUAD, no one expected that the university would be a hotbed for right-wing politics. While I don’t have the numbers on this, I can argue confidently that teenagers who choose to pack their bags and travel to the Middle East to study, tend to be more liberal than your average Joe.
Yet it’s not as if conservatism doesn’t exist at NYUAD. One only needs to have a look at the litany of NYUAD Facebook pages to realize that there are conservatives on campus. Hiding behind the relative anonymity of social media is the only way conservatives are able to voice their views.
Ranging from Breitbart-style trolls to long-winded libertarian intellectuals, NYUAD houses all sorts of conservatives. Yet, we never get to hear from them in real life.
We love to talk about the “Saadiyat Bubble” but neglect an even larger and more worrying bubble: the liberal bubble. For all the talk about “safe spaces,” we have forgotten to create a space for honest and meaningful political discussion. Even on Facebook, any conservative viewpoint tends to be immediately assaulted — with labels such as “racist” and “sexist” — by a multitude of my fellow progressives.
This needs to change. It’s time that we realized that conservatism is not a disease. It is a valid way of looking at the world which may differ significantly from our own. The only way we can grow as students and as global leaders is through free and non-judgmental discussion.
The obvious counterpoint to this is that facets of modern social conservatism are built on the denial of rights to individuals. Considering that many of us come from communities that are targeted by the far-right, it is very easy to bracket all conservatives into that category.
It doesn’t help that the symbols of modern conservatism are the likes of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Viktor Orbán, Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte. Not exactly a stellar list. So why should we have conversations with people who seem intent on supporting such policies and politicians?
It is important to remember, that the world outside Saadiyat is very different. There, not everyone considers liberal democracy to be the endpoint of civilization. Not everyone knows the meaning of LGBT. Not everyone assumes that immigration will always have a net benefit. When we exclude conservative viewpoints on campus, we aren’t removing these opinions from the wider world. We are only removing ourselves from reality.
If we liberals truly want to “change the world,” then we aren’t going to do so by labelling millions of people as deplorables
. Instead we need to engage with conservatives and try to convince them of our positions. For this, we don’t need to leave campus, but rather, create an environment where their views are respected.
However, this process cannot be a one-sided conversation. If conservatives on campus truly believe in their ideals, then they have to speak up. Not anonymously over the internet but in real life. That is the only way that they can convince their liberal peers about their positions.
When students at Yale Law School saw what they perceived to be a liberal bias at educational and judicial institutions, they didn’t write anonymous posts. Instead, they created the Federalist Society
and transformed it into one of most influential conservative organizations in U.S. politics.
If conservatives at NYUAD really care about their ideals, then they should speak up. If liberals truly care about freedom of speech, then they should be open to opposing viewpoints. Only then will this university become truly diverse.
Abhyudaya Tyagi is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com