In today’s world, a poor choice of words or a joke that someone takes offense to could mean social and professional suicide. This has gotten to a point where in some countries, you may actually face jail time
if someone feels offended by a statement or opinion you expressed. What this means for freedom of expression particularly online is questionable to say the least.
In comparison to the public discourse and discussion on the internet that existed 10 years ago, the discussion and language of today is heavily influenced and controlled by politically correct culture. However, this is not necessarily a good thing. There’s a steady and progressive incursion of PC culture in various avenues of our lives today, both offline and online. What’s more concerning, however, is the unabated and direct assault, increasingly physical in nature
, of certain ideals by groups such as ANTIFA and specific groups or individuals who claim loyalty to feminism and other advocacies. These self-proclaimed advocacy groups and advocates have taken over large portions of the mainstream media and internet fora.
Historically, advocacy has done great good, led by academics and intellectuals who earned their platforms, and in most cases created platforms for themselves, such as the civil rights movement in the United States, which was based on solid intellectual principles of nonviolence and passive resistance. However, empowered by social media and instant communication, everyone speaks, and everyone can be heard. Unfortunately, some opinions — those that rely on emotional appeal or particular personal experience without any logical or philosophical basis — may not be worth hearing. In the court of public opinion, the ideas with the most merit usually rise or fall based on just that, their merit.
This optimal scenario of content-based merit fails when the substance of an argument is ignored and reactions resort to attacks on the person’s character. Failing to find objectionable character traits, some of the individuals who fly the banners of self-proclaimed advocacy groups resort to outright harassment
and in some rare instances, assault
. Many individuals choose not to involve themselves with the discussions that occur on online platforms regarding these topics for fear of this harassment, their voices effectively silenced under duress.
What follows from this is what we are experiencing now, and it doesn’t seem to be changing. Students who hold conservative or libertarian points of view or beliefs resort to anonymous posts on social media to discuss or express their opinions. These opinions are usually rejected by a significant portion of news publications, leaving conservatives with problematic news platforms like Fox News. This shortcoming has directly resulted in public opinion and discourse in the intellectual backbone of the world — our universities
— leaning to the left, with most dissenting voices or opinions shut down. One doesn’t need to look any further than our own NYU Abu Dhabi campus. Several people have come forward anonymously and stated that they do not contribute to the campus forums or discussions for fear of being socially ostracized.
This opinion piece will likely not be well received by a very vocal portion of our campus and student body. It’s exactly for this reason that it is important for it to be written and published. If an opinion or claim incites outrage or dissent, there must be an underlying cause. It is in the spirit of academia, and particularly NYUAD, to rationally discuss and evaluate such an opinion and analyze why it would foster such a reaction. If we don't challenge monopolies on opinion and discourse for fear of the repercussions of non-conformity, we would be losing a significant portion of what makes NYUAD a place for everyone.
Nour Samy is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.