Illustration by Shamma Alzaabi

The Gazelle Can't be Neutral on Equality

To be neutral is to be complicit in the oppression and erasure of marginalized identities. While discussion and dialogue remain important goals to strive for, they cannot come at the cost of tolerating intolerant opinions.

Feb 29, 2020

Imagine waking up on a Saturday morning in our beautiful campus on Saadiyat Island, knowing that we live in a world where people of all races, religions, identities and orientations are treated with equal respect and dignity. No prejudice. No bigotry. No discrimination. Only wholehearted acceptance, freedom and equality.
Sadly, we do not live in such a utopia.
We live in a world plagued by intolerance and all kinds of systemic oppression that those not on the receiving end cannot even begin to understand. We live in a world where people are routinely persecuted and abused for who they are, a world where for centuries, certain identities and orientations have been marginalized and dismissed as unnatural.
Last week, The Gazelle published an opinion article that criticized NYU Abu Dhabi’s adoption of a tool that gives students “the option to choose our own preferred pronouns on Albert,” which, to me, is a much-needed, albeit small, step toward gender inclusivity. “NYUAD has turned Social Justice Warrior beliefs into institutional policies,” the author argued, adding that the feature raises several cultural and religious concerns that the university failed to consider. “It is about time that everybody living here gets comfortable around [conservative views],” he asserted, “because this is what it means to be respectful and inclusive of every idea.”
There are several problems with this article: it conflates an optional added feature to student’s profiles on Albert with an enforceable policy, conservative views with intolerant ones and religion and culture with bigotry and prejudice. It disparagingly calls gender-inclusive values Social Justice Warrior beliefs. And most concerningly, under the guise of respect and inclusivity, it proposes that we accept views that perpetuate the erasure of marginalized identities, and participate in a discussion on whether or not said identities should have the right to express themselves freely in the university.
But my larger concern is this: Why would The Gazelle publish such an article in the first place? As a former Managing Editor of the publication, I am deeply disappointed by this irresponsible, insensitive editorial choice. It is naive at best and at worst, deeply damaging.
Shortly after the article was published, The Gazelle management published an editorial. While The Gazelle acknowledged the emotional repercussions, it failed to take full responsibility for its faux pas. The publication chose to keep justifying its avowed neutrality, reiterating that its goal is to be open to all voices and provide a space for dialogue. “[Our goal] is certainly not to favor one political position or social identity over another,” it clarified.
Neutrality, however, is not a core principle of journalistic integrity. Moral clarity, empathy and a commitment to the facts are. The facts here are that as an American institution in the Middle East, we are constantly living in the grey. Careful compromises, unspoken rules and strategic silence are among the many facets of navigating the complexity of the NYUAD experience. The new Albert feature does not concern those who do not need to clarify their preferred pronouns, and the article in question unnecessarily calls attention to vulnerable students who benefit from such a provision, while legitimizing arguments that thwart these inclusive developments.
The idea of absolute objectivity might dictate blindly publishing articles like this one under the guise of fostering open dialogue. Moral clarity, on the other hand, might illuminate that such an article does more harm than good and does not need to exist, least of all on a public platform in NYUAD.
A publication is defined by the editorial choices it makes: which views it chooses to air and what degree of prominence it chooses to give them. When we give a platform to historically silenced voices, we are building inclusiveness and equality. But when we amplify voices that have prevailed over the years, that perpetuate oppression and that come at the cost of a marginalized group's well-being, we damage these values. While the article was published based on the premise of neutrality, it is obvious which voices are most threatened. And the playing field is far from equal.
Consider, for instance, what the stakes are for this pronoun debate. The agonizing pain of potentially having to call someone by their correct pronouns cannot be equated with the struggle to exist and be accepted for who you are. For someone asking for a say in implementing a feature that does not directly affect them, it is purely about their feeling of discomfort at the prospect of having to accept these identities. The goal of such arguments, implicit or otherwise, is to take away people’s hard won right to self-expression. It is outright intolerance, shrouded by veils of cultural conservatism.
While discussion and dialogue remain important goals to strive for, they cannot come at the cost of tolerating intolerant opinions. We cannot pursue these objectives if it entails remaining tone-deaf to the political realities of the world we live in. We must be critical and exercise compassion and empathy when making such editorial decisions, and in this case, The Gazelle has failed to do so.
To be neutral is to be complicit in oppression and erasure. And we can’t be neutral on equality.
Kaashif Hajee is a contributing writer. Email him at
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