As various segments of the extreme right gain prominence, it is imperative that the left remember that these groups do not represent all conservatives. As a part of a conspicuously left-leaning community, liberals at NYU must recognize that we need conservatives as part of our political world view. The left-wing groups at NYU and the university should support and even amplify reasonable critics of the left when necessary. Creating a safe space for right-wing opinions and critiques of the left will only make NYU stronger. Civil discourse and debate are the best cures for extremism.
This semester, most of the stories about conservatives at NYU have been about the inflammatory speakers invited and the resulting backlash. On campus, the conservative movement seems to be increasingly represented by men who label themselves provocateurs. They have no interest in civil discussion. Instead, they are just purposefully trying to get a rise out of people. Yet banning these speakers not only plays into the false narrative of the regressive left, it also creates a vacuum that inevitably draws new people towards these far-right speakers. Figures like Milo Yiannopoulos have shaped their livelihoods around these kinds of reactions. Instead we must encourage invitations of conservative intellectuals that actually have something to say. People on the right have far more opportunity to moderate the conversation than the left when it comes to far-right speakers. A conservative presence on campus is necessary to thoughtfully debate the left. Given the current absence, left-wingers at NYU have a responsibility to fill it.
Filling a traditionally liberal campus with right-wing thinkers will hopefully help equalize the conservative presence on campus. However, the left also needs to moderate its own extremists. We should be worried about the effect far left-wing groups, like the Anti-fascists, are having on conservatives. Both their willingness to use violence and their propensity to scream fascist while claiming the moral high ground are dangerous to civil discourse. There is plenty of research that suggests aggressive arguments and anti-whatever actions tend to harden beliefs rather than change them. When Anti-fascists insist on employing unnecessarily aggressive tactics, we should be worried that they are pushing moderates into the arms of the far right.
It is time for the left at NYU to recognize its responsibility to protect civil discourse. Since it is the majority at NYU, the left must be cognizant of the feelings of the conservative minority. Encouraging and supporting the voices of our conservative minority will only make NYU stronger in these politically contentious times.
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Email Shiva Darshan at [email protected]