This Wednesday in Red Square, members of the university community held a counter-protest in response to the anti-war protests that occurred during Gen. David Petraeus’ Jan. 21 speech in Gaston Hall.

About 25 students attended the event co-sponsored by Hoyas for Respectful Dialogue, a group created in response to the anti-war protests, the Georgetown Federalist, Hoyas for Liberty, College Republicans, GU Republican Women and the Georgetown International Relations Club. Participants in the protest of Petreaus’ speech were also present.

“I felt outraged that the point of the protest was disruption of the event,” said Jon Askonas (SFS ’13), one of the organizers of Thursday’s counter-protest. “[The protest] was aimed at silencing dissenting opinions and preventing a conversation, a dialogue, from occurring.”

About 15 anti-war protesters disrupted Petraeus’ speech when they rose from their seats to read aloud the names and ages of victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The protesters were escorted out of the building after ignoring requests from the event’s coordinators to halt their remarks.

Wednesday’s counter-protest, which was advertised through a Facebook event that had 80 confirmed guests, included speeches from several members of the various club sponsors who advocated the right to free speech as well as a responsibility to maintain respectful dialogue.

“I think it was something fundamental and universal that was threatened last week,” Randy Drew (SFS ’10) said. “So we are here to stand up for freedom of speech and for the dignity of everyone here at Georgetown.”

Counter-protesters and bystanders were asked to sign an apology letter to Petraeus thanking him for his “gracious handling” of the situation.

“While we support a diversity of opinions, we do not support the disrespectful way that some students chose to express their views while you were speaking,” the letter read. “We are embarrassed by their inappropriate conduct, and want you to know that it runs counter to the teachings of our university and the standards Hoyas aspire to live by.”

The letter is a nonpartisan, non-ideological student response to the protest co-signed by both the College Democrats and the College Republicans, as well as other groups on campus.

“Our aim is to let [Petraeus] know that the inconsiderate conduct of the protesters is not supported by the majority of Hoyas,” said Alex Henderson (COL ’12), editor in chief of the Georgetown Federalist.

One participant of the anti-war protest of Petraeus’ speech that attended the counter-protest defended his position with the example of Martin Luther King Jr., citing the measures he took for the rights of minority groups.

“He did not point out [those rights] by going and having conversation with a white guy, while he may have done that as well, [but] people were out on the streets for a long, long time pointing out what they believed was wrong,” said Alkis Downward (SFS ’12), who had protested Petraeus’ speech last week. “So in the same way, we get out there and we voice our concerns and while one may not consider it the right thing to do at the moment, in effect what we are trying to bring to mind is that the content, the essence, is much more important than the manner which someone goes about doing something.”

Both participants in the original protest as well as those in the counter-protest say they are in favor of freedom of speech, with a difference in the way each wishes to see that freedom expressed.

“I in fact would agree with him, it is right to oppose oppression,” Askonas said. “However, [Petraeus] was denied the right to free speech.”

Downward stated that he wanted the community to consider what he was protesting, not the means in which it was carried out.

“We are not against and we do not hate [Petraeus]. What we do not want is war and killing,” Downward said.

James Reardon-Anderson, senior associate dean in the School of Foreign Service, who has spoken out on this issue in a viewpoint published in The Hoya on Jan. 26, attended a portion of the event.

“What I saw struck me as a constructive exchange on a matter of obvious interest to the campus community,” Reardon-Anderson said.

Hoyas for Respectful Dialogue will be tabling in Red Square to collect signatures for the apology letter as well as signatures for a petition calling for the administration to make clearer the rules for respectful dialogue on campus.

“There is far more at stake here than political opinions, and this movement is designed to send that message loud and clear to the university. Students of all political persuasions recognize that, without guaranteeing the right of free speech to all, we cannot guarantee it to any,” Askonas said. “Without free speech, the university cannot express. Without the right to listen, the university cannot educate.”

Students gathered in Red Square Wednesday evening to speak out against the anti-war protests at Gen. David Petraeus' speech last Thursday.
Students gathered in Red Square Wednesday evening to speak out against the anti-war protests at Gen. David Petraeus’ speech last Thursday.

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