Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Amherst College Republicans event sparks controversy, tense discussion

(Collegian File Photo)

Boston Herald columnist and self-proclaimed “not crazy” conservative Michael Graham spoke alongside former U.S. Army officer and political commentator Robert Roughsedge on Wednesday evening at Amherst College.

The event, sponsored by the Amherst College Republicans, addressed the topic of military action after 9/11 and how decisive action saved American lives in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the United States.

“I’m the bad guy,” Graham posed to the audience in anticipation of skepticism that later came, “because I acknowledge that as bad as war sucks, sometimes war is the only tool to stop other things.”

Graham opened the night by discussing a recent banner seen at Amherst College decrying the killing of civilians in “America’s so-called ‘war on terror.’”

He contended that the world would not exist as it does today if not for the use of force by justified actors, citing the United States’ involvement in World War II to stop Nazism, or the abolition of slavery following the North’s victory the Civil War.

“If every use of force is illegitimate [in the eyes of counter-war protestors], then by definition, the people who don’t agree with your position will win by force,” said Graham on the subject of the ineffectiveness of pacifism.

Described as a forum on the event’s Facebook page, the event saw both Graham and Roughsedge touch on their views on connections between Islam and terrorism, the need for the use of force in international relations and how force has the ability to stop institutions such as slavery and concentration camps.

Taking the stage after Graham, Roughsedge took the opportunity to address the audience on the topic of war as an Army veteran.

“Anyone who has been in a combat area knows that it’s just terrible,” Roughsedge said.

With that in mind, Roughsedge said that military action has historically been needed to quell extremist action.

“You let the extremists pop their heads up too much, and you don’t let us play whack-a-mole in the military and get rid of them before they become a huge problem, it gets worse,” he said.

“9/11—that was just a culmination of a number of different plots. Some thwarted, some that we didn’t,” Roughsedge continued.

Debate and controversy were not absent, however, as both speakers addressed the crowd of about fifty in Amherst College’s Stirn Auditorium. Dozens in the audience vocally objected to points made by Graham and Roughsedge throughout the night, both as they spoke and in the time allotted for questions.

The first significant response from audience members came after Graham said, “Islam is the only major world religion in the year 2017 that has a problem with terror [being] committed in its name.”

One audience member responded strongly to Graham’s assertion.

“You’re telling me, as a Muslim who comes from Tunisia…me, my family and I, my friends, all the people that I know that are Muslim, who are amazing people, we partake in this sort of violence because we’re Muslim?”

She continued, “Do the actions of other people represent our actions? What is it my fault if someone else who is Muslim commits those crimes?”

After many in the room applauded the audience-member, Graham responded that he never criticized her or any individual for being Muslim, but that he stood by his original statement, saying that “every rational person acknowledges” it.

On the topic of religion being a driver for inhumane actions throughout history, one audience member provided the example of Christians enslaving Black people.

In response, Graham cited a number of religious groups have historically enslaved people, and that the “Irish were the number one slave import in the year 900.”

“So what?” he concluded, sparking about a dozen attendees to leave the auditorium and several others to burst into seemingly-incredulous laughter.

The tension in the air briefly eased as Eric Segundo, Massachusetts Veterans of Foreign Wars state commander, took to the stage to speak on his experience as a soldier in Iraq.

Segundo offered a different perspective from Roughsedge and Graham, speaking on the bonds he made with other soldiers, regardless of their religion or nationality.

“I see terrorists, and that’s what I see. I don’t see religion,” he said. Segundo explained that he held a close bond with a fellow soldier who was Muslim. “We didn’t see him as a Muslim. We saw him as a friend.”

Though Roughsedge and Graham spoke strongly of the need for military force in the war on terror, Segundo felt that it was difficult for him to get a sense of progress in Iraq based on his time spent there.

“The day we got to Iraq, and the day we left—in my opinion, nothing changed.”

Jason Ross, chairman of the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans, said that as one of the event’s coordinators, he was happy with how the evening went.

“I’m glad we got the people we did. They were incredible,” Ross said.

With a small but noticeable police presence in and around the auditorium, Ross said that the college requested that there be police on-site, citing potential concern for safety based on reactions to similar events on college campuses around the country.

Alexander Deatrick, president of the Amherst College Democrats, said he was surprised by the commentary from the speakers.

“Expectations were as low as they could be,” said Deatrick. “But I was still surprised.”

In a statement posted on the Amherst College Democrats’ Facebook page immediately following the event, Deatrick wrote, “The bigotry on display at the event, especially by Michael Graham, was offensive and disturbing.

Though unable to speak at the event, an Amherst College Republicans spokesperson wrote in a statement later Wednesday evening, “We were happy to welcome a group of speakers with a wide array of opinions to campus. We hope the dialogue they brought was fruitful, and look forward to hosting more events in the future.”

Will Soltero can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @willsoltero.

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