Tough US welcome for Iran's Ahmadinejad
By NAHAL TOOSI
Associated Press Writer
09/24/07 "AP" -- - NEW YORK - Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad took the stage at Columbia University on Monday to a
blistering reception from the president of the school, who said
the hard-line leader behaved like "a petty and cruel dictator."
Ahmadinejad smiled as Columbia President Lee Bollinger took him
to task over Iran's human-rights record and foreign policy, and
Ahmadinejad's statements denying the Holocaust and calling for
the disappearance of Israel.
"Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel
dictator," Bollinger said, to loud applause.
He said Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust might fool the
illiterate and ignorant.
"When you come to a place like this it makes you simply
ridiculous," Bollinger said. "The truth is that the Holocaust is
the most documented event in human history."
Ahmadinejad rose, also to applause, and after a religious
invocation, said Bollinger's opening was: "an insult to
information and the knowledge of the audience here."
"There were insults and claims that were incorrect,
regretfully," Ahmadinejad said, accusing Bollinger of falling
under the influence of the hostile U.S. press and politicians.
"I should not begin by being affected by this unfriendly
treatment," he said.
During a question and answer session with the audience,
Ahmadinejad appeared agitated. In response to one question,
Ahmadinejad denied he was questioning the existence of the
"Granted this happened, what does it have to do with the
Palestian people?" he said.
But then he said he was defending the rights of European
scholars, an apparent reference to a small number who have been
prosecuted under national laws for denying or minimizing the
"There's nothing known as absolute," he said.
During his prepared remarks, the Iranian president did not
address Bollinger's accusations directly, instead launching into
a long religious discursion laced with quotes with the Quran
before turning to criticism of the Bush administration and past
American governments, from warrantless wiretapping to the
bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Bollinger was strongly criticized for inviting Ahmadinejad to
Columbia, and had promised tough questions in his introduction
to Ahmadinejad's talk. But the strident and personal nature of
his attack on the president of Iran was startling.
"You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly
uneducated," Bollinger told Ahmadinejad about the leader's
Holocaust denial. "Will you cease this outrage?"
Ahmadinejad said he simply wanted more research on the
Holocaust, which he said was abused as a justification for
Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians.
"Why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price for
an event they had nothing to do with?" Ahmadinejad asked. He
closed his prepared remarks with a terse smile, to applause and
boos, before taking questions from the audience.
President Bush said Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia "speaks
volumes about really the greatness of America."
He told Fox News Channel that if Bollinger considers
Ahmadinejad's visit an educational experience for Columbia
students, "I guess it's OK with me."
Thousands of people jammed two blocks of 47th Street across from
the United Nations to protest Ahmadinejad's visit to New York.
Organizers claimed a turnout of tens of thousands. Police did
not immediately have a crowd estimate.
The speakers, most of them politicians and officials from Jewish
organizations, proclaimed their support for Israel and
criticized the Iranian leader for his remarks questioning the
"We're here today to send a message that there is never a reason
to give a hatemonger an open stage," New York City Council
Speaker Christine Quinn said.
Protesters also assembled at Columbia. Dozens stood near the
lecture hall where Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak, linking
arms and singing traditional Jewish folk songs about peace and
brotherhood, while nearby a two-person band played "You Are My
Signs in the crowd displayed a range of messages, including one
that read "We refuse to choose between Islamic fundamentalism
and American imperialism."
Associated Press writers Karen Matthews and Aaron Clark
contributed to this report.
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