Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the official version of
the September 11 attacks and defended the right to cast
doubt on the Holocaust in a tense appearance Monday at
Columbia University, whose president accused the
hard-line leader of behaving like ''a petty and cruel
smiled at first but appeared increasingly agitated, decrying
the ''insults'' and ''unfriendly treatment.'' Columbia
president Lee Bollinger and audience members took him
to task over Iran's human rights record and foreign
policy as well as Ahmadinejad's statements denying the
Holocaust and calling for the disappearance of Israel.
you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel
dictator,'' Bollinger said, to loud applause.
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.''
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 many
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
During a question
and answer session, Ahmadinejad appeared tense and
unsmiling, in contrast to more relaxed interviews and
appearances earlier in the day.
In response to
one audience member, Ahmadinejad denied he was questioning
the existence of the Holocaust: ''Granted this happened,
what does it have to do with the Palestinian people?''
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 Holocaust.
known as absolute,'' he said.
He reiterated his
desire to visit ground zero to express sympathy with
the victims of the September 11 attacks, but then appeared
to question whether al-Qaeda was responsible.
''Why did this
happen? What caused it? What conditions led to it?'' he
said. ''Who truly was involved? Who was really involved and
put it all together?''
executions of gays in Iran, Ahmadinejad said the judiciary
system executed violent criminals and high-level drug
dealers, comparing them to microbes eliminated through
medical treatment. Pressed specifically about
punishment of gays, he said: ''In Iran we don't have
homosexuals like in your country.''
With the audience
laughing derisively, he continued: ''In Iran we do not
have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we
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
''You are either
brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated,''
Bollinger told Ahmadinejad about the leader's Holocaust
prepared remarks, the Iranian president did not address
Bollinger's accusations directly.
a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution,
said Ahmadinejad's softer tone on Israel in this speech may
reflect backlash in his own country.
been widespread commentary in Iran, even on the far right,
that Ahmadinejad's position on Israel has hurt the
country's diplomatic relations,'' said Maloney. ''The
fact that he was frankly unwilling to go as far as he
has in the past suggests there may have been some
consequences for him at home.''
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.''
officials were less sympathetic.
On Capitol Hill,
conservatives said Columbia should not have invited
Ahmadinejad to speak. Senate Republican leader Mitch
McConnell said, ''There is a world of difference
between not preventing Ahmadinejad from speaking and
handing a megalomaniac a megaphone and a stage to use it.''
Lieberman said he thought Columbia's invitation to
Ahmadinejad was a mistake ''because he comes literally with
blood on his hands.''
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.
most of them politicians and officials from Jewish
organizations, proclaimed their support for Israel and
criticized the Iranian leader for his remarks
questioning the Holocaust.
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.
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 Sunshine.''
Signs in the
crowd displayed a range of messages, including one that read
''We refuse to choose between Islamic fundamentalism and
American imperialism.'' (AP)