Bollinger’s Questions Wiped Off The Map by Ahmadinejad

That’s right folks, just like how Ahmadinejad  wants to deal with Israel, wipe it off the map….

Ahmadinejad never actually answered Bollinger’s questions, he coyly dodged the questions with his typical rhetoric and even answered questions with questions completely unrelated. This was nothing more than a politcal advertisement for Ahmadinejad. It was not about free speech, it was not about hearing other worldly views, it was about Ahmadinejad and his ability to manipulate the press to his will, something he did very clearly.

FoxNews is reporting how Ahmadinejad was schooled by Bollinger, just because Bollinger asked the questions, does not mean he schooled Ahmadinejad. Had Ahmadinejad been forced to answer the questions straight forward, then yes he would have been schooled. Ahmadinejad when asked to provide a yes or no answer, twisted it around on the moderator and made the moderator provide a yes or no answer, while Ahmadinejad never actual aswered the original question.

His views were clear well before he came the the US, long before Columbia INVITED him to speak and before he took the US Embassy hostages in 1979.

What is not clear is how Bollinger thought it would be anything different or how it would provide the students any level of education beyond what has already been stated by Ahmadinejad public before this.

As a reminder this was Bollinger’s official statement of what was going to happen as his justifcation for allowing the speech:

In order to have such a University-wide forum, we have insisted that a number of conditions be met, first and foremost that President Ahmadinejad agree to divide his time evenly between delivering remarks and responding to audience questions. I also wanted to be sure the Iranians understood that I would myself introduce the event with a series of sharp challenges to the president on issues including:

  • the Iranian president’s denial of the Holocaust;
  • his public call for the destruction of the State of Israel;
  • his reported support for international terrorism that targets innocent civilians and American troops;
  • Iran’s pursuit of nuclear ambitions in opposition to international sanction;
  • his government’s widely documented suppression of civil society and particularly of women’s rights; and
  • his government’s imprisoning of journalists and scholars, including one of Columbia’s own alumni, Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh (see President Bollinger’s statement on Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh’s release).

Bollinger clearly introduced the topics, but did not get an actual answer. So what is the point really. 

I would like to begin by thanking Dean John Coatsworth and Professor Richard Bulliet for their work in organizing this event and for their commitment to the role of the School of International and Public Affairs and its role in training future leaders in world affairs.  If today proves anything it will be that there is an enormous amount of work ahead for all of us.  This is just one of many events on Iran that will run throughout this academic year, all to help us better understand this critical and complex nation in today’s geopolitics. 

Before speaking directly to the current President of Iran, I have a few critically important points to emphasize. 

First, since 2003, the World Leaders Forum has advanced Columbia’s longstanding tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues. It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices. To hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.

Second, to those who believe that this event never should have happened, that it is inappropriate for the University to conduct such an event, I want to say that I understand your perspective and respect it as reasonable.  The scope of free speech and academic freedom should itself always be open to further debate.  As one of the more famous quotations about free speech goes, it is “an experiment, as all life is an experiment.”  I want to say, however, as forcefully as I can, that this is the right thing to do and, indeed, it is required by existing norms of free speech, the American university, and Columbia itself. 

Third, to those among us who experience hurt and pain as a result of this day, I say on behalf of all of us we are sorry and wish to do what we can to alleviate it. 

Fourth, to be clear on another matter – this event has nothing whatsoever to do with any “rights” of the speaker but only with our rights to listen and speak.  We do it for ourselves. 

We do it in the great tradition of openness that has defined this nation for many decades now.  We need to understand the world we live in, neither neglecting its glories nor shrinking from its threats and dangers.  It is consistent with the idea that one should know thine enemies, to have the intellectual and emotional courage to confront the mind of evil and to prepare ourselves to act with the right temperament.  In the moment, the arguments for free speech will never seem to match the power of the arguments against, but what we must remember is that this is precisely because free speech asks us to exercise extraordinary self- restraint against the very natural but often counter-productive impulses that lead us to retreat from engagement with ideas we dislike and fear.  In this lies the genius of the American idea of free speech.

Lastly, in universities, we have a deep and almost single-minded commitment to pursue the truth.  We do not have access to the levers of power.  We cannot make war or peace.  We can only make minds.  And to do this we must have the most full freedom of inquiry.   

Let me now turn to Mr. Ahmadinejad. 

  • THE BRUTAL CRACKDOWN ON SCHOLARS, JOURNALISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES

Over the last two weeks, your government has released Dr. Haleh Esfandiari and Parnaz Axima; and just two days ago Kian Tajbakhsh, a graduate of Columbia with a PhD in urban planning.  While our community is relieved to learn of his release on bail, Dr. Tajbakhsh remains in Teheran, under house arrest, and he still does not know whether he will be charged with a crime or allowed to leave the country.  Let me say this for the record, I call on the President today to ensure that Kian Tajbaksh will be free to travel out of Iran as he wishes. Let me also report today that we are extending an offer to Dr. Tajbaksh to join our faculty as a visiting professor in urban planning here at his Alma Mater, in our Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.  And we hope he will be able to join us next semester.

The arrest and imprisonment of these Iranian Americans for no good reason is not only unjustified, it runs completely counter to the very values that allow today’s speaker to even appear on this campus. 

But at least they are alive.

According to Amnesty International, 210 people have been executed in Iran so far this year – 21 of them on the morning of September 5th alone.  This annual total includes at least two children – further proof, as Human Rights Watch puts it, that Iran leads the world in executing minors. 

There is more.

Iran hanged up to 30 people this past July and August during a widely reported suppression of efforts to establish a more open, democratic society in Iran.  Many of these executions were carried out in public view, a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. 

These executions and others have coincided with a wider crackdown on student activists and academics accused of trying to foment a so-called “soft revolution”.  This has included jailing and forced retirements of scholars.  As Dr. Esfandiari said in a broadcast interview since her release, she was held in solitary confinement for 105 days because the government “believes that the United States . . . is planning a Velvet Revolution” in Iran. 

In this very room last year we learned something about Velvet Revolutions from Vaclav Havel. And we will likely hear the same from our World Leaders Forum speaker this evening – President Michelle Bachelet Jeria of Chile. Both of their extraordinary stories remind us that there are not enough prisons to prevent an entire society that wants its freedom from achieving it.

We at this university have not been shy to protest and challenge the failures of our own government to live by these values; and we won’t be shy in criticizing yours.

Let’s, then, be clear at the beginning, Mr. President you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.

And so I ask you:

Why have women, members of the Baha’i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?

Why in a letter last week to the Secretary General of the UN did Akbar Gangi, Iran’s leading political dissident, and over 300 public intellectuals, writers and Nobel Laureates express such grave concern that your inflamed dispute with the West is distracting the world’s attention from the intolerable conditions your regime has created within Iran?  In particular, the use of the Press Law to ban writers for criticizing the ruling system.

Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for change?

In our country, you are interviewed by our press and asked that you to speak here today.  And while my colleague at the Law School Michael Dorf spoke to Radio Free Europe [sic, Voice of America] viewers in Iran a short while ago on the tenets of freedom of speech in this country, I propose going further than that. Let me lead a delegation of students and faculty from Columbia to address your university about free speech, with the same freedom we afford you today?  Will you do that?

  • THE DENIAL OF THE HOLOCAUST

In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as a “fabricated” “legend.”  One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers.

For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda.  When you come to a place like this, this makes you, quite simply, ridiculous.  You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.  

You should know that Columbia is a world center of Jewish studies and now, in partnership with the YIVO Institute, of Holocaust studies.  Since the 1930s, we’ve provided an intellectual home for countless Holocaust refugees and survivors and their children and grandchildren.  The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history.   Because of this, and for many other reasons, your absurd comments about the “debate” over the Holocaust both defy historical truth and make all of us who continue to fear humanity’s capacity for evil shudder at this closure of memory, which is always virtue’s first line of defense.

Will you cease this outrage? 

  • THE DESTRUCTION OF ISRAEL

Twelve days ago, you said that the state of Israel “cannot continue its life.”  This echoed a number of inflammatory statements you have delivered in the last two years, including in October 2005 when you said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” 

Columbia has over 800 alumni currently living in Israel.  As an institution we have deep ties with our colleagues there.  I personally have spoken out in the most forceful terms against proposals to boycott Israeli scholars and universities, saying that such boycotts might as well include Columbia.  More than 400 college and university presidents in this country have joined in that statement.  My question, then, is: Do you plan on wiping us off the map, too? 

  • FUNDING TERRORISM

According to reports by the Council on Foreign Relations, it’s well documented that Iran is a state sponsor of terror that funds such violent group as the Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran helped organize in the 1980s, the Palestinian Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. 

While your predecessor government was instrumental in providing the US with intelligence and base support in its 2001 campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, your government is now undermining American troops in Iraq by funding, arming, and providing safe transit to insurgent leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces. 

There are a number of reports that also link your government with Syria’s efforts to destabalize the fledgling Lebanese government through violence and political assassination. 

My question is this:  Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and civil society in the region? 

  • PROXY WAR AGAINST U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ

In a briefing before the National Press Club earlier this month, General David Petraeus reported that arms supplies from Iran, including 240mm rockets and explosively formed projectiles, are contributing to “a sophistication of attacks that would by no means be possible without Iranian support.” 

A number of Columbia graduates and current students are among the brave members of our military who are serving or have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They, like other Americans with sons, daughters, fathers, husbands and wives serving in combat, rightly see your government as the enemy. 

Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi’a militia targeting and killing U.S. troops? 

  • FINALLY, IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM AND INTERNATIONAL SANCTIONS

This week the United Nations Security Council is contemplating expanding sanctions for a third time because of your government’s refusal to suspend its uranium-enrichment program.  You continue to defy this world body by claiming a right to develop peaceful nuclear power, but this hardly withstands scrutiny when you continue to issue military threats to neighbors.  Last week, French President Sarkozy made clear his lost patience with your stall tactics; and even Russia and China have shown concern.

Why does your country continue to refuse to adhere to international standards for nuclear weapons verification in defiance of agreements that you have made with the UN nuclear agency?  And why have you chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions and threaten to engulf the world with nuclear annihilation? 

Let me close with this comment.  Frankly, and in all candor, Mr. President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions.  But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us.  I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do.  Fortunately, I am told by experts on your country, that this only further undermines your position in Iran with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there.  A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country (as in your meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations) so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party’s defeat in the December mayoral elections.  May this do that and more. 

I am only a professor, who is also a university president, and today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for.  I only wish I could do better.
 

The FoxNews report clearly shows Ahmadinejad was in control of the “interview” the whole time.

 

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday questioned why Iran can’t have a nuclear program when the United States does and repeated his inference that historical accounts of the Holocaust are myths in animated remarks before students and faculty at Columbia University.

He also denied that Iran sponsors terror, instead pointing the finger at the U.S. government as a supporter of terrorism.

“We don’t need to resort to terrorism. We’ve been victims of terrorism, ourselves,” he said. “Within six months, over 4,000 Iranians lost their lives, assassinated by terrorist groups. All this carried out by the hand of one single terrorist group. Regretfully, that same terrorist group now, today, in your country, is operating under the support of the U.S. administration, working freely, distributing declarations freely, and their camps in Iraq are supported by the U.S. government.”

During his third visit to New York in three years, Ahmadinejad asked why the United States was allowed to develop nuclear weapons capabilities, but his country was not.

“How come you have that right and we don’t have it?” he challenged.

On the issue of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad said more “research” was needed on what took place, but he seemed to acknowledge that it did exist.

“I am not saying that it didn’t happen at all. This is not that judgment that I am passing here,” he said. “Granted this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people? … Why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with?”

And the Iranian leader denied that homosexuality exists in his country when asked to explain the execution of homosexuals in Iran.

“In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” he said, to laughter and boos from the audience. ‘In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have this.”

But he said he believes that the United States and Iran have the potential to be great friends.

“I think that if the U.S. administration, if the U.S. government, puts aside some of its old behaviors, it can actually be a good friend for the Iranian people, for the Iranian nation,” Ahmadinejad said.

“If the U.S. government recognizes the rights of the Iranian people, respects all nations and extends a hand of friendship with all Iranians, they, too, will see that Iranians will be one of its best friends.”

President Bush said Ahmadinejad’s appearance spoke to the “greatness” of the United States of America.

“He’s the head of a state sponsor of terror, and yet, an institution in our country gives him the chance to express his point of view, which really speaks to the freedoms of the country,” Bush told FOX News on Monday ahead of the Columbia event. “I’m not so sure I’d offer the same invitation, but nevertheless, it speaks volumes about the greatness, really, of America. We’re confident enough to let a person express his views. I just really hope he tells everybody the truth.”

Bush said that while he’s “not sure” he would have offered the Iranian leader a platform from which to outline his agenda, he thinks it’s OK that Columbia University did invite Ahmadinejad to speak.

“This is a place of high learning and if the president (of Columbia) thinks it’s a good idea to have the leader from Iran come and talk to the students as an educational experience, I guess it’s OK with me,” Bush told FOX News in an interview. “The problem is Ahmadinejad uses these platforms to advance his agenda, which I suspect in this case … He doesn’t want America to know his true intentions.”

Ahmadinejad was taken to task on remarks he has made calling for the destruction of Israel, with the Columbia moderator accusing him of failing to answer the question.

“We love all nations. We are friends with the Jewish people. There are many Jews living in Iran with security,” Ahmadinejad said. “Our proposal to the Palestinian plight is a humanitarian and a democratic proposal. What we say is that to solve this 60-year problem, we must allow the Palestinian people to decide about its future for itself.”

The moderator asked him to simply answer “yes” or “no” on whether or not he wanted to destroy Israel.

“Mr. President, I think many members of our audience would like to hear a clearer answer to that question,” the moderator said. “The question is: Do you or your government seek the destruction of the state of Israel as a Jewish state? And I think you could answer that question with a single word, either yes or no.”

“You asked the question, and then you want the answer the way you want to hear it. Well, this isn’t really a free flow of information,” Ahmadinejad retorted. ‘I’m just telling you what my position is. I’m asking you: Is the Palestinian issue not an international issue of prominence or not? Please tell me, yes or no? There’s the plight of a people.”

The moderator told him the answer to his question was “yes,” and the Iranian president thanked him for his cooperation.

“We recognize there’s a problem there that’s been going on for 60 years. Everybody provides a solution. And our solution is a free referendum,” the Iranian president said. “Let this referendum happen, and then you’ll see what the results are.”

The president of Iran opened his remarks by objecting to the scolding he got from Columbia University’s president.

After sitting through the blistering introduction by Lee Bollinger — in which he was lambasted for calling for the annihilation of Israel, denying the Holocaust and supporting the execution of children — Ahmadinejad said it was insulting to be spoken about that way.

“At the outset, I want to complain a bit about the person who read this political statement made against me,” Ahmadinejad said. “In Iran, we don’t think it’s necessary to come in before the speech has already begun with a series of complaints … It was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here.”

In his scathing introduction to the much-anticipated on-campus event, Bollinger told the leader of Iran that he resembled “a petty and cruel dictator.”

Bollinger levied repeated criticisms against Ahmadinejad, calling on him to answer a series of challenges about his leadership, blasting his views about the “myth” of the Holocaust “absurd” and saying that he doubted he “will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions.”

“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 full of “insults and claims that were incorrect, regretfully.”

Ahmadinejad accused Bollinger of offering “unfriendly treatment” under the influence of the U.S. press and politicians.

He 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.

Ahmadinejad began the first full day of his controversial New York City trip Monday amid mounting protests and air-tight security, with his first appearance beginning just after noon EDT via video before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., followed by his highly publicized visit to Columbia University in New York City, which began after 1:30 p.m.

Before his Columbia appearance Monday, the Iranian leader opened his U.S. speaking tour by inferring the Holocaust was a myth, taking a swipe at Israel — it’s “a regime based… on racism” — and defending his request to visit Ground Zero.

The Iranian leader, speaking via video from New York City to journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., tossed aside a question about Israel by saying Iran doesn’t recognize the “regime,” accusing it of killing people and committing various other atrocities.

It was typical of many of Ahmadinejad’s responses, which often started with laughing challenges to journalists in which he said, “That’s not right,” or asked, “Where are you getting that?”

On the Holocaust — which the Iranian leader has called a “myth” — he said that “if the Holocaust is a reality, why don’t we let more research be done on it? … Where did the Holocaust happen to begin with? It happened in Europe, and given that, why is it that the Palestinian people should be displaced? Why should they give up their land?”

He also said that he wanted to “pay my respects” at Ground Zero — the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City, where the World Trade Center once stood — since his visit here last year. But, he claimed, the U.S. government and other politicians prevented that from happening.

“I was interested in expressing my sympathy to victims of tragedy,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of everyone to understand the root causes of 9/11.”

At the Press Club, the Iranian president delivered some remarks through an interpreter, and then answered questions from the moderator. A similar format was used at the Columbia event.

Ahmadinejad said the world needs to build a better future “based on peace and security of all humanity,” and he spoke of a world full of love, kindness, beauty and allegiance to God as the ultimate goal.

“No one should prevent love and kindness from flourishing in mankind and turn it into hostility,” the Iranian president said. “Family is the center of love and beauty.”

He said people should follow God, who would lead them to a “sublime” state.

“When we take a look around us, we are not happy with what we see,” Ahmadinejad said. “Threats of war have affected everyone. Continuous wars have in fact hurt the human spirit. If we look at the root cause of some of these problems, we will be able to think about how to build a better future, a more prosperous future based on peace and security of all humanity.”

Ahmadinejad spoke of the importance of the press, in spite of the fact that Iran’s media is state-run and criticized as tightly controlled by the government.

“The press plays a connecting role. It provides information and can serve as a channel for promoting current thinking,” he said. “The role of the press is to disseminate moral behavior … The press can be the voices of the divine prophets.”

The Press Club moderator asked the Iranian leader about Iranian weapons and involvement in Iraq, about his views on whether religions other than Islam have a place in the world and on his country’s treatment of women and approach to the freedom of the press.

The Iranian president repeatedly asked where the moderator got his information and challenged the truth of his statements.

And when asked whether Iran was sending weapons into Iraq to fight against American troops, Ahmadinejad replied that “Iraq security means our security.” When pressed, he denied that Iran was engaging in that kind of activity.

When asked whether he wanted to go to war, he said he did not.

“Why is there a need for war?” Ahmadinejad said. “Why should they threaten another country? Why should they create more insecurity? I think officials who talk this kind of talk should really be pressured and warn to know what to say and when not to say something.”

Ahmadinejad said that the religions of “Christ and Moses” as well as Islam are “all brothers. They all want the same thing.”

He defended Iranian women as among the most free in the world, and said they were involved in all walks of life in Iran.

The Iranian president started his speech at the National Press Club by reciting some verses from the Koran. No one on the panel or seated in the audience applauded or reacted in any way when he was introduced.

Amid angry demonstrations on the Ivy League campus and at the United Nations, Ahmadinejad delivered a speech and conducted a question-and-answer session at Columbia, followed by a scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

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 Holocaust.

“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 Sunshine.”

Signs in the crowd displayed a range of messages, including one that read “We refuse to choose between Islamic fundamentalism and American imperialism.”

Ahmadinejad said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press that Iran would not launch an attack on Israel or any other nation, and he does not believe the U.S. is preparing for war against Iran.

“Iran will not attack any country,” Ahmadinejad told the AP. Iran has always maintained a defensive policy, not an offensive one, he said, and has “never sought to expand its territory.”

Asked whether he believed the U.S. is preparing for war, he responded: “That is not how I see it … I believe that some of the talk in this regard arises first of all from anger. Secondly, it serves the electoral purposes domestically in this country. Third, it serves as a cover for policy failures over Iraq.”

In a 30-minute interview at a hotel near the United Nations, Ahmadinejad struck a soothing tone. He said Iranian foreign policy was based on humanitarian concerns and seeking justice.

He reiterated his call for a debate at the United Nations on world issues with President Bush.

Referring to fears of a military campaign against Iran, he said: “We don’t think you can compensate for one mistake by committing more mistakes.”

The Columbia event has spurred an emotional debate about free speech.

Over the weekend, the university said it would welcome any notable figure visiting the United States — even Adolf Hitler — to speak to students and faculty at the Ivy League college.

But there are those who have questioned the New York college’s standards. They ask why a school that will not allow an ROTC program to be part of its curriculum would allow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of America’s avowed enemies, onto its campus.

Critics wonder why the leader of a nation that exports terrorism is allowed to speak, but the leader of an American organization that seeks to secure U.S. borders was not.

“It’s extremely important to know who the leaders are of countries that are your adversaries,” Bollinger told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “To watch them to see how they think, to see how they reason or do not reason. To see whether they’re fanatical or to see whether they are sly.”

The Iranian president addressed students and faculty at a forum only days after Columbia retracted a speaking invitation to the president of the Minuteman Project, a controversial citizens’ group that seeks to secure America’s borders from illegal immigrants, even going so far as to try building a fence along the border with Mexico.

Minuteman founder and president Jim Gilchrist said he feels “sweet and sour” toward Columbia after an invitation to participate in an Oct. 4 talk was taken away last week. Gilchrist appeared at Columbia last year, but his speech was thwarted when students and other opponents stormed the stage as he took the podium.

“I’ve always respected Columbia, but I’ve relegated it to a gutter school after that incident,” Gilchrist told FOXNews.com in a phone interview. “They’ve stopped free speech. That’s worse than killing people. With that, you can kill an entire nation.”

But Gilchrist — an ardent supporter of the First Amendment — actually backs the university’s decision to host Ahmadinejad.

“I’m defending his appearance,” he said last week. “I think he should speak. To say no, he cannot speak, is to support exactly the same thing that happened to me.”

He believes Columbia’s administrators are good about fostering free speech but give too much power to “radical” groups in determining who gets a forum on campus.

The student/faculty group known as the Columbia Political Union initially voted to ask Gilchrist back this year, but it was ultimately the same organization that reversed the vote and rescinded his invitation. The CPU apparently was not a key factor in the Ahmadinejad visit, which was sponsored by Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and was part of the university’s annual World Leaders Forum.

Several Columbia students — even some who planned to rally against Ahmadinejad — said they supported the Iranian president’s appearance.

“He’s a leader of a large nation and what he says is important, even if it’s wrong,” said Dmitry Zakharov, 25, a Columbia University graduate student.

University officials did not return calls from FOXNews.com seeking comment on the school’s public-speaking policies and decisions.

But John Coatsworth, the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, said in a weekend interview with FOX News that just about anyone would be welcome to speak at the university — except the leaders of countries with which the United States is at war.

As for Hitler, he said, prior to the invasion of Poland in 1939, “if Hitler were in the United States and wanted a platform from which to speak, he would have plenty of platforms to speak in the United States. If he were willing to engage in a debate and discussion, and be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.”

Click here to read the official Columbia statement about the Iranian president event.

Tensions are high between Washington and Tehran over U.S. accusations that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, as well as helping Shiite militias in Iraq that target U.S. troops — claims Iran denies.

“Well, you have to appreciate we don’t need a nuclear bomb. We don’t need that. What need do we have for a bomb?” Ahmadinejad said in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday, taped earlier in Iran. “In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use. If it was useful it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union.”

He also said: “It’s wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing.”

Before leaving Iran, Ahmadinejad said the American people have been denied “correct information,” and his visit will give them a chance to hear a different voice, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Ahmadinejad has appealed to the American people before, distinguishing between the population and their government. Recently, he told a television show that Iran wants peace and friendship with America. Since coming to power in 2005, Ahmadinejad also has sent letters to the American people criticizing President Bush’s policies in the Middle East.

Washington has said it is addressing the Iran situation diplomatically, rather than militarily, but U.S. officials also say that all options are open. The commander of the U.S. military forces in the Middle East said he did not believe tensions would lead to war.

“This constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful,” Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television, which made a partial transcript available Sunday.

Ahmadinejad’s scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday was to be his third time attending the New York meeting in three years.

But his request to lay a wreath at ground zero was denied by city officials and condemned by politicians who said a visit to the site of the 2001 terror attacks would violate sacred ground.

Police cited construction and security concerns in denying Ahmadinejad’s request. Ahmadinejad told “60 Minutes” he would not press the issue but expressed disbelief that the visit would offend Americans.

Columbia canceled a planned visit by the Iranian president last year, also citing security and logistical reasons.

Rallies were planned outside the university building where he was to speak and at the United Nations, prompting city and state officials to prepare a security detail for him. The city police and the U.S. Secret Service are charged with protecting the Iranian leader along with dozens of heads of state arriving for the assembly.

No threats have been called in, police Detective Joseph Cavitolo said Friday.

The Iranian mission has not disclosed Ahmadinejad’s specific itinerary.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he wouldn’t go listen to him. “I think he’s said enough that I find disgusting and despicable,” he said.

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One Response

  1. Bollinger is a very wise man and I wouldn’t want to debate with him. But I do believe that Ahmadinejad should have been treated more respectful plainly because Ahmadinejad was his guest. I’ve written eight books that I wouldn’t mind sending Ahmadinejad a copy of.

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