Iranian president lambasted during university visit

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced the wrath of New Yorkers as he spoke at a prestigious Ivy League university today.

The president’s appearance at New York’s Columbia University has sparked a high-profile debate in America over freedom of speech and its limits.

While university officials said the high-profile visit showed “America at its best”, others lambasted the Iranian leader as an evil hatemonger and madman.

Mr Ahmadinejad, who has openly called for the destruction of Israel and questioned the scale of the Holocaust, angered New Yorkers last week when he announced plans to visit Ground Zero.

He backed down when the city’s officials vetoed the trip citing security reasons.

In his introductory comments, Columbia University’s president Lee Bollinger said: “We do not honour the dishonourable when we open our public forum to their views.”

Prof Bollinger attacked the president’s views on numerous controversial issues, from the holocaust to Israel and homosexuality, and asked the president: “Do you plan on wiping us (Columbia university) off the map too?”

He told Mr Ahmadinejad: “I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions but that will in itself be meaningful to us.”

The packed lecture theatre applauded when the university’s president concluded his opening remarks.

As the crowd in the auditorium cheered, Prof Bollinger said: “Mr President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”

He said Mr 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,” he went on.

“The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history.”

Mr Ahmadinejad attacked the university’s president’s comments at the start of his speech.

He called them an “insult” to the university audience and said he would not allow himself to be affected by the remarks, which he noted lasted longer than he had been allocated for his speech.

Mr Ahmadinejad said the university leader had been affected by the media reports surrounding the visit.

In an interview with Fox News, US President George Bush said the Iranian president’s visit “speaks volumes to the freedoms” of America.

Mr Bush said: “This (Columbia University) is a place of high learning and if the president 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 okay with me.”

He added: “I mean, when you really think about it, he’s the head of a state sponsor of terror – and yet an institution in our country gives him a chance to express his point of view, which really speaks to the freedoms of the country.”

Mr Bush said he was not sure whether he would have offered Mr Ahmadinejad the Columbia podium, “but nevertheless, it speaks volumes about really the greatness of America. We’re confident enough to let a person come and express his views. I just hope he tells everybody the truth.”

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