Ahmadinejad Questions 9/11, Holocaust
Tuesday, September 25, 2007; 2:20 AM
NEW YORK -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended Holocaust revisionists and raised questions about who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in a tense showdown Monday at Columbia University, where the school's head introduced the hard-line leader by calling him a "petty and cruel dictator."
Ahmadinejad portrayed himself as an intellectual and argued that his administration respected reason and science. But the former engineering professor, appearing shaken and irate over he called "insults" from his host, soon found himself drawn into the type of rhetoric that has alienated American audiences in the past.
He provoked derisive laughter by responding to a question about Iran's execution of homosexuals by saying: "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country ... I don't know who's told you that we have this."
Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, set the combative tone in his introduction of Ahmadinejad: "Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."
Ahmadinejad retorted that 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.
Ahmadinejad drew audience applause at times, such as when he bemoaned the plight of the Palestinians. But he often declined to offer the simple answers the audience sought, responding instead with his own questions or long statements about history and justice.
Ahmadinejad has in the past called for Israel's elimination. But his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," but others say that would be better translated as "vanish from the pages of time" _ implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.
Asked by an audience member if Iran sought the destruction of Israel, Ahmadinejad did not answer directly.
"We are friends of all the nations," he said. "We are friends with the Jewish people. There are many Jews in Iran living peacefully with security."
Ahmadinejad's past statements about the Holocaust also have raised hackles in the West, and were soundly attacked by Bollinger.
"In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as the fabricated legend," Bollinger told Ahmadinejad said in his opening remarks. "One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers."