President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke today, giving a speech and sort of answers some of questions posed by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and School of International and Public Affairs Dean John Coatsworth. We're sure video and transcripts will come shortly, but in the meant time, The Bwog, New York, and City Room have been liveblogging the speech. Here's a sample of questions posed, via the City Room:
In response to a question about the treatment of homosexuals in Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad was initially evasive, instead talking about the death penalty, which, he pointed out, exists in the United States: “People who violate the laws by using guns, creating insecurity selling guns, distributing guns at a high level are sentenced to execution in Iran. Very few of these punishments are carried out in the public eye.”
Pressed by Dean Coatsworth on the original question about the rights of gay men and lesbians in Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad said: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country.”
The audience booed and hissed loudly.
“In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon,” Mr. Ahmadinejad continued, undeterred. “I do not know who has told you that we have it. But as for women, maybe you think that maybe being a woman is a crime. It’s not a crime to be a woman. Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instills in them. Women are respected in Iran.”
Oh, and he started off one answer by saying, "We love the Jews," and explained why he wanted to go to Ground Zero, "I wanted to speak with the press, the September 11 tragic event was a huge event. It led to a lot of other events after that. After 9/11, Afghanistan was occupied and then Iraq was occupied."
Bollinger's remarks before Ahmadinejad's speech were well-received by the audience. He called Ahmadinejad "petty and cruel dictator" and suggested that Columbia professors speak at universities in Iran. Bollinger also questioned the Iranian leader's denial of the Holocaust. "The truth is, the Holocaust is the most-documented event in human history," and says Ahmadinejad is either "brazenly provactive or completely uneducated" to deny it. (Naturally, Ahmadinejad took issue with it, starting off his speech with, "In many parts of [Bollinger's] speech, there were many insults, and claims that were incorrect, regretfully.")
And on the controversial topic of the event itself, Bollinger said, "The scope of free speech and academic freedom should always be open to further debate," and "To those who believe that this event should never 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 It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. This is the right thing to do and indeed, it is required by the existing norms of free speech, of Columbia University” and of academic institutions."
Here's a photo from Columbia J-Schoolers blog, A President Visits, of the crowd (a screen was set up on campus for students to watch the speech):