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Ahmadinejad to Columbia Students: What Do You Mean There Are Gays In Iran!?

Steve Benen: It’s exactly why Columbia was right to extend the invitation. What better way to make a fool of Ahmadinejad than to offer him a microphone?
 
 
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This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

Putting aside the question of whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be able to visit Ground Zero, the other controversy of the week involved whether Ahmadinejad should be a guest at Columbia University in New York. The right has argued, vociferously, that the university is misguided for providing a platform to a dangerous nut. His ideas should be shunned, most conservatives argue, not considered in an academic setting.

I understand the argument, but I find wholly unpersuasive. Ahmadinejad is, regrettably, the head of state of a nation with tremendous geo-political significance. His perspective, no matter how offensive, matters. It is entirely consistent with American traditions and values to subject Ahmadinejad's oppressive ideas to scrutiny. Let him defend his beliefs in an open setting, standing or falling on their own merit.

Critics were unable to shut down Ahmadinejad's appearance today, and by all accounts, that was most certainly a positive development.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the stage at Columbia University on Monday to a blistering reception from the president of the school, who said the hard-line leader behaved like "a petty and cruel dictator."

Ahmadinejad smiled as Columbia President Lee Bollinger took him to task over Iran's human-rights record and foreign policy, and Ahmadinejad's statements denying the Holocaust and calling for the disappearance of Israel.

"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, not surprisingly, protested the introduction, calling Bollinger "rude," and his comments "an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here."

Which is fine. It's part of a free exchange. Bollinger thinks Ahmadinejad is insane, and said so. Ahmadinejad thinks Bollinger is insulting, and said so. I'm a big fan of lively debate.

And it got even livelier during the Q&A with students.

If you haven't seen it, consider this clip to your right ( via Aravosis):

Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of Salon.com's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.