Ahmadinejad: No Gays, No Oppression of Women in Iran

"Despite differences in the use of certain Western terms and potential errors in translation, he clearly knew what was being asked and what was going on," said Crystal Gonzalez, 20, an economics major and spokeswoman for the Columbia Queer Alliance.

"At first I wasn't sure about what I thought about him coming, but I think it was a good thing that he did and could spark a debate. … He is clearly a master of avoiding questions," she said, adding, "we disapprove and condemn much of what he said."

Though some of the university's Iranian student body declared themselves pro-Ahmadinejad, others took a more measured position, reproaching the president's human rights policies while also reserving criticism for the Bush administration.

"There is no doubt that the current government is disrespectful of human rights, but war is not an answer," said David Trilling, 29, speaking on behalf of the Iranian students at the School for International and Public Affairs, which hosted the event. "Nearly all of us," he said, "do not accept the comments of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Other students saved criticism for Bollinger, who condemned many of the Iranian leader's earlier comments in his opening statement.

"Yes, he skirted some of the issues," said senior statistics and political science major Max Bulinski of the Iranian leader, "but I believe he believed much of what he said."

"I think it was a mistake for Bollinger to attack him before he was given a chance to speak. Ahmadinejad was right to say he should have been given the chance to let people form their own opinions."

Those who opposed the president before he spoke found much in his speech to oppose afterward.

"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hid behind rhetoric and philosophical musings about wisdom and knowledge," said Esther Lifshitz, a sophomore majoring in political science.

"This wasn't a dialogue; it was a forum for him to say whatever he wanted. Our podium didn't need to be tarnished by his presence."

Pointed, Peaceful Protests

Protests at Columbia's Morningside Heights campus were measured but calm Monday in the moments leading up to Ahmadinejad's speech.

Students were peacefully posting signs and banners but not confronting one another ahead of Ahmadinejad's speech. As they gathered around the iconic statue of Alma Mater in the center of the campus to listen to a slate of diverse student speakers, other protesters, outside and barred from entering the campus, began to gather.

Though the tenor outside the campus was more heated and more colorful, protests and debate still remained peaceful as the police presence nearly matched the number of protesters.

Outside, along Broadway, professional protesters squared off.

"Ahmadinejad is the Iranian Hitler and Columbia President [Lee] Bollinger must go," shouted Mordecai Levy, president of the Jewish Defense Organization.

The Iranian president's presence invited comparisons to President Bush by a number of activist organizations, which used the opportunity not to protest against Ahmadinejad's human rights record but against the war in Iraq.

"Ahmadinejad's speech comes at a time the U.S. is proposing war in Iran," said Sunsara Taylor of Revolution Newspaper before a large crowd of reporters. "Bush is using Ahmadinejad's record and the crimes of his regime as an excuse. Bush has propped up plenty of Islamic terror regimes -- look at the Taliban and Saudi Arabia."

The on-campus protests were far more measured in their tone.

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