Well, well, well. Columbia University president Lee Bollinger has just begun introducing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is talking about the “genius of free speech” and “knowing thy enemies” which is awkward, because, you know, the dude is sitting right there. We’ll live-blog from here. We expect fireworks, so tune in.
2 p.m.: “Mr. President you exhibit all the signs of a cruel and petty dictator,” Bollinger says. He goes on to ask about treating gays, women, and dissidents with censorship and inequality. He’s really getting up some momentum. The audience rewards him with mild applause.
2:03 p.m.: Bollinger brings up the Holocaust-denial stuff. Wow, we’re really getting into the name-calling stuff. Ahmadinejad is “brazen,” “absurd,” and “naïve.” “The truth is, the Holocaust is the most-documented event in human history,” Bollinger says. “Will you cease this outrage?” We kind of wish he would speak slower. If we can’t keep up with this, how on earth will Ahmadinejad, who needs a translator?
2:05 p.m. Ahmadinejad seems to just be sitting quietly to the side. Is he writing any of this stuff down?
2:08 p.m.: Bollinger’s closing: “Frankly, and in all candor, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mind-set that characterizes everything you say and do.” Bollinger is quite impressed with himself, and so is the crowd. They scream for him. More! “I am only a professor. Who is also a university president. And today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world.” Yes, you are the best university president EVER!
2:10 p.m.: Ahmadinejad is taking much of his precious allocated time to complain about his nasty introduction. Excellent. He even got a round of applause for it. It’s funny, we always wanted to make fun of the Post for teasing his ill-fitting suits, but you know what? It really is ill-fitting.
2:11 p.m.: Thankfully, the translator is speaking more slowly than Bollinger. We’re really feeling for the Columbia Journalism students who are covering this with their notepads. This is their clutch moment, and we’re betting Columbia doesn’t teach shorthand anymore
2:15 p.m.: We kind of like how Ahmadinejad is quoting all the Hebrew prophets. Some intern must have done research for him before he came. “Hey boss — at Columbia, they only speak Jewish.”
2:20 p.m.: It’s unclear whether the translation is odd or whether Ahmadinejad means to conflate the word “scientists” with “experts” or “journalists.” He’s gotten into his attacks on the United States (some countries “do not respect the privacy” of their own citizens, he says, and “create nonexistent enemies”). He brings up the U.S.’s use of the nuclear bomb in Japan and says that scientists and scholars were “misused” in that situation. Hm. Guess he does mean to be talking about scientists. That’s unexpected.
2:24 p.m.: He mentions the “Ivy League.” That’s one hard-working intern!
2:30 p.m.: Uh-oh. Sounds like we’re going to get something really bad about Israel “Given that the Holocaust is a present reality of our time, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?” Oh, dear, here we go. If that isn’t a Holocaust denial, then it’s an encouragement to look into it from the “German Perspective.” Not sure which will be more offensive to students.
2:31 p.m.: Just as he gets into Iran’s nuclear issue, someone signals that his time is up. “I know there’s time limits, but I need time,” he snaps. “A lot of time was taken from me!” Even the translator is sounding petulant. Oops! One minute.
2:35 p.m.: Now he’s blaming the U.S. and other powerful countries for denying Iran nuclear power. That’s why he’s pursuing nuclear development. The translator is getting near-hysterical. “We are a peaceful loving nation. We love all nations!” he says to close. Students cheer and boo — sounds like more cheering, actually.
2:40 p.m.: First question, obvious: Do you want to squash Israel? “We must have Palestine decide its future for itself,” he says. Mmm. “Nobody should interfere in the affairs of the Palestinian nation.” Okay. This gets applause. Not quite sure whether he actually answered the question. Wow! Just as we typed that, the dean asked for a clearer answer, to loud cheers. “I think you could answer that with a simple word,” he said to Ahmadinejad. “Yes or No.” “This isn’t really a free flow of information,” Ahmadinejad shoots back. He actually is not answering the question, and the kids are really getting into it. Yeah! Debating is awesome! Oh, wait. This is about destroying a country.
2:45 p.m.: “For us in the Middle East it’s quite clear which powers incite terrorists,” Ahmadinejad says. He accuses the U.S. of funding terror and says Iran doesn’t need to resort to terrorism. He’s really unfazed by all this and shoots questions back at the crowd. Also, someone just handed him a note. We’ve seen 24, we know this is when the inexorably intense soundtrack should begin.
2:50 p.m.: John Coatsworth is sort of mind-boggled that Ahmadinejad insists upon more “research” into the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad is mind-boggled right back. Ooh, someone asked the gay question. Why do they have draconian laws against homosexual behavior? This is the first question that actually gives him pause. After a few moments, he starts talking about how women have a prominent role in Iranian society. Obviously. Oh, and then illegal drug trafficking. Huh.
2:52 p.m.: Best moment by far: After Coatsworth asks the gay question again, because it went unanswered, Ahmadinejad says, “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” There is laugher and booing. He looks a little sheepish but continues on: “We don’t have homosexuals. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don’t know who told you that we have it.” Man, you Americans think everyone is gay.
2:58 p.m.: Ahmadinejad cuts loose: “I have a joke here,” he says. “I think politicians who are looking for the nuclear weapons are retarded.” Even audience members who showed up stoned (“I can’t wait to tell my kids I did this, dude”) are flummoxed.
3:01 p.m.: Is it possible? Did nobody rush the stage? Did nobody heckle? Even Ahmadinejad doesn’t seem to believe it. He keeps looking around like, “You’re still letting me talk?”
3:05 p.m.: “From this platform I invite Columbia faculty members and students to come to Iran and speak with professors and students,” Ahmadinejad says. “You’re officially invited.” Aw, that’s nice. The speech ends to applause. Well, that was fun. Did anyone learn anything? No? Perhaps that’s best.