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Remarks about Iranian president draw mixed reactions
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Colombia University President Lee C. Bollinger's pointed introduction of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has drawn mixed reactions, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.


Before a speech to Columbia University on Monday, Ahmadinejad was introduced by Bollinger as a man who exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator" and whose denial of Holocaust was "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated."


On campus and in editorials across the nation, on political blogs and throughout academia, there was a sharp division of opinion about Bollinger's remarks, according to the report.


Some said Bollinger's remarks were just the rebuke Ahmadinejad deserved while others believed that they were embarrassing and offensive.


"The tone from the host of an event was uncivil and uncalled for. The president of the university had every right to state his differences, (but) that was more than acceptable," said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies and director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia.


But Emily Steinberger, a sophomore who is a spokeswoman for Lion PAC, a pro-Israel group at Columbia that had vehemently opposed Ahmadinejad's invitation, applauded Bollinger.


"President Bollinger was caustic in his criticism of Ahmadinejad, but anything else would have been inappropriate and troubling," she said.


Columbia's provost, Alan Brinkley, said the controversy "was ofa magnitude we hadn't seen before."


David M. Stone, a university spokesman, said that President Bollinger, a legal scholar whose specialty is freedom of speech and freedom of the press, was not available to comment on Tuesday because he had a tight schedule.


A number of Iranian-born scholars -- experts about the Middle East who now live in the US -- said they were shocked by Bollinger.


"If I as a faculty member had done this in front of my president, I would been out the next day," said Ali Akbar Mahdi, a professor of sociology at Ohio Wesleyan University. Though a critic of Ahmadinejad, "I was taken aback," he added.


So was Hamid Zangeneh, a professor of economics at Widener University in Pennsylvania. "Instead of behaving like a scholar, a president, he behaved like a hooligan," he said.


But Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor, disagreed.


"There are some issues where it is appropriate to be delicate and careful, and to use exaggerated politeness. But there are some issues of such grave importance that being too polite to your guest is actually a betrayal of your beliefs. For Lee Bollinger, the Holocaust is one. I applaud him for that," he said.


(Xinhua News Agency September 27, 2007)

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