It is better to post disclaimer first, so here it is- I am not a fan of Ahmadinejad. As you know, that does not mean I hate him. More about it at the end.
First issue westerners have with him is that- he seeks destruction of Israel. His answer, people have the impression, and they are right, was very ambiguous. It requires a lot of circumstantial information to understand what Ahmadinejad said.
There was a hint about what he meant in -“why should the Palestinians pay the price for what the Europeans did?” In it, he signaled the unhappiness the Muslim world share about the creation of Israel, a powerful military machine- second most sophisticated after the US, and fourth largest army in the world. All the Arab countries could not defeat it in 1973. Moreover, it’s backed by the most powerful country in the world. Ahmadinejad, along with all the Muslim world, knows that they can not ‘wipe Israel off the map’. If they try, they’ll be wiped out. They saw the price a country has to pay for opposing US in Iraq. Ahmadinejad set out on a charm offensive precisely because he knows what is at stake.
Even though he does know he can not afford to fight Israel, he can not say that in public. He’s a leader of a country, and a proud one. He can not say in public- look I’m weak, so please don’t hit me. Nor can he publicly say Israel is a legitimate state, given Israel’s justifiable unpopularity. He’ll lose the next election, then.
About holocaust, I don’t understand why should a Iranian president be worried about holocaust is a reality or a story. He didn’t really say that it is a story. He said that more research is needed about it. Yes, we can not close the books on any event, but what business is it of you, O Ahmadinejad, to question the holocaust? Leave it to the Europeans. Unless, of course, you are trying to make a point about European double standard on free speech. In that case, say it loud and clear. Why leave it at “we need to research the holocaust from different angles?”
Then, he was on a really low grounds on Homosexual issue. With all likelihood there are homosexuals in Iran. It’s difficult to believe that he could be so naive about it.
Bollinger, too could not have extolled Ahmadinejad. He lives in USA, land of CNN and FOX. He could not even have said neutral words. His institution is a private one. If the businessmen become angry, his institution will go to dogs. I also have the impression that he believes what he said to Ahmadijad (i.e. he was sincere). The fact that he gave Ahmadinejad a platform to speak out, was very impressive. Allowing opposing voices is not that common. Bollinger could have done better, but then…
Some Iranian academics are angry with Bollinger, but they should understand that he too had some constraints.
He was on high ground about Iran’s nuclear program. He emphatically rejected any suggestion that he’s aiming for nuclear bomb. He said his program is completely legal, which many in the US do not know.
He was on strong grounds when he said the palestinians should not have paid the price for something they had nothing to do with.
And he was good when he invited his audience to Iran.
*Now, my objection about the man–
Simple, he could do little to solve the economic problems of his country. Moreover I don’t see the point in asking for research about holocaust at the cost of being called a holocaust denier- a very risky proposition in today’s world.