New York: Students at Columbia University are showing guarded enthusiasm toward a planned visit next week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On a day in which politicians and religious leaders nationwide condemned the university's decision to invite the controversial Iranian leader, students were poised, if not excited, about his arrival.
Ahmadinejad's request to place a wreath at Ground Zero, which was denied by the New York Police Department, already had incited the anger of many New Yorkers.
But freshman Fatina Abdul-Nabi said it is important for students to hear from Ahmadinejad, even if they don't agree with his views. "Since the United States doesn't allow diplomatic ties with Ahmadinejad, at least Columbia is the one initiating dialogue," she said.
Asiya Khaki, 20, a member of the Muslim Student Association, agreed. "I think that the president coming here is not to indoctrinate any of the students. It's about helping us become more globally aware," she said.
Many students said they also were looking forward to confronting the president about his country's poor human right's record.
"He will be questioned on human rights violations against women and homosexuals, and the treatment of academics, and his nuclear policy," said Josh Mathew, 20, a political science major from New Jersey.
Mathew noted that university president Lee Bollinger is expected to question Ahmadinejad at the Monday forum about Israel and the Holocaust. "It's not like president Bollinger is going to be soft-balling him," Mathew said.
Despite the current of support, a vocal campus minority vehemently opposes his visit. Leaflets with pictures of executed homosexuals, women and dissidents were plastered across campus.
On Monday morning, a campus protest rally is planned.
Holding a stack of anti-Ahmadinejad fliers, Ari Gardner, 22, a political science major and a member of Hillel, Columbia's Jewish student organisation, said: "There is a fine line between academic freedom of speech and incitement... I don't think he should be allowed to speak.