Belfast Telegraph

Giving Mad Mahmoud his rights ...

By Lindy McDowell

In America, man of the moment is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, currently on what could be described as a terror talk tour. The president, who has expressed his wish (threat?) that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, who denies that the Holocaust ever took place and who openly supports terrorism, originally hoped to be able to visit the 9/11 site in New York.

That one went down like a Scud missile with locals so he was left with just one other big gig in his diary (aside from the UN where hosting despots is nothing new) - a question and answer session at Columbia University.

During an extended rant - and there really is no other word for it - Ahmadinejad defended his views on the Holocaust and gave his audience an insight into the Utopia that is currently Iran. According to Mahmoud there are, interestingly enough, "no homosexuals in Iran". No living homosexuals that he's aware of anyway ?

A further insight into the country he leads was provided by an Iranian exile now living in the US who described in a newspaper article how, as young teenager, she had had to flee to America. Her mother, a women's rights activist, had been imprisoned (she was eventually freed). Her father, a journalist, was imprisoned and tortured. Now 76, his family have only recently found out where he is. Requests by his daughter that she might be able to return to see her sick and elderly father have been totally ignored. She has yet to receive any sort of reply from anyone she has written to - including Ahmadinejad himself.

It is stories like hers that put into perspective the question that is now tormenting consciences and comment columns in the US.

Should a man like Ahmadinejad be denied the freedom of speech that he so brazenly and brutally denies others?

It is a question we have haggled with in our own place, of course - going back to and even before Maggie made her point about denying our own brand terrorists "the oxygen of publicity" . As anyone who watched the live ITN interview with President Ahmadinejad and Julian Manyon will have noted, the Prez is not a man who makes a point succinctly or well.

(In fact there are obvious comparisons with the waffly, pompous and circuitous style of Gerry Adams in full flow. You want to pick up on whatever point he's trying to make - but you find your eyes glazing over.)

The thing is, of course, it's not what he's saying or even how he's saying it that matters.

It's where he's saying it.

As our own touring representatives of terror found in the past, the aim is not just to spread the message in the US but to impress the boys back home with the reception you're receiving over there.

His speaking engagement in the US will do the president no harm back in Tehran.

So should the Columbia university authorities have pulled the plug on his appearance? Surely, after all, giving a platform to a man who denies the Holocaust ever happened is not a whole lot removed from giving a platform to Dr Goebbels himself?

The response of ordinary Americans has been outrage. But mostly, you sense, over the suggestion that a leader whose regime has helped launch attacks against US troops should dare to consider a visit to the 9/11 site appropriate.

On the tricky question of freedom of speech for mad Holocaust-denying Mahmoud, it seems much harder for them to call.

It would be fair to say, though, that the president has not exactly won hearts and minds during his visit. 'The Evil Has Landed' was how one tabloid greeted his arrival. In letters columns, readers suggest in quite scarily gory detail the violent reception he should receive.

But how much of that will the citizens of Tehran be allowed to read?

And, in the case of imprisoned Iranian journalists, how much will they ever be allowed to write?

Little Ruby ... currying favour with Charlotte

Not for Charlotte Church, the current craze for dippy names for children. Her little girl, we're told, is to be called Ruby. Other stars may name their children after the place where they were conceived. Or Shakespearean characters. Fittingly, down-to-earth Charlotte, who famously likes her grub, calls her kid after curry ...

Pope backs a winner

The revelation that a painting of King Billy was blessed by the Pope as he set off on his way to the Boyne is fascinating.

The painting was apparently removed from public view after it was attacked by two Scottish visitors back in the 30s. It seems they took exception to the sight of poor Pope Innocent. Maybe it came as a surprise to them to learn that His Holiness was on Billy's side?

It's one of the quirky aspects of our history but actually most Orangemen not only know about the Pope's backing for Billy but are proud of the fact.

It would be great to see the painting, said to be by the king's personal painter, back on display at Stormont.

The big question - what other treasures are knocking around in the archives up there?

Finally, Paisley backs Trimble

Watching the rugby world cup via Setanta in America there is a truly gobsmacking moment just before the Ireland game.

Support for Ireland, says the announcer, has come from all quarters.

"And I do mean," he stresses, "all quarters ? "

The scene switches from the studio and there - God almighty! - is Ian Paisley egging on the boys in green with a pre-recorded message of support.

Rev Ian Paisley answering Ireland's Call.

Possibly the only time in history that he has endorsed a team that included a Trimble.

Now, that's hard to swallow ...

The wife of the new manager of Chelsea is reportedly the sort of outgoing personality who makes Nancy dell'Olio look shy and retiring. Among her more bizarre claims to fame is the fact that she once drank her own urine. Can't wait to hear what the rival fans make of that on the terraces. It used to be only the Chelsea manager they accused of taking the p***.

Sex and the City is coming back as a movie...

But am I the only one who feels that this is an idea whose time has come - and gone? in their most recent photo call the women (you just can't call them girls) undeniably look well. But also undeniably, they're now getting on a bit. Dangerously close, in fact, to HRT And The City.

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