These are the bare facts.

President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran received an unsolicited invitation to speak at Columbia University in New York. He showed up. In his ‘welcome’ address, Columbia University president, Lee Bollinger, said of Ahmedinejad – to his face – that “you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator. You are either brazenly provocative, or astonishingly uneducated.” This was followed by even more insults heaped on the guest speaker. At one point during Ahmedinejad’s speech, he naively declared that there were no homosexuals in Iran. The assembled audience responded to this with jeering laughter. I think this was a mistake. Don’t get me wrong. I am no admirer of the Iranian President – although I do believe he is seriously underestimated by the West. The man may act like a country buffoon, but he knows exactly what he is doing – and what will sell to his own people. Back home, his popularity rating is triple that of George Bush. Whether his speech was a public relations exercise, or a genuine/hypocritical attempt to explain his political stand to ordinary Americans, will remain debatable. However, that is not the main issue here. The main issue is that the treatment meted out to a head of state flouted even the basic laws of hospitality. Polite – even heated – disagreements are one thing; heaping insults and jibes on an invited guest only succeeds in belittling the host. Even the President of a banana republic did not deserve such treatment – and Iran is no banana republic. It can point to 5000 years of history and civilization; a concept that a neophyte nation like the United States perhaps cannot even comprehend. All the Dean accomplished is to confirm the widely held belief in many parts of the world – and especially the Islamic countries, that hardly need any further reason to despise America – that the United States is an arrogant, mannerless bully. Most people in the West do not comprehend how very seriously Arab and other MidEast countries take the laws of hospitality. It is ingrained in them from birth. Having lived in Iran for some time, I can speak from personal experience. If an Iranian invites a guest to his home – no matter how much enmity there may be between them – he will treat the guest with respect, as long as he remains under the host’s roof. If he did not, he would be shunned and reviled by his neighbors; and society in general. The Iranians can live with censure and sanctions – some Iranians may even believe the harsh measures are justified. But this one boorish action on the part of Columbia University has probably put the United States beyond the pale for the majority of Iranians. I am aware that some gung-ho ‘super patriots’ would retort; who gives a damn? Well, when Iran effectively takes control of Iraq – as seems increasingly probable – between them, they will control half of the world’s oil supplies. If the price of gasoline in America goes up to $8 a gallon, then maybe these gentlemen will be forced to give a damn.