Oh, the irony of an Ivy League president being accused of cultural insensitivity. He should have shown more Middle Eastern style “hospitality” towards Ahmadinejad, it seems. The way Iran does towards, say, gays.

“The surprising point of the last night meeting is the behavior of the university president,” state-run radio reported, describing Bollinger’s introduction as “full of insult, which was mostly Zionists’ propaganda against Iran.”…

While Ahmadinejad likely expected at worst a hostile grilling by the audience, Bollinger’s sardonic comments reflected a blatant disregard for the tradition of hospitality revered in the Middle East. His comments may deflect some of the U.S. criticism he got for issuing the invitation to the Iranian president, but it could also backfire by drawing sympathy for Ahmadinejad, even in quarters where he would normally be sharply criticized.

“I don’t know why he (Ahmadinejad) stayed there and did not leave the meeting. Their attitude was an insult to the nature of the meeting. They should not treat him as a suspect,” said Mahmoud Rouhi, a nurse, in Tehran. Though state media did not broadcast Monday’s event live in Farsi, state-run TV showed a recorded version on Tuesday.

“The meeting and their approach showed that Americans, even in a cultural position, are cowboys and nothing more,” said Rasoul Qaresi, shopping at a grocery store in Tehran.

It’s hard to gauge how true that boldfaced part is but it’s a recurring problem in Middle Eastern democratization efforts. Iranians hate the regime, we’re told, but a bombing run or even draconian sanctions are apt to alienate the public and bolster regime support. The Shiites prayed for deliverance from Saddam, got it, and now Muqtada Sadr, one of the more virulently anti-American figures in Iraq, is the country’s most popular Shiite leader (with the possible exception of Sistani). If a few harsh words from a no-name like Bollinger is enough to antagonize people then they’re much less anti-mullah in Iran than we’d like to believe.

As for the Iranian academics, here’s their invite plus 10 questions for Bollinger to answer when he arrives. Sample: “Why does the US Administration always support the non-democratic and military governments?” Zzzzz.

Tags: Middle East