When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was first elected president, he said Iran had more important issues to worry about than how women dress. He even called for allowing women into soccer games, a revolutionary idea for revolutionary Iran.
Today, Iran is experiencing the most severe crackdown on social behavior and dress in years, and women are often barred from smoking in public, let alone attending a stadium event.
Since his inauguration two years ago, Mr. Ahmadinejad has grabbed headlines around the world, and in Iran, for outrageous statements that often have no more likelihood of being put into practice than his plan for women to attend soccer games. He has generated controversy in New York in recent days by asking to visit ground zero -- a request that was denied -- and his scheduled appearance at Columbia University has drawn protests.
But it is because of his provocative remarks, like denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, that the United States and Europe have never known quite how to handle him. In demonizing Mr. Ahmadinejad, the West has served him well, elevating his status at home and in the region at a time when he is increasingly isolated politically because of his go-it-alone style and ineffective economic policies, according to Iranian politicians, officials and political experts.