IT IS A MEASURE of the bitter circumstances in which the hostages are being held in Tehran that the hostages in Bogota have so far excited relatively little popular concern. Their situation is dramatic: for more than two weeks guerrillas have been holding 20-odd hostages, including some 14 ambassadors (the American ambassador among them), at the Dominican Embassy. There seems to be a universal recognition, however, that the incident in Colombia is in a certain basic and reassuring sense "normal." The terrorists are mostly of a known type, the alienated sons and daughters of the elite. Their demands are the familiar ones: for ransom, release of comrades, publicity and safe passage. And these demands are being made of the host government. That government has accepted its obligation to protect the diplomats in its charge.

In fact, however the nightmare finally ends, the Colombian government is setting something of an example of intelligent firmness. Colombia is no Nicaragua: it is a working if imperfect two-party democracy, and its various guerrillas have been unable to convince any important sectors of the public that they are, as they claim, in the vanguard of a struggle against oppression. The government immediately recognized the embassy takeover for what it was: a last-gasp effort to stay alive on the part of a publicity-wise organization, "M-19," that the army virtually crushed a year ago. Yet the terrorist have not captured the public imagination with their latest caper. No one is paying much attention to them. Meanwhile, the hemispheric nations whose envoys are hostage are showing a measure of solidarity at once supportive of the Colombian government and useful to it in its continuing negotiations with the terrorists.

The situation is dangerous, and could end very badly. The terrorists may have among them a good number of spoiled children impatient with the mushiness of a democratic society, but no one can doubt they have a capacity for calculated brutality. Yet the extra edge of alarm raised by the Tehran spectacle of a government unable to act as a government is missing in Bogota, and that is cause for a certain relief.