Bani-Sadr firmness on students seen as weakness
With the rhetoric of a conquering general, Iran's "moderate" President may in fact have surrendered to his militant Muslim rivals. President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, as of April 22, seemed to have joined a mob he could not beat, co-opted an Islamic "cultural revolution" he could no longer put off, and delayed moves to take real control of the chaotic country he was resoundingly elected to govern.
This was viewed as bad news for American hostages under militant Muslim captivity for the past 24 weeks -- and for West European officials hopint to persuade President Carter that with a little US patience Iran's "moderates" could push through a peaceful resolution of the hostage crisis.
Taken literally, Mr. Bani-Sadr's "victory" speech from battle-scarred Tehran University was a celebration of new-found presidential power. His Revolutionary Council had ordered political factins to shut campus headquarters nationwide.
After an April 21 melee of gunfire, tear gas, fist-fights, and stone throwing , recalcitrant leftist groups believed to represent a majority of Tehran University's students had finally complied.
But Western diplomats and some Iranian analysts argued that in some ways President Bani-Sadr's university "victory" looked suspiciously like defeat.
Like the US Embassy takeover, the crackdown on leftist political presence in Iranian universities had begun with an oblique declaration from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Islamic militants, of the ilk that seized the embassy, had then proceeded to take over various campuses. In the northern city of Tabriz, the militants vowed to stay put until Iran had mounted an Islamic "cultural revolution."
Mr. Bani-Sadr apparently managed to defer, though not defeat, demands for revamping the universities' courses and an expected witch hunt against allegedly "Westernized" professors. But with Muslim militants effectively besieging some campuses, he and the Revolutionary Council ordered leftist to close down their offices.
Mobs of fundamentalists Muslim youths entered universities to enforce the directive. There was resistance, and fighting.
Finally, after a thinly-veiled television warning from Ayatollah Khomeini April 21 and a pledge by Mr. Bani-Sadr to lead "the people" onto campuses to back the order, the last leftist holdout at Tehran University gave in.
For weeks, Mr. Bani-Sadr had been railing against the militant Muslims at the embassy, arguing they were adolescents acting like a government.
Confronted with a similar group of militants on university campuses, the President seemingly decided to adopt their game plan as his own and to present their all-but-certain "victory" as the government's.
"The great cultural revolution," he said April 22, borrowing the militant's phrase, "promises . . . that the sovereignty of the people should replace the rule of the oppressors. Today is a great day in our history, now that your [ popular] rule is established through the Revolutionary Council."
Having led hundreds of thousands of fundamentalist Muslims to the university, Mr. Bani-Sadr then proceeded to offer what disturbed diplomats and Iranian analysts saw as legitimacy for mob rule.
"All those who disrupt factories, those who disrupt the oil industry, those [ rebels] who have stood up against the people of Kurdistan . . . must know wherever they want to stand against the nation, this people will be there," he told the university crowd.
Amid continued reports of fighting in the Kurdish hills, Mr. Bani-Sadr raised the prospect of asking Iran's "36 million people to be present in Kurdistan."
"Allahu akbar [Allah is great]," the crowd chanted.
The Iranian President, careful in the past to balance attacks on Washington with rejection of Soviet influence as well, also seemed to have fallen in with the militant's emphasis on emnity with the Americans.
He branded university leftists as tools of "the Satan," (the Iranian revolutionary shorthand words for the US), and added: "Today's mobilization taught a lesson to the US. It found out that its plots are useless, in that a city mobilized in the space of a single hour."
But if Mr. Bani-Sadr was for the time being joining the ranks of Iran's militant Muslim youth, he had almost certainly not heard the last from the leftists who feel the Iranian revolution now is in the hands of fanatic "reactionaries."
"We are not giving up," said one young leftist at Tehran University. As the start of Mr. Bani-Sadr's speech was delayed due to problems with the public address system, the youth confided with a smile, "We cut the wires."