A teen-age girl was standing on Tehran's Mossadeq avenue the other day handing out leaflets of the Islamic leftist Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrilla organization. Suddenly she was pounced upon by a heavily bearded man swearing khaki camouflage trousers and a jungle-green jacket.
The girl made a dash for it. She dodged between pedestrians and then ran wildly onto the avenue. But she bumped into an orange taxicab crawling by at a snail's pace, and the bearded man managed to grab her and begin roughing her up.
A small crowd that had gathered came immediately to the girl's rescue. While five or six strong men pushed and shoved the bearded man to the other side of the street, another section of the crowd spirited the girl away.
"She's distributing leaflets!" the bearded man yelled, trying to justify his behavior. He appeared to be an off-duty Islamic revolutionary guard.
"So what?" someone from the crowd shouted back.
"Is it Islamic to behave that way with a girl?" someone else asked.
"They are destroying the self-respect of Islam," said a third, casting an angry look at the revolutionary guard.
The incident epitomizes growing rift in Iran today between those who believe the 1978-79 revolution was fought to achieve political freedom and those who believe it was fought to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state.
The fundamentalists, who hold West German G-3 rifles and Israeli Uzi submachine guns, have indicated they are ready to use their weapons to enforce their beliefs. One revolutionary guard interviewed by the state television at the Susangerd front put it bluntly:
"We have heard what is going on in Tehra. When this war is over we shall return there and settle the matter. We shall return with our weapons."
What the guard was unaware of, or chose to ignore, was the growing popular support for the moderates, who insist the fundamentalist mullahs have gone too far in stifling political freedom. This sentiment surfaced vigorously in slogans shouted in the streets of Qom, Iran's religious center, by a crowd protesting the Nov. 7 arrest of former Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh. Among the slogans was one calling on the mullahs to quit interfering in political affairs and get back to their mosques.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeine was shaken by the protests, not least by this particular slogan. He reacted with two emotional speeches angrily calling on the fundamentalists and moderates to end their feud. And he blasted the already muzzled press for allegedly fanning the flames of the feud.
In the political fallout shortly afterward, former Prime Minister Medhi Bazargan's newspaper, Misan, was attacked by a group of about 40 club-wielding fundamentalists, some from Tehran's central komiteh (committee). The red-faced komiteh chief, Ayatollah Baqeri-Kani, later admitted he had to order the attackers out of the newspaper's damaged offices after receiving instructions from Khomeini.
Later, on Nov. 22, Mizan reappeared on Tehran's streets after a four-day religious holiday, and sold out within an hour of hitting the newsstands -- yet another indication of the avid public interest in the growing dispute.
Ayatollah Khomeini has been trying desperately to strike a balance between the two groups. But it is an uphill task.Today there is even an occasional isolated slogan appearing on the walls of tehran saying "Death to Khomeini."
The men leading the two groups, meanwhile, have been coming ever closer to an open clash. On Nov. 18, Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, heading the fundamentalists and their Islamic Republican Party (IRP), referred on television to Iranian President Abolhassan BNi-Sadr as a political nonentity who could be dismissed under the Constitution by the chief justice of the Supreme Court -- a post Beheshti himself holds.
Infuriated, President Bani-Sadr slammed back Nov. 19 with a blistering speech at Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square. He asserted that there was growing discontent among Iran's Army commanders because of interference by the mullahs in military affairs at the front with Iraq.
"Do not stab the Army in the back," he called out to a crowd of several hundred thousand. He seemed to be referring to the executions of some Army officers who had ordered retreats from areas under heavy Iraqi attack. "War has victory and retreat," the President said.
He also hit out at "opportunists trying to grab power and monopolize it." And he referred to what he saw as a growing atmosphere of suffocation in the country.
"We fought a revolution to overthrow the Pahlavi regime. Let us not permit a similar regime to replace it," he said, at the same time trying to calm a crowd giving him thunderous applause.
"Who would have believed that if a man spoke on television he would be imprisoned?" he asked, a reference to the Ghotbzadeh incident. "But when Mizan newspaper is attacked by club wielders, the attackers are encouraged."
President Bani-Sadr told the crowd there were six types of prisons in the country. "Why does each revolutionary organization need a prison? Prisoners have been tortured to make them talk," he charged. "How is this different from Savak [The Shah's once-dreaded secret police]?"
In this and other public statements since early November, Mr. Bani-Sadr has pounded away at the theme that the revolution was fought for "freedom and independence." Under Article 9 of the new Iranian Constitution these are inseparable, he says; one cannot not be sacrificed in the name of the other.
What appears to be a growing number of Iranians, including the crowd who rescued the mujahideen girl on Mossadeq Avenue, endorses every word of the Iranian President.