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A voice against vengeance

October 9, 1981



Some Iranian's unseemly glee over President Sadat's assassination becomes all the more so in light of Iran's violence against its own people. Now an almost forgotten political figure there has courageously spoken out against the government -- and in a way that must reflect the feelings of the humane citizens who had looked toward the revolution as a turn away from bural tyranny. He is Mehdi Bazargan, a minority member of parliament who was the postrevolutionary Islamic Republic's first prime minister. He has reportedly created an unproar by condemning the regime's daily executions for alleged anti-government activity -- more than 1,500 of them since the fall of President Bani-Sadr in June.

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"Acts of revenge by this government will turn the country into an ocean of blood," Mr. Bazargan declared. He spoke this week just two days after Hojatolislam Ali Khamenei became Iran's new President, the first cleregyman in the post. All of Iran's state institutions are now directly controlled by the clergy, and its concepts of Islam in government are unavoidably tested by Mr. Bazargan's words. To these might be added those of Mansour Farhang, Iran's former United Nations delegate and defender of the revolution, of the holding of American hostages, and of Ayatollah Khomeini's rule. Now in exile with Mr. Bani-Sadr, Mr. Farhang recently spoke of the tragic plight of his country under a Khomeini turned despot.

From the outside it appears that draconian horrors are being perpetrated in the name of an avowedly merciful religion. Islam's basic book, the Koran, seems to allow vengeance equal to an injury done. But mercy is repeatedly stressed. And the Merciful is the only adjectival name of God that is very frequently used in the Koran, according to such a scholar of the subject as Fazlur Rahman, professor of Islamic thought at the University of Chicago. Indeed, writes Professor Rahman, the most intense impression left by the Koran as a whole "is not of a watchful, frowning and punishing God, as the Christians have generally made it out to be, nor of a chief judge as the Muslim legalists have tended to think, but of a unitary and purposive will creative of order in the unviverse. . . .?

Yet the "frowning and punishing" image is what Iran's current rulers are presenting so unsparingly -- creative not of order but of disorder. The Iranian people and their friends must be grateful to Mr. Bazargan for challenging the view that this is what an Islamic Republic must mean.