Votes and horizons in Iran

The hostages in Tehran need not be victims of self-fulfilling prophecy as the Iranian election brings speculation that its results will worsen their plight. There are at least two reasons not to leap to the gloomiest conclusions:

* The apparent victory of the fundamentalist Islamic Republican Party does not necessarily mean a radical shift from the relative moderation of President Bani-Sadr. If the West has learned anything in Iran it ought to be not to oversimplify events or underestimate Ayatollah Khomeini's efforts to keep the diverse elements of the revolution from flying apart. His support of secular, moderate Mr. Bani-Sadr did not mean, as it first appeared to some, that he was giving up any options to maintain lines to the religious fundamentalists or the militants holding the hostages. Nor do the ayatollah's seemingly inconsistent words and actions in support of the latter groups now mean that the Bani-Sadr approach will be eliminated.

It is not an easy task which the ayatollah has evidently assumed -- to keep from splitting up the varied revolutionary forces while using them in a sort of system of checks and balances to preserve the revolution. It may contribute to the appearance of Iran being at grim sixes-and-sevens which has confused those trying to deal with the country. But, in the light of the ayatollah's approach so far, it seems unlikely that he would let a fundamentalist parliamentary election victory call the tune any more than Mr. Bani-Sadr's presidential election victory.

As of this writing, the election was still being investigated under charges of corruption, and the results could be voided. Such an outcome could increase Iran's internal tensions, casting further doubt on what will happen to the hostages. But it is not likely to mean any diminution in Ayatollah Khomeini's efforts to maintain the checks and balances he seeks to improve stability as he conceives it -- and stability is of basic importance to the safety of the hostages.

* On a deeper level, too, there may be reason not to suppose automatically that a political rise for Islamic fundamentalists must mean a bleaker picture for the hostages. If decisions on the hostages are left to the new parliament, as the ayatollah has said they will be, the fundamentalist voices might renew calls for the extradition of the Shah. But as adherents of their religion they may also be open to the rich vein of mercy that accompanies the rules for punishment in the Muslim holy book, the Koran. "The reward which is with God is better, and more durable, for those who . . . when they are angry, forgive," says the Koran.

People of all faiths can join in prayers of justice and forgiveness when the ordeal seems endless, knowing that, in the most basic sense, with God all things are possible. As the Koran says, "It is he who sendeth down the rain, after men have despaired thereof, and spreadeth abroad his mercy . . . ."

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