Regardless of the apparent factional disagreements existing in Iran, there is one thing that remains uppermost in the minds of all Iranians (excepting those wholly disillusioned with the revolution): the sense of history as a divine ritual. In it an archetypal struggle is being enacted between good and evil, a struggle predicted in the revelations of Shi'a Islam, a struggle that is to bring about the manifestation of a messianic leader -- the Twelfth Imam -- who will establish a perfect society on earth.
For Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian people the Shah represents the embodiment of tyranny. The Koran calls for resistance to tyranny, Thus for the Iranians it is Allah Himself that calls them to confront the institutions and character of evil -- in this case perceived as the principles that governed the rule by the Pahlavi regime and the imperialism that supported that rule (the foreign policy of the United States).
The only satisfactory resolution of the present crisis is for the Iranians, the full revelation of the crimes of the Shah and the US collusion in those crimes. Their position vis-a-vis the Shah is not an arbitrary one; they fully believe that it is the divine destiny of things to bring him to trial. Compromise on this point is tantamount -- at least for those intensely committed to the historic significance of this drama -- to a denial of God's desire, for in order to understand good, the vision of a perfect society, it is necessary to expose the character of evil.
As far as the student captors are concerned, this aspect of God's script could never have come to light were it not for the seizing of the hostages; the West would not have examined the record of the Shah and the atrocities committed in the name of preserving Western influence in the Persian Gulf. They believe (this was affirmed in an extensive interview inside the American Emabassy) that this crisis represents the opportunity for the whole world to realize the evils attendant upon a civilization which ignores the spiritual dimension of life, that this hostage situation confronts the massive and hitherto invicible ego of imperialism and as such sets off forces that will eventually lead to a transformed understanding about the intention behind human history, the intention of the universe itself.
Thus, as long as the US attempts to threaten, coerce, manipulate, or aquivocate, the students will perceive it as acting under the influence of "evil ," that secular, morally bereft frame of reference that led to the excesses of the Shah and the foreign domination by the United States. They believe they are the redemptive instruments to force Americans into a reckoning of their whole value system, the very methods by which they determine their relationship with other countries. Time does not mean anything except in the context of eternity. Now is the US to accept this radical and seemingly preposterous thesis about history and the meaning of this present crisis? Not at all, but it must -- if it is really interested in saving the lives of the American hostages -- recognize the purity of the motives of the Iranians. Once the US decides that its pride is less important than any intrinsiv sense of justice and reconciliation, it just may discover that it can present a defense of pluralism and Western-style democracy that may make the Iranians realize that their fundamentalism is after all not the final statement on the significance or purpose of human existence.
However, in order to lead up to this step, it must first of all expose itself to the charges against the Shah and the US, conscientiously examining all the documentary evidence that purports to show the "crimes" of the Pahlavi regime and the collaboration of American interest groups. While it is not likely to issue an invitation to the students to export their revolution to North America, it just may purify Americans of some of their mistaken notions about preserving "freedom" in the Middle East and the third world and, more important, make them realize how an intensely worldly, secular point of view may have ignored dimensions of morality that the present confrontation now forces upon them. Asking for the return of the Shah is merely the symbolic means of driving Americans to this point of reckoning.