Iranian students in US are disillusioned with Khomeini
Boston — Three years after the fall of the Shah and the seizing of 53 American hostages, Iranian students on American college campuses are again calling for the overthrow of the regime in Tehran.
This time, however, they are chanting for the downfall of the man many of them helped bring to power - Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Although their demonstrations lack the large numbers and the organization of the anti-Shah, anti-US protests of 1979, some of the anti-Khomeini factions that have emerged here do not lack the fervor. They are forming among Iranian students who are increasingly disillusioned with Khomeini's Islamic republic, and who are openly calling for a counterrevoluton in Iran.
''We are calling for the overthrow of Khomeini to establish a democratic society in Iran,'' says Hamid Reza, a recent UCLA engineering graduate and supporter of the leftist People's Mujahideen. ''We want to establish a just society with economic stability, and which can have relations with other nations of the world.''
Less than three years ago Iranian students here were known for their chants ''Death to the Shah'' and ''Long live Khomeini.''
Today, Iranian students are distributing literature on American streets accusing Khomeini of killing and torturing hundreds of thousands of people. And the chants on US campuses have evolved into: ''Death to Khomeini.''
This turnaround, according to Iran specialists and students, reflects the perception of some Iranians that the revolution has only served to replace one form of tyranny with another. This view is accepted primarily among Western-educated Iranians, many of whom organized against the Shah to end corruption and abuses and to instill more freedoms in Iranian society.
These students, who did not belong to the Shah's aristocracy but were receiving government-subsidized educations in the US, saw in Khomeini an opportunity for a freer, more open society. Their hopes were dashed almost immediately after the Ayatollah took power and began putting into practice his strict brand of Islamic fundamentalism.
That fundamentalism to a large extent disenfranchised the rich and the educated as it embraced the Islamic poor - the masses of Iran. As a result, factions and splinter groups that had once united behind the underdog Khomeini began to separate themselves from the regime and, in some cases, initiate guerrilla warfare against it.
The factions are divided roughly into eight to 10 groups, with possibly 60 splinter groups both within Iran and among Iranian exiles. Their political views span pro-Shah monarchists, communists, anti-Shah nationalists, leftists, and a variety of minority ethnic groups that have been persecuted under both the Shah and Khomeini.
While major opposition groups have no formal organization in the US, some - particularly the socialist guerrilla People's Mujahideen - are represented through Iranians on US campuses. Estimates are that there are currently more than 40,000 Iranian students studying in the United States. During the height of the Iranian revolution in 1979, there were an estimated 50,000 Iranian students in the US.
According to one observer familiar with the Iranian community, roughly 35 to 40 percent of Iranian students in America are supporters of the Mujahideen or other leftist organizations, while about 20 percent support the monarchists or those calling for a nationalist government. The source said only eight to 10 percent of Iranian students in the US support the Khomeini regime.
An Iranian supporter of Khomeini argued that these figures are misleading. ''Some of the young students we have abroad, they fall into the trap of these people and it just takes some time until they come back.'' He added, ''A very high percentage of them do repent.''
Some political analysts predict most Iranian students now in America will choose not to return to Iran when they finish their schooling. They say the students will try to blend into American society, rather than return and live under Islamic law. An Iranian journalist estimated that only 40 percent of Iranian students in the US today are planning to return home. He said almost 90 percent would have returned home before the Islamic revolution.
Some of these same students, who in 1979 rallied behind Khomeini, have found Iranian government-backed funding to pay for their US educations has dried up under the mullahs. Others charge that the Islamic Republic is sending students to spy on them, much as the Shah is said to have had students working for his Savak secret police to identify and report on Iranians with antigovernment sentiments.
Iranian officials say much educational funding is being curtailed in an effort to reorganize the system. They say the system instituted under the Shah rewarded only students whose parents were ''connected,'' or students who had corrupt friends in the government. Officials say the new system will reward needy and gifted students. In the meantime, students often have been left to scramble for funds.
Students and political analysts say that while there are many students in the US with anti-Khomeini feelings, they do not represent a viable threat to the Islamic Republic because they lack a common rallying point. Their unity is not strong enough to make them forget differences and join in a common revolt against the government. This is also true, Iran experts say, for the Iranian exile community as a whole.
Ironically, it was Ayatollah Khomeini who provided the necessary rallying point in 1979 to drive the Shah from power. Analysts say no comparable figure exists today among the exiles. Thus, they say, a counterrevolution is unlikely.
''Many of them now feel bitter and alienated and deceived - they feel the revolution was stolen,'' said William Olson, research associate at the Georgetown Center for Strategic Studies. ''What they see Khomeini doing is destroying Iranian culture.''
Dr. Olson said the frustration of Iranians is heightened because of indifference among Americans over the fate of Iran. ''There is the sort of sentiment in this country that they (the Iranians) got what they deserved,'' he said.