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In power, Khomeini and his followers displayed a retaliatory streak. Islamic revolutionary courts condemned more than 650 Iranians to death, after trials at which defense lawyers were rarely, if ever, present, and spectators stepped forward to add their own accusations to those of the prosecutors; death sentences were generally carried out immediately by firing squad. An unknown but apparently large number of other Iranians were sentenced to life imprisonment. Khomeini preaches the mercy of God but showed little of his own to those executed, who were, he said, torturers and killers of the Shah's who got what they deserved. Some were, including the generals and highest-ranking politicians, but the victims also included at least seven prostitutes, 15 men accused of homosexual rape, and a Jewish businessman alleged to be spying for Israel. Defenders of Khomeini's regime argue with some justification that far fewer people were condemned by the revolutionary courts than were tortured to death by the Shah's SAVAK, and that the swift trials were necessary to defuse public anger against the minions of the deposed monarch.
As usually happens in revolutions, the forces of dissolution, once let loose, are not so easily tamed. Iran's economy suffered deeply, and unrest in at least three ethnic areas—those of the Kurds, the Azerbaijanis and the Baluchis—presented continuing threats to Tehran's, or Qum's, control. Many Western experts believe Khomeini shrewdly seized upon the students' attack on the U.S. embassy, which he applauded but claims he did not order, as a way of directing popular attention away from the country's increasing problems. It gave him once again a means of presenting all difficulties as having been caused by the U.S., to brand all his opponents—believers in parliamentary government, ethnic separatists, Muslims who questioned his interpretations of Islamic law—tools of the CIA. When the United Nations and the World Court condemned the seizure, he labeled these bodies stooges of the enemy. It was Iran against the world—indeed, all Islam against the "infidels."
When Bazargan resigned to protest the capture of the hostages, the Ayatullah made the Revolutionary Council the government in name as well as fact. Then, during the holy month known as Muharram, with popular emotion at a frenzied height as a result of the confrontation with the U.S., Khomeini expertly managed a vote on a new constitution that turned Iran into a theocracy. Approved overwhelmingly in a Dec. 2-3 referendum, the constitution provided for an elected President and parliament, but placed above them a "guardian council" of devout Muslims to make sure that nothing the elected bodies do violates Islamic law. Atop the structure is a faqih (literally, jurisprudent), the leading theologian of Iran, who must approve of