Iranians in recent days have been called animals, barbarians, uncivilized and worse. Some of the former hostages want to bomb their country. "Ram Iran" buttons have achieved some popularity.
Many of the 6,000 Iranians living in the Washington area say these eipthets are painful and unfair. They say that although they are not being mistreated here they believe Iranians are being misunderstood.
"We beg you people in the media to tell the people these [the captors] are not Iranians," said one former high-ranking official of the shah's government. n"These are a few hoodlums. Bear in mind 35 million Iranians are victims of this brutal regime. Please do not discredit a nation with 2,500 years of history now being ruined and discredited by these maniacs."
"We have a long tradition of hospitality. How could we as a nation have done it?" asked one former Iranian army colonel. "Everyone is so depressed because people in the United States think Iranians are pigs and animals because of these few people who have done crimes," said a former admiral, who like the others declined to be named publicly for fear of retribution against relatives still in Iran.
Iranians here who support the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini are equally upset about the portrayal of their countrymen -- but for different reasons.
The former hostages' tales of mistreatment "have been exaggerated," a spokesman for the pro-Khomeini Moslem Students Association said.
"The hostages have been treated very well, generally speaking. Of course, some of them maybe were under pressure because they wanted to escape, but generally, according to Islamic law, we must treat them well," said the spokesman, who would allow only his first name, Hamid, to be published because he said he did not want to detract from the ayatollah.
The hostages' statements that they were subjected to fake executions, solitary confinement, poor food, shackles, taunting and beatings, "are lies and outright propaganda," said another Moslem Students Association leader. "The American government wants to turn all Americans against the Islamic Revolution of Iran because it is likely to spread throughout the region and therefore U. S. aid will be lost -- that's what the American government is afraid of. The truth is being distorted."
The emotional crosscurrents within the Iranian community are of particular interest to local law enforcement officials, who are wary of any demonstrations reminiscent of last summer, when pro-Khomeini and anti-Khomeini supporters clashed and police had to throw up a human wall of security to protect some Iranian demonstrators from angry Americans.
As of yesterday, one demonstration permit had been issued -- for the Iran Freedom Foundation, which will gather sympathizers for four hours tomorrow in front of the White House "to welcome the ex-hostages and support what they stood for," according to a spokesman for the foundation.
Several Moslem Students Association leaders said they were not aware of any demonstrations planned by pro-Khomeini groups.
"It looks like it's going to be a low-key week. We sure hope so," said one police official who monitors Iranian activities.
Last July, 192 Iranians, mostly sympathizers of the Moslem Students Association, were arrested when they clashed here with pro-Khomeini supporters and police. Most of them subsequently refused to give their names and were transported to a federal correctional facility in Otisville, N. Y., where they were kept until they identified themselves.
The treatment of those Iranians was far more outrageous than any the hostages received in Iran, said A. Bahram Nahidian, a Washington rug merchant who police say is the ayatollah's representative here and leader of the Moslem Students Association.
"They were beaten, dragged, cursed, punched. Somebody broke somebody's nose. They still have scars," Nahidian said. "I doubt if a Muslim would possibly torture his prisoner."
Law enforcement officials have denied these allegations.
Police have expressed some concern that a rising tide of bitterness against Iranians might lead to some violence against those living here, but those interviewed said that on the whole Americans had continued to be friendly to them.
The Iran Times, a paper for Persians that considers itself neutral, has received about 30 angry telephone calls from Americans. "They say why don't you get out of the country, and shout names," one employe said. "We talk to them and they ususally calm down or hang up. I don't blame them."
One former shah official who visits a local spa said he made a quick exit last week when talk there grew ugly. "They said we have to make an immediate reaction, bomb Iran, destroy the country, kick Iranians out of the United States, kick students out," he said. "They have a right to act like that, but they have to understand that we [expatriates] are all hostages too."
Nahidian, who denies that he is a leader of anything, but who acknowledges giving seminars on Islam, said Americans must understand that those in the Islamic revolution are bringing another way of life, one that eschews materialism. "When we talk about Islam we talk about this life and the life herafter; you only talk about this life," Nahidian said.
Mohannad Tabatabai, the twin brother of an Iranian man assassinated in Bethesda last summer for what law enforcement officials believe were his outspoken views against Khomeini, said this type of religious fundamentalism has led to privation for the people of Iran.
"Honestly and truly if I could go to every single hostage family and apologize personally on behalf of all Iranians I would do so personally, although we did not have any part in it." Tabatabai said.