Expressen Interview with Mrs. Maryam Rajavi President-Elect

Gabi Gleichman was the first journalist to meet with Maryam Rajavi, President of Iran's Government in Exile

Gabi Glichman, former president of the Swedish Pen Club, Expressen, January 21, 1994.

Cut Ties With Iran Now!

Throughout Iran, they have pinned their hopes on this woman. She is the number-one enemy of the ayatollahs' regime. A modern, Muslim Joan of Arc, brilliant and cheerful, leads the struggle against the gloom and darkness of Tehran's rulers. In August 19 93, she was elected by the National Council of Resistance (the Resistance's 235-member parliament) as President of Iran's Government-in-Exile. She has been staying in Paris since October.

Who is she?

Her name is Maryam Rajavi. She is not well known to us here, but internationally she is quite famous. In the political tug-a-war between the Iranian regime and France, she recently made the headlines in Europe's leading news-papers.

In November, the Iranian regime demanded that the French extradite Maryam Rajavi. When France refused, the mullahs orchestrated attacks by "enraged citizens" on the French embassy and Air France office in Tehran. The buildings were partially damaged. In a conciliatory gesture, on New Year's Eve, France repatriated two Iranian terrorists who had assassinated her brother-in-law in Geneva in 1990. Actually, they were supposed to be handed over to the Swiss police. The French also asked her to keep a low pro file.

I was the first journalist to interview Maryam Rajavi. I met with her at a secret location near Paris. A hundred meters from her residence, the street is blocked off; security is tight. French Gendarms and Iranian bodyguards are in charge of security. In all probability, she is the most threatened woman in the world.

The second thing that attracts my attention is Maryam Rajavi's lack of make-up. Her outfit and scarf are exceptional. She has a pure, appealing face. As a Muslim woman, she does not shake my hand, but her welcome has a certain elegance and magnificence t o it. Right off, she says: Expressen's call to "cut relations with Iran now" is very important and appreciated. The Khomeini regime is guilty of countless killings, suppression and denial of freedoms, but perhaps its worst crime has been to deprive my countrymen of their human dignity. Your concern for the Iranian people's pain and suffering under the mullahs makes us feel that the destiny of our people is important to the rest of the world. And this only adds to our determination to continue our struggle.

Maryam Rajavi speaks with a spiritual power and faith I have never experienced in European politics. Her strength comes from within. Her fervor, emotions, acumen, intellect and natural manner have a profound impact on me.

She is an internationalist. Her ideas are deeply rooted in her Islamic ideology. She believes that change in the individual is as important as change in a society.

Some of her optimism and composure derive from her conviction that a better future for Iran is possible through the democratic process and the free choice of the people. She is guided by her tolerance and inner peace. She hopes for the greatest possible freedom and democracy for the Iran of the future, where her daughter, now 12, will grow up. She sees her own role as that of a guarantor, safeguarding stability and tranquillity during the period between the mullahs' overthrow and the first free election, in which the people will determine their political future.

What is your background and what motivated you to first become active in politics?

I was born in 1953 and grew up in a middle-class family with many children. Everyone in our family was active in the anti-Shah movement. One of my sisters was executed by the Shah's secret police. Years later, another of my sisters, several months pregnant, was murdered by Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards after enduring severe torture.

I was influenced by my older sister and brother to become involved in politics, but my real inspiration came from the books I read as a child about the lives of poor and deprived children. I wanted to do something to improve the plight of such children's and give them a better future.

Later, I realized that in Iran there was no democracy or pluralism. I began reading political writings, both Western and Islamic, about the nature and make-up of the ruling regime.

Obviously, I have been influenced by contemporary progressive movements. I studied metallurgy, but when I came in contact with the Mojahedin, who were resisting the Shah and promising a new, democratic, Islamic society, politics gained the upper hand. I do not remember now which specific point in their program influenced me the most, but whatever it was, it was at the crux of the issues in which I was interested: human rights and freedom.

When did you recognize Ayatollah Khomeini's true intentions? On the surface, he was opposed to the Shah and wanted to create a new Iran.

I knew Khomeini long before his return to Iran. I knew that he had never advocated political freedoms or social rights. I was not surprised by his preoccupation with vengeance, ruthlessness, hatred and revenge.

When he returned to Iran, the atmosphere in the country changed immediately. For those of us in the Mojahedin, it was a fait accompli, because our leaders were in prison.

There were no free elections after Khomeini's return?

Relatively speaking, the first round of elections [in 1980] was free; all parties took part in the elections. I received 220,000 votes in my district of Tehran, but the Interior Ministry declared the vote null and void. Very quickly, Khomeini changed the electoral system to prevent the Mojahedin candidates from running for office. We had a tremendous following, and he was afraid we might win.

Despite Khomeini's despotic methods, we tried to resolve our differences with the regime in a peaceful manner. Each day, the tensions in society grew. We had told our members to refrain from violence at all costs. The Resistance began in earnest on June 20, 1981, when Khomeini ordered [his Guards] to open fire on the demonstration by half a million people in Tehran. On that day and the days to follow, thousands were killed. This savagery exposed the real face of Khomeini's regime.

Under these circumstances, it became very difficult for Maryam Rajavi to remain in Iran. Several times she narrowly escaped death in clashes. Finally, she was forced to leave the country in 1982.

In Paris, she became a distinguished member of the Resistance movement. She successfully revamped the role of women in the movement. Between 1988 and 1991, she took on the task of creating the Resistance's army. She became famous, far and beyond Iranian exile communities, for her decisiveness and strategic foresight. Her army is recognized as modern and well disciplined, with impressive combat capability.

She continues: Religious fundamentalists offer a totally inaccurate and dark portrait of Islam. Khomeini's ideas and beliefs do not represent one billion Muslims. Islam is not the religion of hate, oppression and repression. Only Khomeini's world view depicts human life as devoid of value. Only in his world are the mullahs permitted to enchain the people and eliminate what it is that makes us human: love, trust, friendship, a sense of justice...

For us, who are struggling against religious fundamentalism, it is important to have a profoundly humanist direction so that we offer an alternative that can be trusted.

Khomeinism is a serious threat to the world's stability in general and all Islamic countries in particular. But before all else, it threatens women. The mullahs in Iran are misogynists; hence, when it comes to oppressing women, they are the most ruthless and efficient. This is the essence of their being and existence. In contrast, we stress the principle of equality between women and men, which is rooted in Islam. For the National Council of Resistance, the women's movement is an essential and fundamental issue. We have only completed the first phase.

You speak about general elections and respect for democratic principles, yet you have formed a tremendous army preparing to attack Iran. How do you reconcile this?

The Iranian situation can at best be described as tragic. The eight-year war with Iraq left one million human beings dead. More than fifty cities were devastated and never rebuilt. The war cost 150 trillion dollars. At the same time, tens of thousands o f people were tortured and executed in Iran. Women and men are constantly being harassed by the Revolutionary Guards. The economic situation is catastrophic. Oil revenues continue to decline, and inflation is rampant. The foreign debt exceeds 50 billion dollars. Fifteen million are unemployed. Seventy percent of the population lives below the poverty line and earns but a dollar a day. According to the regime's own statistics, last year 140,000 children died of malnutrition. The figures on suicides are rap idly increasing, and corruption is widespread.

I do not want to bore you with statistics. This regime has brought nothing good or positive, and there is no evidence that the mullahs are at all interested in reforming. The point is that the regime is not about to pack up and leave; therefore we must fight with every-thing we have, including our military force. Khomeini compelled us to take up arms. When the time comes, we are ready to sweep the mullahs aside.

Obviously, I would prefer peaceful change. The pain and suffering of war is intolerable. The National Liberation Army is not made up of professional soldiers, but of physicians, engineers, economists, educators and artists. Our combatants are the cream o f the crop of our society; we need each and every one of them to lay the foundations of Iran's [future] society. Of course, there are also supporters of our movement in the ranks of the enemy's army. For us, any life is very precious and unique.

What will the Iran you intend to build look like?

An Islamic Iran, where Church and State are separate. A democratic, pluralist society in which freedom of religion and speech reign and human rights are respected in their entirety, and equality of all before the law is guaranteed. From my perspective, eliminating discrimination against women is naturally fundamental; no woman should be forced to wear the veil or be paid lower wages than a man. In addition, we must combat social and economic in-equalities. In my ideal society, every citizen will enjoy economic and social security.

After the mullahs are overthrown, we must before all else, cure the ill-feelings of revenge and hatred among our people. We must create a spirit of friendship, tolerance and patience in our society. It is our duty to revive the honor and identity of the Iranian people. We must also see to it that Iranians, long kept pretty much cut off from the rest of the world, learn about the scientific and technological advances of our era.

Please tell us a little about the National Council of Resistance, which leads this liberation movement. From where does it receive its budget?

The National Council of Resistance encompasses a wide spectrum of political trends and beliefs. The principal common denominator is simply: no Shah, no Khomeini. Within this spectrum, there are nationalist democrats, liberals, moderates, radicals, social democrats, religious and irreligious individuals. Members include artists, scientists, athletes, businessmen and politicians. Members of ethnic minorities, including Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, Azeris, Persians and religious minorities are also members. In reality, the NCR is a microcosm of Iranian society. The council is democratically structured, and has 170 offices around the world. It is financially supported by Iranians living abroad. All of our financial records and documents are available. We have nothing to hide. Public scrutiny, openness and adherence to our principles guide us in our actions.

What countries support this resistance movement today?

Governments have not yet recognized us formally, but a majority in the U.S. Congress declared that we are the only alternative to the mullahs' regime. We have very good contacts with parliamentarians throughout the world. It is more important, however, to be recognized by Islamic countries. The mullahs' expansionist policies threaten peace in the Middle East, and Khomeini's religious fundamentalism is spreading in the Muslim world. We desire to cooperate with our friends of the same faith who are anxio us about these developments.

What is your opinion about the Rushdie affair?

Unfortunately, I have not read the Satanic Verses. Therefore, I cannot comment on the literary strong points or short-comings of this book. The crux of the matter is that Rushdie has been condemned to death because of his book. On several occasions, I have rejected and condemned the fatwa for Rushdie's murder; this fatwa is contrary to Islam. Moreover, I believe that no author should be condemned to death, or for that matter even threatened, for writing a book, regardless of what he or she writes. Obviously, people have the right to get angry over the books they read, but this does not mean they can threaten the author in any way.

Of course, Khomeini's fatwa was not motivated by his love of Islam or Mohammad, the Prophet of God. Khomeini was the worst enemy of Islam; he was a disgrace to Islam and its Prophet. When the war with Iraq ended, he needed to create a political crisis t o consolidate his position in the country and export his terrorism to the Islamic world. Rushdie's book came at an opportune time.

This issue as a whole reveals the Khomeini regime's true nature. The world must realize that a regime which cannot tolerate a novel published thousands of miles from Iran is prepared to do anything to its own people inside the country.

Do you see any end to Rushdie's torment?

Yes, but the problem will not be resolved until we get rid of the mullahs in Tehran.

We spoke about books. What books do you read?

When I was at the university, I used to read a lot, but now, regrettably, I have very little time to read. Everyday I try to find time for books, mainly historical works pertaining especially to Islam and books on political discourse and analyses. As for literature, poetry and novels, my tastes run to Persian poetry and literature. Of course, I am also interested in the writings of Shakespeare. Of the contemporary authors, I enjoy Hemingway and Simone de Beauvoir. The works of the American psychologist, Erich Frome, are also valuable.

I readily skim through newspapers and journals to keep myself abreast of world events. I also read most of the articles critical of our movement. This is very useful.

What do you think of feminism? Can a western movement like feminism be a source of inspiration for Muslim women in their struggle for change?

Of course, feminism can be of help to women in the Islamic world, but of late the feminist movement has embarked on a sharp and pointed confrontation between men and women. In many cases, this strategy can be fruitful, but when I think about it, replacing patriarchy with matriarchy is rather alien.

Women's true emancipation will only come when it goes shoulder to shoulder with the freedom of men. In other words, both sexes must be liberated from their traditional restricting roles, so that a better society - more worthy of human beings - can be created.

You accord freedom great value, but in the struggle for a free Iran rid of the rule of the mullahs, you have lost some of your personal freedoms. Your life is in danger, and you can never move about without a bodyguard. Do you sometimes miss the feeling of routine, everyday living?

I am involved in a life and death struggle against a brutal, ruthless regime. In our struggle against the Khomeini regime, we cannot afford to make a mistake, for the first mistake could be our last. Thus, I have to accept some restrictions on my freedom .

Naturally, I would like to walk sometimes, to go into the city, to the cinema or theater, or do some shopping. I do not deny the fact that I sometimes miss these things, but on the whole they are not very important to me, because the heavy responsibilit y that I bear is far more important.

I have devoted my life to restoring the hopes of my people for a better future, and to proving to the world that Islam, as a social and democratic alternative, can be compatible, rather than hostile, to women. This responsibility gives me an enormous sense of inner serenity, and a feeling of true freedom.