Only lately are some of life's joys and possibilities reemerging for Michele Rajavi. She is the French-born widow of Kazem Rajavi, the exiled Iranian ambushed and slain by gunmen April 24 in Geneva. The 56-year-old law professor at Geneva University was driving to his home in midday when caught in a roadway ritual that has been seen from the Washington car bombing of Orlando Letelier in 1976 to the street explosions that killed 19 Colombians in Bogota in May.
Kazem Rajavi, an educated and politically sophisticated man, was a major opposition voice to the fundamentalist government of Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. From 1982 to 1984 he was a well-known figure in New York at the United Nations, eventually persuading the General Assembly to condemn the human rights abuses of the Khomeini regime. As much as any Iranian political refugee, Rajavi spent the 1980s reporting to an often unconcerned world the details of horror that saw an estimated 90,000 Iranian citizens killed and another 150,000 jailed or tortured by the ayatollah.
Michele Rajavi, visiting Washington last week and accompanied by her brother-in-law, Saleh Rajavi, a cardiologist in Paris, met with members of Congress. She is not a professional widow taking up the cause of her fallen husband, but neither is she a stoic passively letting her rage be buried with him. She is a woman wanting to remind the United States that it should do all it can diplomatically to isolate as monsters the current Iranian regime.
In conversation, Rajavi, in her late forties and wearing a simple summer dress, told of her 30 years of marriage. The couple met at the University of Paris where Kazem Rajavi had gone to study in 1957. They would have two sons and a daughter. The family moved to Switzerland in 1968 where the father, a reflective man passionate for the intellectual life, earned graduate degrees in law, sociology and political science. Radicalization came in 1971 when his youngest brother, Massoud, was imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to death by the shah of Iran's secret police, SAVAK.
Kazem Rajavi, marshaling the support of Amnesty International, pressured the Iranian monarchy and won a stay of execution for his brother in favor of a life sentence after eight years. The overthrow of the shah in 1979 saw Massoud Rajavi released from prison and Kazem Rajavi appointed the new government's first ambassador to the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva. In less than a year he resigned: The despotic shah was replaced by the demonic ayatollah, with the same and often more bloodthirsty repressiveness imposed by the government on dissenters.
Few other Iranian families besides the Rajavis have been working as long -- and paying as heavy a price -- to bring humane politics to their homeland. Kazem Rajavi's assassination follows the execution in 1988 in Iran of his younger sister, Monireh. In 1982, the wife of Massoud Rajavi, by then leading the resistance, was shot and killed by the government.
Eight years later, the terrorism of Khomeini continues under Rafsanjani, with the Geneva slaying of Rajavi an example of the state's boldness beyond its own borders. When Khomeini died a year ago, many in the West believed that the bloodletting would end and that Iran, under a president who appeared not to have the obvious derangements of the inexhaustibly violent Khomeini, would emerge from its dark ages. Evidence for a new era of humane politics, with an end to torture and executions, is not to be found. Amnesty International reports that the Rajavi murder in Geneva, with little doubt that the executioners were carrying out orders from the Rafsanjani government, is only the most recent in a series of state-sanctioned killings outside Iran.
Rafsanjani, to cover himself from attacks by the fanatical wing of his government, remains steadfastly ruthless against dissenters. It also means that a cycle of revenge continues. The People's Mujaheddin Organization, which is the main resistance group inside and outside the country, has a decade-long record of targeting and killing the government's torturers and murderers. It rationalizes, as does the ANC in South Africa, that it has no choice but to be violent against the better armed and seemingly entrenched government.
Massoud Rajavi, continuing on the Iran-Iraq border as the leader of the resistance and as revered by his followers as Nelson Mandela is by his, deserves the full support of the West for his goals of democratizing Iran. The means of bringing that about -- by a prolonged shoot-out -- eventually may succeed, but not until more and more Iranian families are forced into bereavement.