Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ten Historical Figures Assasinated by Their Own People

As an admirer of the past, I've decided to try and incorporate some historical pieces in this blog.

In this first history related post I'll be counting off a list of some of the most notable figures of times gone by who were assassinated by their own people. To clarify, the figures in question had to have been influential political or social leaders and had to have been killed by individuals or groups belonging to their same ethnicity, religion and or nationality.

(10) Julius Caesar (July 100 BC - March 44 BC)


The oldest person on the list, Caesar has gone down in history as arguably the most famous Roman ruler. A master politician, soldier and propagandist, Caesar triumphed over his rivals in a brutal civil and set about reforming the incredibly corrupt and decaying Roman Republic in his own image. Declaring himself dictator for life, Caesar's ambitions alienated a number of Roman senators and leaders who worried that their Republic would soon be replaced with a monarchy. A conspiracy was hatched by a group of influential Romans, led by Brutus and Cassius, who confronted Caesar in the Senate hall in Rome before stabbing him to death with daggers hidden under their cloaks. Accounts report he was stabbed about sixty times. Most of the assassins were killed by Caesar's successors Mark Antony and Octavian. Octavian would go on to abolish the Republic forever as the first Roman Emperor Augustus.

(9) Ali Ibn Abu Talib (September 601 - January 661)


The fourth caliph, or successor, of Muhammad, Ali was the companion, cousin and son in law of Islam's founding prophet. A divisive and respected figure in his time, Ali was regarded by the small but vocal Shia faction as the only true leader of the Muslim community based on his blood relation to Muhammad. However, a majority of early Muslims, called Sunnis, believed that any respected and devout Muslim could lead if popularly chosen. Since Muhammad himself left no clear method of succession, the dispute began to divide Islam even as the new religion spread by conquest across the Middle East and North Africa. To save the Muslim community from strife Ali accepted the rule of three other caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman. When Uthman was assassinated, Ali was narrowly chosen to succeed him. However, soon after his ascension two separate rebellions broke out against his rule. The first, in Arabia, was led by Muhammad's widow Aisha (who had frequently feuded with Ali and his wife in the past). The second was spearheaded in Syria by Mu'awiya, another companion of the deceased prophet. After crushing Aisha's army in an engagement known as the Battle of the Camels, Ali marched to Syria to confront Mu'awiya. In the end, Ali decided to make a negotiated settlement with Mu'awiya to stop further bloodshed. His arbitration with Mu'awiya, caused a small faction of Ali's followers to split from his camp. Called the Kharijites, they labeled Ali an apostate for legitimizing Mu'awiya's and defying God's will by not recognizing his own absolute authority. This faction stabbed him to death in his tent after negotiations with Mu'awiya had ended.

(8) Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865)

The fifteenth president of the United States, Lincoln is most remembered for leading his country through a brutal civil war, abolishing slavery in America with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, and for insisting on fair and equal treatment for reconquered Southern States that had tried to break away. A farm boy from Illinois who studied law while working as a grocery clerk, Lincoln is widely regarded by many as one of the best if not the best American president of all time. He is also remembered more tragically for his death. As the war wound down, Lincoln took a break from planning the reconstruction of the ravaged South to attended a play at Ford's Theater in Washington with his wife Mary. While sitting in a booth above the stage, a stage actor and Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth snuck in from the back. He put a pistol to the President's head and after shooting him at point blank range Booth escaped the theater and made his way to Virginia. Union soldier soon trapped in a barn and after a brief standoff, shot him dead. Lincoln passed away several hours after being shot, leaving the reconstruction of the South to his vice president Andrew Johnson.

(7) Czar Alexander II (April 29, 1818 - March 13, 1881)

One of the last Emperors of Russia, this late 19th century monarch was also a great liberator in his time. Despite his patrician upbringing, this Czar's most notable accomplishment was his freeing of Russia's peasant underclass, the serfs, from bondage to noble landowners. Special committees were established to address the concerns of the peasants while a program was launched to modernize Russia's infrastructure and reform it's armed forces. Despite these progressive changes, Alexander was targeted frequently by far left anarchist groups in Russia, who regarded him as a tyrant standing in the way of Revolution. After surviving several attempts on his life Alexander finally met his end in 1881 after completing plans for a new parliament that would allow Russians to choose representative officials for the first time in history. As he was riding through the streets of Saint Petersburg, in a bomb proof carriage, a member of the Russian anarchist group Narodnaya Volya, hurled a bomb at the convoy. Though the Czar survived this blast in his carriage, he made the mistake of stepping outside to assist a wounded soldier. Exposed, he was confronted by a second member of Narodnaya Volya who threw another explosive at his feet. The blast ripped several of the Czar's limbs off and he was carried back to his palace where he died of his wounds. The assassination triggered a repressive backlash by Alexander's successor who rolled back many of the late emperor's reforms and curbed many newly gained civil liberties. 

(6) Pancho Villa ( June 5, 1878 – July 20, 1923)

A farmer turned bandit, turned revolutionary, turned rebel, Pancho Villa is one of Mexico's most enigmatic figures. Making a name for himself in Mexico's 1910 Revolution, the charismatic Villa would challenge numerous Mexican governments and even the United States army as he tried to fight for Mexico's peasant class from his stronghold near the US border. Villa was famous for confiscating property from Mexican landowners and redistributing them to poor farmers. That said, he and his compatriots were no angels either and were accused of committing atrocities of their own including a raid on the town of Columbus in New Mexico. After gradually losing men, resources and his northern stronghold to a US army expedition, Villa negotiated a peace settlement with the Mexican government which allowed him to retire to a small hacienda with the hundred or so men he still commanded. In 1923, Villa drove his small dodge car to the town of Parral to do some errands. As he was driving through town a man ran up to his car shouting his name, at which point several gunmen ran in front of the vehicle and opened fire. Villa died instantly from the barrage which struck his chest and head. While the hands behind his assassination have never been discovered the most likely theory is that his death was ordered by members of Mexico's political elite who wanted to stop him from running for President in the next election.

(5) (Mahatma) Mohandas K Gandhi (October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948)

 Lawyer, pacifist and civil resistor, Mahatma Gandhi's death by an assassin's bullet is particularly tragic given how much this Indian independence leader opposed the use of violence. Born in India and educated in England, Gandhi got his first taste of racism and civil disobedience in South Africa, where he helped lead a campaign of protest against British policies that discriminated against South Asians in that country. Returning to British ruled India in 1915, Gandhi became heavily involved in the Indian National Congress' campaign to achieve self rule in the British colonial possession. His campaign of peaceful non-cooperation, in which thousands of Indians refused to work for British employers and use British products eventually led to Indian independence in 1947 in which the colony was divided into a Hindu and Muslim majority state (India and Pakistan respectively). Millions of people died during the partition as Hindus and Muslims on the wrong side of the line left or were driven out of their homes and into their respective new states. As the fighting raged, Gandhi's pleas for peace to all sides helped stem much bloodshed. However, extreme Hindu groups accused him of siding with Muslims who were killing innocent Hindus across the country. In 1948, the rhetoric against Gandhi from members of his own religion prompted a group of men to conspire to assassinate him. On January 30th, one of the conspirators, Nathuram Godse, entered the Mahatma's compound in New Delhi as he was preparing for evening prayers. Godse shot Gandhi three times in the chest killing him immediately. Godse and his fellow conspirators were hanged for their crimes, while Gandhi was given a state funeral. The Indian leader's legacy lives on through his many teachings, writings and the work of the historical chroniclers. 

(4) John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

The first Irish-American Catholic President, John F Kennedy was another iconic US leader, whose time in the White House is referred to nostalgically as 'Camelot'. Born into a wealthy Boston family, Kennedy's dashing looks, personal charm, youth and charisma cleared his way to the oval office. Famous for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, early forays into Vietnam, pushing the US space program and his numerous extramarital affairs, Kennedy was immensely popular during his time. However, after only three years in office he was gunned down in Dallas Texas as his motorcade passed through the city. His killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a former US marine who had defected to the Soviet Union before returning to the US. While many theories exist as to whether Oswald acted alone or as part of a wider conspiracy, most evidence seems to indicate that he acted alone. However, doubts persist to the present day.

(3) Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965)

Another charismatic man of 1960s America, Malcolm X was an outspoken voice for African American rights who was also accused of inciting violence and racism at different times throughout his life. Born Malcolm Little, he experienced racial discrimination as a black man in the 1940s. Jailed for breaking and entering in 1942, he was introduced in prison to the Nation of Islam, a new age religious movement that incorporates Islamic teaching and doctrines with African American social, political and spiritual themes. After converting to the new religion and taking on the surname X (a metaphor for the African name he could never know thanks to the legacy of slavery), Malcolm quickly rose through the organization's ranks after being released from prison. Frequently speaking out against American military conflicts abroad, like Korea and Vietnam, X's endorsement of violence as a legitimate means of black resistance against white oppression led to his surveillance by various police departments and government agencies. X also advocated for black supremacy and for complete separation from white society. These views softened slightly after a pilgrimage to Mecca exposed him to the wide racial and ethnic makeup of Muslims all over the world. Eventually, Malcolm X split from the Nation of Islam, converted to Sunni Islam and formed his own group, leading to tension between the two organizations. These tensions boiled over in 1965, when Malcolm X was gunned down by three members of the Nation of Islam while addressing his supporters.

(2) Anwar Sadat (December 25, 1918 – October 6, 1981)

Egypt's second president, Anwar Sadat succeeded the charismatic Gamal Abdul Nasser as president in 1970. Assuming power in the aftermath of the humiliating Six Day War, in which Egypt lost the Sinai Peninsula in a crushing Israeli victory, Sadat crafted a surprise attack in 1973 which took the Israeli military by surprise. Though unable to take back the lost territory, Sadat took advantage of the Israeli loss of face to push for peace terms that would give the Sinai back to him. Under the supervision of US President Jimmy Carter, Sadat and his Israeli counterpart, Menachim Begin, signed the Camp David Accords which paved the way for a peace treaty between the two countries and prompted Egypt to recognize Israel's right to exist. Though gaining back the Sinai was a political victory for Sadat, his decision to make peace with Israel cost him support in the Arab world, including among his own countrymen. Radical Egyptian Islamist groups, like Gamal Islamiyya, began to plot against Sadat and his government. Enraged by his peace deal with the 'Zionists' these factions called for the President's overthrow and the establishment of an Islamic State. Despite a massive crackdown against religious militants in Egypt, an army based jihadist cell, led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli went undetected. In 1981, Islambouli and his unit put a plan into action and joined a military parade in Cairo commemorating Sadat's surprise attack on the Israeli army. As their truck passed by the stage where the President, his advisers and foreign delegates stood, Islambouli and his men climbed out and walked to the stage. After exchanging a salute with Sadat, the Lieutenant hurled three grenades at the stands while his men opened fire with their Kalashnikov assault rifles. Sadat and eleven others were killed, including a Cuban ambassador, an Omani general, and a Christian bishop. Islambouli and his conspirators were captured and later executed while vice president Hosni Mubarak succeeded as president. The new President would continue to crackdown on Islamist militant groups until his overthrow in 2011.

(1) Yitzakh Rabin  (March 4, 1922 – November 4, 1995)

A Middle East peace-maker, nobel laureate and career military man like Sadat, Rabin was Israel's first native born prime minister and the first Israeli leader to reach any sort of negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Born in Jerusalem in 1922, Rabin made a name for himself as a military leader serving in the first and second Arab Israeli wars. As a general he was most notable for capturing East Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall from Jordan in 1967. During his second term as prime minister in the 1990s, Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Accords, which granted the Palestinian authority partial control over the West Bank and Gaza, angered certain Jewish parties on the far right in Israel. Yigal Amir, a devout Israeli Jew who sympathized with Jewish settlers in the West Bank, felt that Rabin's deal would deny Jews their “biblical heritage which they had reclaimed by establishing settlements.” At a rally in Tel Aviv in support of the Oslo Accords, Amir shot Yitzhak Rabin in the chest two times as the Prime Minister walked towards his. The former general died within the hour. Vigils were held in his honor across Israel while his funeral was attended by Western and Arab leaders.

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