Top Ten Week-The Most Evil People in History part 2

    Maximilien Robespierre
Spring of 1789: one of the most important dates of history. That summer, the events that took place were about to change the world, and shape up our version of modern society. The French Revolution, a grand upheaval, that literally uprooted centuries of old ideas, led Europe into a brighter future of democracy and equality. But no revolution is velvet and no matter how noble the motives could be, absolute power, always corrupts- absolutely- and what better example of this, than Robespierre.
Liberty leading the people-Eugene Delacroix 1830
Born in Arras in 1758, Maximilien Francois Marie de Robespierre suffered tragedy early in his life. His mother died when he was six and a few months later his father abandoned him and his siblings, who were brought up elderly relatives. Maximilien was the eldest, a hard-working, conscientious, scholarship boy. As soon as he was able to shoulder the burden of caring for his younger siblings, after becoming a lawyer like his father, he took his family under his protection and led a quiet and blameless life in his home town. He soon became known for defending the poor and underprivileged and for his passionate speeches in the local academy.

In 1789, when he was in his early thirties, the Revolution was declared. An event that would transform him and his destiny. He launched himself in the political maelstrom that would immerse him for the rest of his life. During the first two years of the revolution, in which the Estates General became the National Assembly,  Maximilien spoke frequently in that body but as he was deeply influenced by Enlightenment philosophers, such as Rousseau and Montesquieu, his extremely democratic ideas, his emphasis on civil liberty and equality, his uncompromising rigidly in applying these ideas and his open hostility to all authority, won him little support in this moderate legislature. He favored giving the right of vote to all men and he opposed slavery. His only mistake was that he was ahead of his time. 
Luckily, he found follower of his ideas in the Jacobin Club, the most important of the revolutionary clubs where people debated events and his stance won him a reputation among the sans-culottes (the common people of the lower class) and on the radical left. But the earlier years of the revolution were dominated by men who had no wish to see the power turned to the commoners, yet, Robespierre, as a spokesman of the opposition, undaunted tireless and consistent.

Robespierre giving a speech to the Jacobi Club

From the spring of 1792 onwards, France was involved in a spiral of war, revolt and civil war. Counter revolutionaries were plotting the restoration of the absolute monarchy with the support of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II. The Girondins, who were the dominant revolutionary faction in the Legislative Assembly at the time, spearheaded the drive for an aggressive war with the empire, declaring war on April 1792. 
Robespierre himself had long warned of the dangers of provoking counter-revolution. He had tried to oppose the war because he believed it would divide France and provide support for the counter revolutionaries. Nor he shared Brissot’s (leader of the Girondin Club) beliefs, that the people of Europe would welcome an invading French army, even one who claimed to bring liberty and equality. “No one welcomes armed liberators” he claimed and, while he kept his stance, he became unpopular and politically isolated.
By the summer of 1792, his fears were realized. The army, far from being victorious, was on the verge of defeat and suffered great lack of organization and inexperienced troops. When people turned to him for advise, he suggested that King Louis was siding with the Austrian and Prussian armies, which were now threatening Paris itself. In August the monarchy was overthrown in the battle of Tuileries palace and a new republic government, the National Convention, was established in September. Robespierre’s ascendancy in the political ladder was now unrivaled, marking, thus, the begging of his transformation
When the fate of the King, who was now a prisoner of the rebels, was debated in the convention, Maximilien claimed that “the king must die, in order for a revolution to live”. Even though he had yet to abandon his libertarian convictions, he was coming to a conclusion that the ends justified the means. By October of 1793, Robespierre was rushed to power with the full support of the San-culottes, who were now demanding blood. They wanted total freedom in order to maintain their new-found militia status and Maximilien delivered. By the end of the month, most members of the Girondins, as well as Marie-Antoinette, followed the king’s fate in the guillotine beginning, thus, the Age of Terror. It is worth mentioning that for the first time in history, the terrorist was the government itself and absolute violence was voted legally by the National Convention. “It is time that equality bore its scythe above all heads […]”,  Robespierre proclaimed. 

Caricature depicting Robespierre executing the executioner, after everyone is dead

Not counting the 200.000 dead of the civil war of Nantes in the same year, Robespierre’s Age of Terror made the head of 40.000 people, all over France, roll. 

Robespierre’s desire for change was not limited to the political realm. He openly opposed the catholic church and the pope and was especially opposed to its celibacy policies. Having denounced the excesses of dechrianisation, he sought to instill a spiritual resurgence in the French nation based on Deist beliefs. Accordingly, on May 7th 1794, Maximilien supported a decree passed by the Convention that established an official religion, known historically as the Cult of the Supreme Being. The notion of the supreme being was based on ideas that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had outlined in “The Social Contract”. A nationwide “Festival of the Supreme Being” was held on June 8th, which is also the day of the christian holiday Pentecost. The festivities were held in the Champ de Mars and Robespierre, who is now president of the Conversion, and presenting him self as a leader of the people for the first time. 

Festival of the Supreme Being

Even though Robespierre’s delight count be disrupted by his colleagues negativity, there were many who began to believe that he was taking things a bit too far. Reportedly, Jacques-Alexis Thuriot, one of his closest colleagues, was heard saying “look at the bugger, it’s not enough for him to be leader, he wants to be God”. On that day many of his guest began to believe that the government was turning into dictatorship, ensuring thus Maximilien Robespierre’s downfall.

On May 23rd 1794, a failed assassination attempts against Collot d’Herbois, made Robespierre believe  that other government members’ life could also be in danger. He introduced the Decree of 22 Prairial, which allowed the Comity of Public Safety to freely execute anyone who thought to be suspicious without trial. The line was crossed when George-Jacques Danton, a key figure in the revolution and the overthrow of monarchy, was executed under unverified information of bribery by enemies of the revolution. After Robespierre failed to justify his actions under the Convention’s accusations, his arrest was ordered by vote of the National Convention, which was a coup d’etat against the Jacobin Club, known as the Themidorian Reaction.
After a failed attempt to rally the sans-culottes to defend him, Robespierre and his follower withdrew to the Hotel de Ville, and soon after they were declared outlaws. When the forces of the Convention arrived at two in the morning, Robespierre attempted to kill himself with a pistol but only managed to shatter his lower jaw.
He was guillotined without trial at the Place de la Revolution, at July 28th 1794 along with his last remaining followers.
His last recorded words were “Merci monsieur'”  to a man who gave him a handkerchief for the blood in his face.

The execution of Robespierre

Maximilien Robespierre remains one of the most controversial figures of history to this day. Apart from one suburban Metro station and a few streets named after him, there are no memorials nor monuments to him in France. Most people consider him a blood thirsty monster that was in love with the guillotine, while others the embodiment of virtue and total commitment, who remained incorruptible until the end. His goal in The Terror was to use the guillotine to create what he called a “republic of virtue”, wherein terror and virtue, his principles, would be imposed. He thought of it as a tool to accomplish his overachieving goals for democracy, “a democracy for the people, who are intrinsically good and pure in heart, a democracy in which poverty is honorable, power innocuous and the vulnerable safe from oppression. A democracy that worships nature, not as what it really is, cruel and disgusting, but nature sanitized, majestic and above all, good”

A murderous psychopath or a man with plans above our understanding, that willingly took up the role of the evil master and the hate of the people so that his country could be reborn anew with philosophical foundation instead of religion? In virtue instead of corruption?
The only sure thing is that, even to this day, the story of Maximilien Robespierre,still fascinates historians and biographers worldwide as one of the most enigmatic figures of history.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Born on September 24, 1902, Ruhollah Mousavi whose given name means “inspired of God” was born into a family of Shi’ite religious scholars in the small Iranian village of Khomein. He would later take his hometown as his surname and become known by his more famous moniker, Ruhollah Khomeini. In 1903, just five months after Khomeini’s birth, his father, Seyed Moustafa Hindi, was murdered.

Khomeini was raised by his mother and an aunt, Sahebeh, both of whom died of cholera in 1918. The responsibility for the family then fell to Khomeini’s older brother, Seyed Mourteza. The family claimed to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Both brothers were avid religious scholars like their forefathers, and both attained the status of Ayatollah, which is given only to Shi’ite scholars of the highest knowledge.  As a young boy, Khomeini was lively, strong, and good at sports. He was even considered the leapfrog champion of his village and the surrounding area. Far from being dedicated only to games, though, Khomeini was also an intellectual. He was known for his great ability at memorizing both religious and classical poetry, and also excelled at his studies at the local maktab, a school dedicated to teaching the Qu’ran. Because of his scholarly success, Khomeini’s older brother decided to send him to the city of Arak (or Sultanabad) in 1920. There, Khomeini studied with the renowned Islamic scholar Yazdi Ha’iri. Ha’iri left Arak for the city of Qom in 1923, and Khomeini followed. There, he committed all of his efforts to furthering his own religious studies while also becoming a teacher for younger students at Ha’iri’s school.
When Ha’iri died in the 1930s, the Ayatollah Boroujerdi succeeded him as the most important Islamic figure in Qom. As a result, Boroujerdi gained Khomeini as a follower. It is interesting to note that both Ha’iri and Boroujerdi believed that religion should not involve itself with government affairs. So, while the leader of Iran, Reza Shah, weakened the powers of religious leaders and promoted a more secularized country, the most powerful religious figures in Iran remained silent and encouraged their followers to do the same. Moreover, the same deference was encouraged when Reza Shah’s son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, turned to the U.S. for help quelling protests for democratic reforms in Iran’s capital, Tehran, in the 1950s. One of those who were muted by the beliefs of the senior religious leaders was Khomeini. Unable to speak out against what he saw as a country leaving its Islamic roots and values behind, Khomeini turned his efforts toward teaching. He began to cultivate a group of dedicated pupils who became his staunchest supporters during his days as an Islamic revolutionary. On March 31, 1961, Ayatollah Boroujerdi died and Khomeini was in a position to take up the mantle left by the late religious leader. After publishing his writings on Islamic science and doctrines, many Shi’ite Iranians began to see Khomeini as Marja-e Taqlid (a person to be imitated). In 1962, Khomeini began protesting the intentions of the Shah in earnest. His first act of defiance was to organize the ulama (religious leaders) against a proposed law of the Shah’s that would effectively end the requirement for elected officials to be sworn in on the Qu’ran. This action was just the beginning in a long string of events that would change Iranian politics forever.
Follower of Khomeini protesting for his release
In June 1963, Khomeini made a speech suggesting that if the Shah did not change the political direction of Iran, the populace would be happy to see him leave the country. As a result, Khomeini was arrested and held in prison. During his incarceration, people took to the streets with cries for his release, and were met by the government with military force. Even so, it was nearly a week before the unrest was resolved. Khomeini was held in prison until April 1964, when he was allowed to return to Qom.
The Shah continued to cultivate close ties with the United States, and to be what Khomeini considered “soft” on Israel. This prompted Khomeini to pronounce his belief that Jews would take over Iran and that the U.S. considered all Iranians to be little more than slaves to America’s Western ideals. After delivering another inflammatory speech in the fall of 1964, Khomeini was arrested and deported to Turkey. Prevented by Turkish law from wearing the traditional clothes of a Shi’ite cleric and scholar, Khomeini took up residence in Najaf, Iraq in September 1965. He remained there for 13 years. In 1975, crowds gathered for three days at a religious school in Qom and could only be moved by military force. In response, Khomeini released a jubilant statement in support of the protesters. He declared that “freedom and liberation from the bonds of imperialism” was imminent.
A tending to her infant, wounded during the fighting between the rebels and the regime
More protests occurred in 1978 in Khomeini’s defense, and were again put down violently by Iranian government forces. In the wake of these protests, the Shah felt that Khomeini’s exile in Iraq was too nearby for comfort. Soon thereafter, Khomeini was confronted by Iraqi soldiers and given a choice: either stay in Iraq and abandon all political activity, or leave the country. He chose the latter. Khomeini moved to Paris, which was to be his last place of residence before his triumphant return to Iran. The year of his return was 1979, mere months after his move to Paris. Students, the middle-class, self-employed businessmen, and the military all took to the street in protest. The Shah turned to the U.S. for help, but ultimately had to leave the country himself in the face of the revolution at his doorstep. Despite statements such as the one he made in Paris, Khomeini was widely acknowledged as the new leader of Iran, and came to be known as the Supreme Leader. He returned home to cheering crowds, and began laying the groundwork for the Islamic state he had for so long been imagining.
Khomeini’s triumphant return after his exile
During this period, he put other clerics to work on writing an Islamic constitution for Iran. He also began iterating more authoritarian sentiments than before: “Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy. They all are against Islam. They want to take the nation away from its mission. We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things.
Meanwhile, the Shah needed a place to serve out his exile. It became known that the Shah was ill with cancer. With this in mind, the U.S. reluctantly allowed the Shah to enter the country. In protest, a group of Iranians seized more than sixty American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. Khomeini saw this as a chance to demonstrate the new Iranian defiance of Western influence.
The hostage crisis of the U.S embassy
The new Iranian government and the Carter Administration of the U.S. entered a standoff in that wouldn’t end until after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in late January of 1981, under the pressure of sanctions and oil embargoes imposed by the U.S. on Iran. This is now known as the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
Once in power, the Ayatollah Khomeini was no more sympathetic to the cries of the secular left than the Shah had been to Khomeini’s cries for reform. Many who protested against his regime were killed, and Khomeini had his doctrines and beliefs taught in public schools. He also ensured that clerics sympathetic to his beliefs filled the government ranks, from the smallest town all the way to his own office.
Khomeini’s military  forces, mural Tehran
Moreover, Khomeini believed that the ideas on which the new Iran had been built needed to be, in his words, “exported.” Iraq and Iran had long been in territorial dispute over border areas and claims on petroleum reserves. Sensing an opportunity, on September 22, 1980, Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein launched an attack by land and air against Iran. Hussein hoped to catch Iran, weakened by revolution. Though Iraq made some early gains, but June, 1982, the war wore down to a stalemate that lasted another six years. Finally, after hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars were lost, the UN brokered a cease-fire in August, 1988, which both sides accepted. Khomeini called this compromise “more deadly than taking poison.” Khomeini is also well-known for releasing a fatwa (a legal document issued by a Muslim cleric) calling for the death of Indian-British author Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses in 1989. The book is a work of fiction that can be interpreted as depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a false prophet, and casts considerable doubt on many Islamic beliefs.
Salman Rushdie, author ft The Satanic Verses
Shortly after the Rushdie fatwa was declared, the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died, on June 3, 1989. Iran remains a religion-based society, and Khomeini’s life’s work and decade of rule will no doubt continue to influence the country far into the future.
More than 1.200.000 people died during Khomeini’s call for revolution. His most fanatic followers founded Hezbollah, one of the most infamous terrorist groups that would become responsible for some of the most notorious terrorist attacks, with the Cinema Rex fire being consider as the largest act of terrorism prior to the 9/11 2001, with over 500 victims. It is widely believed that Ayatollah Khomeini, is the “father” of terrorism.
Tehran 1977, one of the most famous beauty salons in the city
Girl students in chemistry class, University of Tehran 1977
Women are now forced to wear the chador, after Khomeini’s rise to power
Tehran 2000

Thank you for reading


*All sources will be posted on the final post of the list

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