Mahatma Gandhi and Osama bin Laden were both extremely influential figures and risen leaders of their societies who successfully motivated thousands of people to act on behalf of their visions and beliefs, though neither had the same tactics of influence as the other. While Mahatma Gandhi was pacifist, he encouraged peace and compassion on the behalf of freedom and civil rights in India. Osama bin Laden was a brilliant tactician and militant based on his values of war and intolerance to emphasize extreme religious propaganda. Interestingly enough, both leaders were killed by their opposing political and military parties.
On October 2nd, 1869 in Porbandar, India, Mahatma Gandhi was born to the Dewan (Chief of Porbandar) and his wife. Through his childhood, Gandhi was taught the religious tenets of discipline and nonviolence through Vaishnavism (worship of the Hindu god Vishnu), as his mother was deeply religious to Jainism (the influence of Vishnu). Gandhi left home to pursue law and social justice at the Inner Temple in London, England. It was there that Gandhi began pursuing various religious and sacred texts to from other religions and aspects of the world. Upon his return to India, the need for work was met with struggle and with no luck in securing work as a lawyer or an administrative position, Gandhi migrated to Durban, South Africa, after securing a contract to provide legal services.
In South Africa, the birth of passive disobedience became Mahatma Gandhi’s vocal point of providing change. Shortly after arriving in South Africa, Gandhi was appalled at the discrimination and lack of care towards fellow Indian immigrants at the hands of European authorities. An important moment of Gandhi’s life was the day of June 7th, 1893, when he refused to give up his first-class railway seat (he had a ticket) when a white man objected to his presence. Upon Gandhi’s refusal, he was forcibly kicked off and thrown off the train. From that point on, Gandhi made a point to fight for the oppression of civil liberties that befell those in lower classes under racist and fascist authorities. After his contract had ended, Gandhi learned of a Transvaal government (South African authorities) bill that was passed in which stated that Indians would not be allowed to vote.
Upon this clearance of oppression upon the ordinance of Indian immigrants living in South Africa, Gandhi later returned with his wife and children and lead civil rights campaigns for eight years. He organized strikes, hunger fasting and methods that did not pursue violence on the resistances behalf. Thousands of Indians were imprisoned, flogged, beaten, and even killed. Because of this disruption and Gandhi’s efforts to make sure international attention was brought to this civil conflict, pressure from the British and Indian governments made the Transvaal negotiate and enact the agreement made by Gandhi that put an end to the civil rights struggle of Indian immigrants. This agreement allowed Indian marriages, abolishment of poll tax, and the right to vote.
Returning to India once more, Gandhi stressed the importance of economic independence from British colonies for India at the time. Due to his values of meditation, peace, and fasting, people came to call Gandhi “Mahatma”, meaning “great soul”. It was through these values that Gandhi staged boycotts against British manufacturers, institutions, and anything against British influence in India. British authorities tried and arrested Gandhi in 1922 for six years in prison but was let out early due to an appendicitis. After multiple resistance movements against British authority in India (Salt taxes especially), Gandhi was invited to represent the Congress Party at the Round Table Conference in London to speak on behalf of the Hindu and Muslim faiths in civil discomfort due to British reign.
After retiring from politics, Gandhi’s final demonstration for civil rights was for peace in the city of Delhi to encourage cooperation between Hindus and Muslims. 12 days after the fast had ended, upon his way to an evening prayer, Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic who was angered by Gandhi’s ways of protest and efforts of negotiation between Hindus and Muslims. The day after his assassination, Mahatma Gandhi was featured across every front page in almost every major newspaper of the world as a symbol of loss that India would have a hard time recovering from. He was greatly praised and cherished, as many nations mourned the loss of the peaceful leader.
While the peaceful efforts and passive disobedience is what Mahatma Gandhi is most well known for, Osama bin Laden has very different views and perspectives in which he enacted his civil justice upon society. It is the actions of these two influential leaders that made change, for better or for worse, and it is the actions that speak louder than words. While having two different agendas and tactics, these leaders have many similarities such as being scholars, pursuing what they believe to be civil justice, and influence over many others.
Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1957, Osama bin Laden was the 7th of 50 children his father had, though the only child between his mother and father’s marriage. At an early age, due to his father’s ways of discipline and rigid religious teachings, Osama was taught to be confident and self-sufficient at a young age. In his childhood and teenage years, Osama was an outstanding and praised student at Al Thagher Model School-the most prestigious high school in Jeddah at the time. Because of his scholarly accomplishments, Osama was extended an invitation to be a part of a small Islamic study group for extra credit. Joining with the sons of other prominent Jeddah families, the group instead began the education in some of the principles of violent jihad.
Osama’s teacher was influenced by The Brotherhood (a sect of Islam), which emphasized the importance of strict and pure Islamic law. Later, Osama went to King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, where he got a degree. However, time was interrupted due to the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan in 1979. Believing it to be his civil duty as a Muslim and devout Islamic follower, Osama joined the Afghan resistance and began training a group of Islamic jihadists. After the end of the Soviet invasion in 1989, Osama was hailed as a hero in Saudi Arabia and the United States even extended him and his soldiers as “Freedom Fighters”.
A corrupt Saudi Arabia government and U.S occupation of Saudi Arabia led to an angered Osama publicly speaking against government officials. He believed that the United State’s presence “soiled sacred ground”, and after few attempts to silence him, the Saudi Arabian government banished Osama bin Laden in 1992. By the next year, Osama had founded and developed a secret network known as al Qaeda (Arabic for “the Base”), which was the Muslims that he had trained and met during the Afghan fight against the Soviet Union. The goal of the al Qaeda was to make pure Islamic law accorance in righting wrongs. In 1994, the extremist of the al Qaeda made Saudi Arabia strip Osama of his Saudi citizenship as well as family disowning him, cutting the group funding.
However, this only fueled Osama to work harder, as his goal was to draw the United States into war. He believed that when met with a stronger opposing force, Muslims would unify into a “true Islamic state”. The al Qaeda claimed responsibility for truck bombings of U.S forces in Saudi Arabia, killing tourists in Egypt, bombing U.S embassies and Nairobi, Kenya, and Tanzania, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 300 people. Sudan then exiled Osama for his international actions, which Osama then fled into Afghanistan and received sanctuary from the Taliban militia. Under the protection of the Taliban, Osama declared a “Holy War” against the United States, and accused the country of many things such as stripping natural resources from the Muslim world and helping enemies of Islam.
Osama bin Laden’s most devastating blow to the United States was the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001. Four members of the al Qaeda hijacked commercial airplanes and flew two into the World Trade Center Towers in New York. The other plane crashed into The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A final plane was retaken and crashed successfully without meeting its target, which was believed to be the United States Capitol. In the aftermath of the attacks, President George W. Bush and the government successfully overthrew the Taliban and Osama bin Laden went into hiding for the next 10 years.
It was not until May 2nd, 2011, that President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed at a terrorist compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After a long plan enacted by the president and CIA, Osama was finally caught and killed. On the eve of Osama bin Laden’s death, President Obama stated that “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.” He also added that, “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
I believe it is important to compare these two important leaders to inform and understand how influence and leadership has shaped society and history, but the important factor is understanding how these leaders were made and the circumstances they were put through. High School students, law students, and society in general should know about these leaders and how they came to be. We cannot fix problems with the same thinking that caused them, and these leaders provided different methods to fixing their civil disputes in their societies. It’s important to see the perspectives and understand why these leaders took action in the way they did. While Mahatma Gandhi’s death was mourned and people cried in outrage at his assassination, Osama bin Laden’s death was hailed as a step towards peace and human dignity. This is because of the actions each leader respectively took in response to the struggles and conflicts around them.
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