Jan 9, 2012

Books || Growing Up Bin Laden

Note: The contents of this post might be perceived as sensitive by some. Please understand that I come from a very neutral point of view, free from prejudice against any religion. My intention is absolutely not to offend anybody from any walk of life. 

When I first got to know about this book through The Hindu’s Literary Page, I knew I had to read it right away. There are few things that hold my attention as much as the topic of terrorists. I’m always interested to know about the people behind the acts of terror that we see and hear about. What kind of people are they? What drives them to do what they do? Why don’t they ever give up, even when they fail? What makes them so passionate, that they are willing to sacrifice life, even their own?

It was the answers to such questions that I was seeking when I first opened the book. Until I turned the final leaf last night, I was literally hooked on to the journey into the lands of the Arabs, and later that of the Pashtuns. All through, I learned many startling facts about the man who was until recently, the world’s most wanted – Osama Bin Laden.

Growing Up Bin Laden shows us a glimpse of the life lead by Osama, through the eyes of his wife and son. The book is co-authored by Najwa Bin Laden – his first wife and first cousin, Omar Bin Laden – his fourth son from Najwa, and Jean Sasson – an American writer who recounts their stories. It was written a few years before Osama Bin Laden’s assassination.

Through this book, I was surprised to learn that as a boy, Osama was held in high regard by his family - as  quiet, studious, staunchly religious and extremely well mannered. No one could ever have guessed that this boy would one day be responsible for the death of so many people around the world. Although their marriage was arranged, Najwa and Osama had fallen in love before they were wed, as they often spent time in each other’s company as cousins.

The book presents us with two very personal and paradoxical roles played by Osama, as a husband and as a father. While he appears to have succeeded in the former, as is evident from Najwa’s account, in the latter he seems to have failed. The pages of the book are filled with stories of Osama’s neglect of his children, and how Omar was very keenly aware of it. On the one hand he permitted his wife to leave him and their home in Afghanistan when she requested it and on the other, he encouraged his sons to voluntarily sign up as suicide bombers.

There is no doubt about the fact that Osama was a highly intelligent man. A mathematical genius, if you will. But he was also ruthlessly stubborn. And a believer of violent Jihad. A powerful and dangerous concoction was always in the brewing, and the political situation in the Arab world only fuelled the fire.

Through the book, Omar bin Laden tells us of his father’s missions, his true motives. The following words were spoken by Osama, directly to Omar:

"First we obliterate America. By that I don’t mean militarily. We can destroy America from within by making it economically weak, until its markets collapse. When that happens, they will have no interest in supplying Israel with arms, for they will not have extra funds to do so. Their defeat and collapse may not come in my lifetime. It may not come in your lifetime, but it will come. One day Muslims will rule the world. That is God’s plan, Omar, for Muslims to rule."

Osama’s life vision was that “the entire world should be Islamic.” Omar goes on to confess that he felt “not one jolt of passion” for his father’s life.

It also came as a surprise to me that Osama was a frugal man. Although born into one of the richest families of Saudi Arabia, his wives and children were not permitted to use modern conveniences such as air conditioners, refrigerators and televisions. He believed that these would be a hindrance in the practice of true Islam. No, I suppose he was not greedy for power or wealth. He was only a man so driven by his belief in his interpretation of religion that he was willing to put everything at stake. Absolutely everything.

Which makes me wonder. I mean, put aside the fact that he was a terrorist. Put aside everything ‘evil’ he’s done. I know it’s hard, but let’s. What remains is passion. The man did whatever he believed was right. Without a day’s hesitation, without a day’s lethargy, without a day’s rest. How many of us can claim to be able to do that, with whatever we are passionate about in our lives. How many of us ‘good’ people can go about life with that kind of fire in the belly – to do the opposite of what he did. For the number of passionate ‘evil’ doers there are out there, are there an equal number of passionate ‘good’?

Of course, this doesn’t justify what he’s done. It’s just an observation, my observation.

Growing Up Bin Laden certainly makes for an excellent read. It provides the quality of a gripping novel of fiction, it’s a book one would find hard to put down. The sad thing is, the stories in it are true. And enough to give you goose bumps all through.

I’ll leave you with a few more quotes. The book is available on Flipkart, here and Amazon, here.

“During all the years of our marriage, Osama had always said that any of his wives were free to leave any time they felt the desire to do so.

Osama saw me several times before I left. He made a particular point of telling me, as he had when I had gone to Syria to give birth to Nour, “I will never divorce you, Najwa. Even if you hear I have divorced you. It is not true.”” – Najwa Bin Laden

“I often wonder if my father has killed so many times that the act of killing no longer brings him pleasure or pain. I am nothing like my father. While he prays for war, I pray for peace. And now we go our separate ways, each believing that we are right. My father has made his choice, and I have made mine. I am, at last, my own man.” – Omar Bin Laden

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  1. hmm sounds interesting. You may be right about the passion. It is very hard to hold onto anger for a long time. It takes up a lot of energy. So there must be something extreme in a person to bottle up so much hatred.

  2. It's a highly recommended book although it's the husband who's read it. And he was all praises for it.

    A terrorist or a revolutionary? Either side will have it's own theory.

  3. So this goes into my to read list....

    I think all terrorists are blinded by their beliefs but then its also true that they have to be really passionate about their beliefs in order to take extreme measures that they resort to

  4. My god! It is hard to imagine that the guy respected his wives this much and it is hard to belief that he was a well-mannered child. Well, there goes another example of life's strange ways.

    I definitely want to read this book and I will..

  5. Your review makes me crave for the book now. I've heard a lot about it before, and having read other Jean Sasson books, I know it's bound to be a gripping read! Should mark this and reserve some space for it on the bookshelf :)

  6. Hey Sumitra
    i have given you an award, check out my latest post for details :)

  7. @Kalpana: Yeah I've always wondered where so much energy is generated from. I want to relax after cooking just one meal. Hmm.

    @Purba: Yup, each man's actions are justified in his own eyes.

    @Purvi: Read it soon, you will certainly like it. Thank you very much for the award!

    @Keirthana: Ya, there are several things about him that are hard to believe. Do read it soon :)

    @Sruthi: This is the first one of Sasson I've read so far but I'm very interested and will be trying others soon. I'm thinking of starting the Princess Trilogy next.

  8. I really enjoyed this book. I read her other books first - they are great s well! And read this without a stop - fascinating read!

    1. I saw a few books by Jean Sasson on your book list. I'm dying to read them now. Yeah, I read this book non-stop too, my nose was in it even when I was cooking!

  9. Hi Sumitra - you wrote about my most fave topic and how did I miss this post. I am really glad you got hold of this book - because more than the book itself, its the speculations that it triggers off that interest me a lot. The way you read Osama's passion and how you are dying to see the same passion on the positive side of life. Thats exactly the message that we need to take out of the examples of reading such books.

    BTW, I was maniacally in pursuit of such stuff, until a few years ago. I was terribly shaken by the 9/11 events and got hooked on these terrorist stuff and kept reading about them whenever, wherever I could. Then the Iraq war gave more fodder for my curiosity. At one point, I had reached an extent where I wanted to join a Psychology course and go to guantanamo bay to interview these hardcores and understand how their mind works.. pity, I didn't have the guts to take that step. So, I am just meekly studying philosophy now.

    1. Wow, a course in psychology and then go to Guantanamo? That would have been something. I've always felt this is what is needed. Rather than condemning, pointing fingers and responding with war, understanding things from the opposite party's perspective is what is important. According to this book, the only reason the Al-Qaeda and other similar organizations were formed was due to the meddling of the US in the affairs of the Arab countries and their support to Israel. Whereas many Americans believe that they are hated by the Islamic people.

      More than the topic of terrorism, I find the Arab world fascinating- their culture, their religion, their perceptions, their lifestyle. It's so rich, there's just something else to it.

  10. Dear Sumitra, I have become a self-confessed fan of yours! And I am not even remotely trying to be flattering when I say "It has been long since I came across a good book review like this one". I really want to read the book now and therein lies the success of a post like this.

    Mature, balanced and sprinkled with compassionate humanism. Okay. I will stop with that now. :)

    What makes these people do what they do? Ideologies and propaganda are powerful tools, I believe. We are all going on - studying, working, struggling and striving for what? Money? It has to be something more - I think we are all searching for meaning. And how would it be if some powerful communicator came and convinced us about our life's meaning - told us it was what we were born for? I don't see a reason why they would not hesitate to heed this call.

    Which only brings us to the thought - the world is in need of more idealistic influences - sensibility and power need to be together.

    1. Sinduja, those are some really kind words there. Makes me happy to read them. I'm really glad you liked my work :)

      Absolutely, when the message is powerful, people will respond. There's no doubt about that. Totally agree with you.

  11. This book sounds very very very interesting. I think I will pick it up, though it is not something I usually read. I have a feeling I will like to read this.

    I understand what you mean by 'fire in the belly'. If only everyone is as driven about their passion, in a good way, as Osama was!

    1. Do try and read it, you won't regret it. It shows us a different perspective into a completely different world from ours. Yup, if only the passion to do peaceful service was greater in the world...