The Bin Ladens, Steve Coll

As the 20th century begins, the Bin Laden saga does as well.  It is almost an accident of fate, the death of an oxen, borrowed by Awadh, that begins the Bin Laden clan in earnest. The book examines the rise and fall of this prominent family beginning with the line of Ali. His descendant, Aboud has one son, Awadh. Awahd has four sons, two of which, Mohammed and Abdullah are the early focus. At first, it reads almost like a fairytale or a nightmare as their very survival seems to depend on magical moments or accidents of fate. Since much of the history is handed down orally, it is really hard to separate fact from fiction, sometimes.

The Bin Laden family fell into the good graces of the King by sheer force of events, unplanned and unchoreographed. When Abdulaziz wanted help to build shelters for his ever growing fleet of cars, the Americans and the British refused. Had they accepted, perhaps Mohammed Bin Laden would not have stepped up to fill in the construction gap which eventually brought him prominence and fortune. Perhaps the clan would have deteriorated into oblivion instead of infamy.

King Abdulaziz, of Saudi Arabia, was brought up in strict observance to Wahhabism, and in spite of his religious background or in consequence of it, he is a womanizer. He has wives or slaves or mistresses in the hundreds. Women are property. In all other ways he is an observer of the Koran, praying often during the day. Although he loves toys and new technology, often prohibited, he finds outlandish excuses to be allowed to use them. Those that disagree too strongly with him are merely eliminated.

The very reading of this book will likely enrage some because of the obvious debauchery displayed and lived out by the very wealthy Saudis in the Bin Laden family. Their wealth and power gives them tremendous access to the most famous royal families and well known personages of the world. Their personal pleasure governs them. Their toys are of the exceptional variety. Price is never an object or concern. When the mood strikes them, they pick up and follow their whims, but they also respond immediately when the royal family beckons. The Bin Ladens were there at the ready to do their bidding.

Mohammed Bin Laden was either a business genius or the hapless recipient of accidents of fate which I tend to doubt. I think he was very clever and inserted himself into situations which provided him the advantage he needed with the royal family. Even if he was unprepared, and not up to the task presented to him, he accepted it and managed to pull it off. He took the risk, carved out deals which projected him into the spotlight, married strategically and made influential alliances. Sometime in 1958, his 14 year old bride, Alia, gave birth to Osama Bin Laden.

Salem, Osama’s brother, rose to power after the death of Mohammed, in a plane crash. He was more fun loving and as the brother in power, managed to endear himself to many of the Saudi princes in power and to King Fahd. Although, he too liked to play a lot, he was pious and professed to do everything for Allah.. He had ruder manners and behavior, loved the party life, the night life and also took many wives and had many children.

The hypocrisy and decadence with which the Bin Ladens lived their lives is almost hard to read about because of its extravagance. They seemed to worship money as much as Islam. They practiced the art of  “do as I say, not as I do”, with a vengeance.

When I reached the half way point in the book, I was struck by a comment made by Carmen, wife of Yeslam, ½ brother to Salem. She noted that when the brothers came together, you never knew when they would turn from carousing to being very pious. One minute you would think they were westernized but then small things made you realize that they were not. She said they cannot cut the bond that is embedded in them. She said her own husband cannot cut the bond that is his early childhood. It gave me pause and I wondered about Barack Obama, who had been educated in madrassas as a small child, until around the age of 8, I believe. Can he cut that bond? Has he? Will it resurface at some point in time? She posed an interesting concept.

Osama became a radicalized member of the Muslim Brotherhood at around the age of 15 because of the influence of his teacher, Ahmed Badeeb, who was active in the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization believing in Sharia law and violence. Using participation in sports as a bribe, the teacher enlisted young men to join him in the movement. Osama was a quiet and well behaved young man, easily swayed by the teacher. Osama was more religious than most and even believed in ancient traditions and modes of dress. In Saudi Arabia, Islam is part of the culture and even in more moderate households, it is a major theme of life. Someone in every home believes in Islam and there is always a Koran evident. The Brotherhood messages were filled with political dissent and preached teaching and proselytizing. Obama was a devout and obedient follower. Even as a young man, he disliked America and its policies toward Jews and Christians which he felt certain was a policy intent on destroying or undermining Islam. He believed wholeheartedly in Jihad.

Osama makes influential relationships in the holy cities and when he begins funneling money from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and than Afghanistan, under the tutelage of Badeeb, who has risen in the ranks of the government, he fosters these with the informal exchange of money in informal gatherings.

Osama’s connections with the Brotherhood mentors is kismet and coupled with his influential connections, make it possible for his love/hate relationship with the United States to begin, with an increasing involvement in the Muslim Brotherhood making him an important arm of their movement.

While reading the book, you discover that it is not hard to understand how an intelligent person could become involved in such a radical cause. His declaration of war against America provides him with a legitimate reason to plot and plan the attacks against America and then to happily witness the death and destruction. He has accomplished his goal. The idea that this madman is still walking around with his followers and protectors who may or may not be mad, but who follow him blindly as haters, is mindboggling. I cannot reconcile that in my mind. He should have been caught and but for the lack of fortitude on the part of the United States, might well have been early on, possibly preventing 9/11 from even occurring. We will never know. Someone out there must be protecting him…but whom? I could keep on summarizing but than you would not have to read the book which is really  a fount of information for anyone wanting to learn about the Bin Ladens and in particular, Osama’s rise to power with such an evil intent in the name of his G-d, Allah.






About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Non-Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Bin Ladens, Steve Coll

  1. JoAnn says:

    As usual, a comprehensive and well-written review. Thanks

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