Book Review: Growing Up Bin Laden by Jean Sasson
My purpose in writing this review extends beyond just sharing a glimpse of the book with potential readers. I would also love to hear what others who have read the book think about it and how it impacted them, because this book impacted me very deeply.
The author of this book, Jean Sasson, says that Osama's fourth son, Omar, approached her about doing this book. She insists that all the information has come straight from Omar and his mother Najwa, and is unfiltered by her own opinions and interpretations. (I have seen interviews with Omar on YouTube in which he validates the facts in this book).
This is the first book written about the Bin Ladens that has been written with the support and cooperation of Bin Laden family members. Omar told the author that he wanted the opportunity to get his message out. His life goals are 180 degrees in opposition to his father's goals. He is a man of peace who wants to promote peace in the world.
The book chapters alternate between Omar and Najwa talking. Najwa begins the book by describing how her early life intertwined with that of her cousin Osama's. As far back as she could remember, Osama had always been a part of her life. Though Osama was raised in Saudi Arabia and Najwa was raised in Syria, Osama and his mother and stepfather would frequently visit Najwa's family in Syria. Osama's mother Allia was sister to Najwa's father.
The events described by Najwa about their early lives give no hint of a budding terrorist. However, she does relate some experiences that undoubtedly affected and influenced the direction of Osama's life--such as the death of his father in an airplane crash when he was only ten years old. A review of this book on another website suggested that the painful memories associated with his father's death may have influenced Osama's decision to use airplanes in attacking the U.S. on September 11, 2001.
When Najwa agreed to marry Osama at age 15, she knew her life would change dramatically. One of the significant changes was having to wear a veil any time she went into public in Saudi Arabia. Life in Saudi Arabia was (and still is) very strict for women in other ways, too. She would never be permitted the opportunity to drive an automobile or work outside the home.
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Marriage to Osama Bin Laden
Najwa's description of the early years of their marriage was fairly typical for a young Saudi couple in many ways, with Osama going to school in the mornings and going to work at the Bin Laden construction company in the afternoons. She, of course, stayed home because Saudi women, in general, are not allowed to go out in public unless accompanied by a male relative. Unlike many wealthy Saudi households, Osama believed in living simply--except as it pertained to his automobiles. This was his one area of extravagance.
In one of her discussions about her home life with Osama, Najwa commented how Osama had the entire Koran memorized. Whenever he was asked to recite from it, Najwa would open the Koran and follow along in the passage he was reciting to try to catch him in a mistake but never could. As a Christian who relies on the Bible for my values and world view, I immediately thought about how much better the world would be if all Christians would memorize even significant portions of the Bible, especially the portions which speak of love and mercy to others.
In her Princess trilogy (three books previously written by the author), Sasson describes how Saudi men are typically very harsh toward their daughters and wives, but very indulgent toward their sons. But according to Najwa, Osama was the opposite: He was easy on his daughters but disciplined his sons extremely harshly (in ways considered abusive in this country), believing that causing them to suffer would make them stronger.
Sasson's Princess books also related how, if a Saudi couple divorce, the woman is not usually allowed to have custody of her children. Osama, however, permitted one of his wives to keep her three children when they divorced, including one son.
The author's Princess books, as well as this book, all mention the fact that it is customary for Saudi men to acquire four wives. According to Sultana (the Saudi princess in Princess), most Saudi men do not consult their first wife in the matter of acquiring additional wives. Interestingly, according to Najwa, Osama did discuss his desire to obtain more wives with her. Princess Sultana had claimed that this was to satisfy the excessive sexual appetite of Saudi men. However, Osama's rational to Najwa for increasing the number of wives had nothing to do with his sexual desire, and everything to do with his desire to increase the number of muslims in the world. In keeping with this desire, Osama eventually had four wives and 20 children (this was at the time Najwa last saw Osama in 2001, online rumor mills have suggested the number of children has increased). It is very amazing that there was no rivalry between Osama's wives. In fact, Najwa always referred to them as "sister" wives in the book.
As time went on in their marriage, Osama began to spend a lot of time away from home. He didn't share much about his activities with his family, and Najwa knew it wasn't her place to ask, but she did know that he was spending a lot of time in Afghanistan. Osama had become intensely disturbed and anxious when the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979. His involvement had begun with providing funds to support the tribal leaders in their efforts to resist the Russians. Soon the war began to take over her husband's life. In the course of time he spent most of his time there and little time at home.
Osama Bin Laden Exiled from Saudi Arabia
Eventually, Osama was forced to leave Saudi Arabia because of his political activities. This embittered Osama, especially when his personal wealth was later confiscated by the Saudi government. The family moved to Khartoum, Sudan where Osama helped build roads and schools for the Sudanese. Ultimately, Osama was forced to leave Sudan also for the same reason and, according to Omar, he was especially bitter about this is light of all the monetary benefits he had provided for the country.
The family then moved to Afghanistan. Since the money was gone, the family had to learn to live extremely austerely. Najwa recounts how, at times, they wanted for enough food for their ever-expanding family.
Najwa states that Osama always told her that everything that happens is God's plan and should be accepted. Yet she also recounts how incensed he became when he was expelled from Saudi Arabia and his tremendous wealth was confiscated. His outrage was magnified when the U.S. went into Kuwait after it was invaded by Saddam Hussein. He had felt that he and his army could have done the job adequately. He deeply resented Western intervention into Islamic affairs. This is apparently the point where Osama's extreme hatred for the U.S. reached a head.
Many political analysts has suggested--though many others refuse to acknowledge it in their attempts to defend Islam--that the goal of Islamic Jihad is to take over the world. Omar leaves the reader with no doubt about his father's true intentions. When the family moved to Afghanistan, Osama began to confide more in Omar and to groom him to become his number two man. At one point, his father revealed to him that, after defeating the Russians in Afghanistan, his goal was to take over the entire Middle East by removing all secular governments and replacing them with fervent Islamic regimes. Then, the next step was to take over the entire world for Islam.
Omar explained that one of the ways his father stirred up the Jihadist fervency of his followers was by telling them that the only reason the American military had presence in 150 places around the world was to destroy Islam and kill Muslims.
When Omar approached his father about Muslims who were killed in attacks that Osama initiated, he would say that if it was not God's chosen time for them to go, they would not have been there. Some hypocrisy is apparent in this thinking when one considers that Muslims killed unavoidably by the U.S. are not viewed in the same way, and their deaths are used as fuel to increase the Islamic furor against the United States.
After his attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Osama became aware that President Clinton was planning to retaliate. He quickly made arrangements to move his men to another area, but intended to have the women and children remain behind. When Omar questioned his father about the wisdom of this, his father quickly replied that they would be safe because Clinton would never attack women and children. How could any sane individual not see the irony in that?
Throughout the book Omar reveals his sensitivity and compassion for women, children, and animals. Because of his sensitive nature, Omar knew he could never become the Islamic warrior his father wanted him to be. He strongly opposed killing of any kind. At times, he openly opposed his father and tried to argue with him, unsuccessfully, about the patriarch's violent activities.
Omar subsequently realized that the only way he could separate himself from his father's lifestyle was to leave Afghanistan. He began to formulate plans to do that. One of his father's soldiers had warned Omar about some impending attacks were to be many times more serious than anything his father had attempted previously. Concerned for his mother's safetly and precarious health, he began to put pressure on Najwa to leave also.
Miraculously, both Najwa and Omar were given permission to leave Afghanistan by Osama and made it out just days before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers. Osama, however, had only permitted Najwa to take the youngest of her eleven children with her. To this day, neither Najwa nor Omar have had contact with Osama or the rest of the family in Afghanistan, so they have no knowledge of the well being of the other siblings.
I highly recommend this book. It is a shocking eye-opener. I find it incredibly difficult to comprehend, given the loving family he apparently grew up in, that Osama could have turned into such an international monster. Psychologists often equate an unhealthy relationship with the parent of the opposite sex as the cause of social deviation. According to Najwa, however, Osama's relationship with his mother was always one of great tender love, mutual admiration, and closeness.
Cognizant of the ease with which he could bring himself to kill people (Muslim as well as non-Muslim) and animals (Osama used his children's pets for experimentaion) leads me to the conclusion that he must be demonically possessed. I don't believe any human being with a conscience could do what he does.