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Reading Maketh a Full Man...

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Currently reading

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Canto)
C.S. Lewis
Boys and Girls Learn Differently!: A Guide for Teachers and Parents
Michael Gurian, Terry Trueman, Patricia Henley
Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet
Christian Wiman
Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw
Keith C. Burris
Daring, Trusting Spirit
John De Gruchy
The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church
John Thavis
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
Orlando Figes

Inside the Kingdom

Inside The Kingdom: My Life In Saudi Arabia - Carmen Bin Ladin This book was fascinating to read alongside Michael Scheuer's "Osama Bin Laden". Scheuer was head of the CIA's Osama Bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999. He knows alot about OSB, but more about his book later.Carmen Bin Ladin married into the Bin Laden family. (If you are noting the spelling difference between "Ladin" and "Laden", they use "bin Ladin" to refer to Carmen and her husband Yeslam, but use "bin Laden" when referring to the family clan.) Her father was Swiss and her mother was Persian (Iranian). She grew up in Switzerland and visited her mother's family in Iran periodically throughout her childhood. She met Yeslam Bin Ladin in Geneva when he and some of his family rented a house from Carmen's mother. Yeslam's mother, a few of his brothers, and his sister lived for that summer in Geneva and Carmen fell in love with Yeslam. Her experiences with the family were all outside of Saudi Arabia. While Carmen had been culturally raised as a Christian, she felt comfortable with the Muslim religion she had seen in her mother's family in Iran. Carmen agreed to marry Yeslam, and discovered that the King of Saudi Arabia had to give them permission because Yeslam would be marrying a foreigner. The king gave them permission, but he also stipulated that they marry in Jeddah. Her wedding in "the kingdom", for Saudi Arabia is indeed that "kingdom", gave a foreshadowing of the many issues she would have once married and once living in Saudi Arabia. Yeslam and Carmen married in 1974, and then promptly moved to California where Yeslam could pursue his degree at USC. Carmen dropped out of school when she had their first daughter, Wafah. Eventually they had three daughters, but never any sons. Carmen found that their lives were mostly normal.....outside of Saudi Arabia. They fit in, they dressed as westerners, and they even celebrated Christmas. Family business obligations eventually pulled Yeslam to move them all back to Saudi Arabia in 1976, and the most interesting portion of the book begins here. Carmen found herself living on Kilometer 7, the bin Laden housing complex outside of Jeddah. These houses were built by Mohammed bin Laden for his various wives and their families. Technically married to only 4 wives at a time, a Muslim man can divorce his wife and yet continue to take care of her and the children. Carmen discovered a very intricate and complicated hierarchy among favorite wives, divorced wives, and their children. Because she was a foreigner, she never fit in, and was never really accepted in the clan. Carmen discovered that "Shopping was for servants. If we needed something, Abdou or another driver would have to be instructed by the houseboy to search for the required item. It wasn't just swimsuits. It was tea, or sanitary napkins -- anything at all. If we didn't like them, he would return with another suitcase full. We would select something, he would go back to the shop with the suitcase, ascertain the price, and return again for the payment." (pg 57)She also discovered that, "There were no books. There were no theaters, no concerts, no cinemas. There was no reason to go out, and in any case we could not go out; I was not allowed to go for a walk, and legally could not drive." (pg 59)The attitude held by Carmen's mother-in-law became startlingly clear to her one day, "One day when Wafah was playing with a little half-English school friend, running around the house screaming and wet from the pool.'Ah, that foreign girl,' snapped Om Yeslam, exasperated. I answered her back rather tersely: 'We are all foreigners to somebody.' 'Not me,' Om Yeslam answered, looking straight at me. 'There is not one drop of Christian blood in me.'I did have a drop of Christian blood in me -- my father's. And so did the girls. And what Om Yeslam really meant was that I had the determined, willful personality that comes from living as an individual, in the West. She felt that I simply never could bring myself to submit in the proper manner -- to Islam, to the rules of Saudi society, or to my husband. " (pg 167)Carmen describes her life in Saudi Arabia in terms of slavery. The women there have been taught they are not slaves, but in practice and in daily life, they are indeed slaves. They can be divorced and thrown away by their husband with no recourse. She describes Saudi Arabia and the Wahabi version of Islam practiced there as "medieval, dark with sin and interdiction."Eventually Carmen comes to fear for the indoctrination her daughters are getting by living in the Saudi world. Her daughters came home with practice Arabic script sentences to practice. The sentences are, "I hate Jews. I love Palestine." She realizes that no matter how she raises them, they will be slaves also in this country because there are no other options for them. She presses Yeslam to move the family to Geneva, and he does. As Yeslam becomes older, he becomes more and more Saudi, even away from his country. He becomes very strict with Carmen while they live in Geneva. When their 3rd daughter is born, Yeslam abandons them. Carmen in retrospect realizes that if she had had a son, she would never have been allowed to leave Saudi Arabia. But Yeslam does not want daughters, so when it seems obvious Carmen will bear him only daughters he feels free to abandon her. In 1988 Carmen goes through a very nasty decade-long divorce from Yeslam, and eventually wins custody of her daughters. From that day, even when the daughters have seen their father or grandmother in Switzerland, they have never been acknowledged. It is as thought they no longer exist. In closing, Carmen had this to say about whether the bin Laden clan had rejected Osama bin Ladin. She said on pg 78, "There is a Saudi saying, 'Me and my cousin against the stranger; me and my brother against my cousin.' The clan is the only unit that makes sense." The bin Ladin clan / family has never rejected Osama. While there are stories and interviews where they denounce the violence he has perpetrated, it is important to know the cultural message that all Saudi's carry with them. "Me and my cousin against the stranger; me and my brother against my cousin."