October 20, 2004
Review: "Inside the Kingdom" by Carmen Bin Laden
Can you tell I just got back from a week of traveling? Two eight hour flights, two nine and a half hour flights, two hour and a half flights. Alot of reading.
On the way back from Bombay to Amsterdam I finished Sleeping With The Devil, and just had to read more about how the Saudi's worked and what was at stake. Carmen Bin Laden's book is first and foremost a book by a mother about her personal struggles as a foreigner in a conservative religious state and her efforts to escape with her children. As you read it, you can hear her lawyers telling her to be nice to the husband because the divorce is not final. I am giving the book next to Alex to read. A couple of things really jumped out at me:
- Saudi Arabia is still run by the aging sons of the original king who united the vast wasteland of desert under fundamentalist teachings of a seventeenth century cleric who founded the Wahhabi movement.
- Wahhabi is the most fundamental interpretation of Islam and is applied in part because Saudi Arabia is "keeper" of the two holiest sites in the faith, Mecca and Medina.
- All wealthy Saudi's live two totally opposite lives. One inside strict Saudi Arabia, and another over seas where all the pent-up desires overflow with a vengeance.
- The Saudi royal family was terrified to see what happened to the Shah of Iran and immediately started placating the Wahhabi with money and power to prevent a repeat.
- bin Laden family members were most likely complicit in the fundamentalist take-over of Mecca since company trucks were used to get the fighters in there and the bin Laden organization had the only detailed maps of the place.
- The family clan unit (all the sons and daughters of one powerful father) is an ironclad bond when faced with threats from outsiders. By virtue of this, despite public statements, the bin Laden family has NOT disowned Osama.
- Osama bin Laden is an overwhelming hero in Saudi Arabia. If an election were held today, he would probably win.
- Saudi family life (at the high end) is totally disfunctional in a western sense. The sexes have separate houses. Men can be married to up to four wives at once and any number over a life time. To divorce a woman a man must simply recite "I divorce thee" three times and it is done. A woman has virtually no rights at all. Children are raised almost exclusively by servants. The appearance of devotion to religion is more important than anything else.
- While Carmen and her husband kept the equivalent of $50,000 around the house for "emergencies", her husband's office was a bare wooden desk with bare walls except for a picture of his father and the king.
Overall, 3 of 5. Good for background on the Mid East, but short on facts and long on emotion and personal trials/tribulations. It is a bit of a tweener. Not a great emotional story, not a heavy kiss and tell factual saga. But interesting reading nonetheless.
Posted by Martin at October 20, 2004 10:14 PM
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