Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Ladin
Carmen Bin Ladin was married to one of Osama Bin Laden’s half-brothers, Yeslam. (The difference in spelling is intentional; Carmen explains it in the book.) She lived among the Bin Laden women in Saudi Arabia for nine years. This is the story of her courtship with Yeslam and married life in Saudi Arabia, which is a strange mixture of money, luxury, and excessive restrictions on women and individuality. Before I read this, I didn’t know how extreme Saudi Arabia is, even compared to other Islamic countries: women are not only required to be fully veiled, they are almost completely secluded and confined to their homes. At one point, Carmen talks her husband into allowing her to go to a store herself, instead of having servants bring suitcases full of stuff home for her perusal. She shows up at the store, fully veiled, of course, and the store has been closed and completely emptied of employees, owner, etc. They are standing outside with their backs turned so as not to see her as she enters. It’s interesting, to say the least.
Before this book, I had assumed that Osama Bin Laden was a power-hungry, manipulative guy just using the excuse of religion to maintain control of the truly religious. But according to Carmen, he is religious, extremely so. Carmen doubts reports by Western journalists that he has been a sort of playboy in Western Europe: while many of his half-brothers have enjoyed the Western lifestyle at various times, to her knowledge Osama has not. Apparently there is a photo of several Bin Laden brothers in Europe somewhere, wearing popular Western clothing, but the one who was identified as Osama in Western publications was actually one of his half-brothers.
It’s also very interesting to read about the Saudi government. Some people think that the ruling family, the al-Sauds, number up to 25,000 people today.
I should mention that Carmen was born and raised in Switzerland—her mother is Iranian, her father Swiss—and she’s definitely a modern, Western woman. When she lived in Saudi Arabia, she tried to get along with her sisters-in-law, mother-in-law, etc., and respected their religious convictions. She tried to fit in and was not looking for ways to criticize them. In fact, she seems fairly restrained in her description of her in-laws, though she aims for accuracy. But because she was not Saudi and only half “Muslim” (as they saw it), she was always looked down on by her new relatives. Their perception is that Islam is the correct way, and, further, that Saudis (and Saudi Arabia) are the purest and best, even among other Islamic peoples and cultures.