Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up as the child of one of the most wanted terrorist in the world? Or how do you reconcile the actions of your parents as infamous as they may be? Jean Sasson, the celebrated author who brought to us the story of ‘Mayada: Daughter of Iraq‘, presents another engaging story of the life of the family of Osama Bin Laden. The name alone is enough to provoke a range of emotions from curiosity to hostility. It is easily forgotten that Bin Laden had dozens of children, some of whom have remained hidden from the public light. Sasson tells the story here of his first wife Najwa and his fourth son Omar. Through Sasson, they take us deep inside their world to show us what it was like to live with a man who was once declared the most wanted terrorist by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Before reading the book, I was not sure what to expect. Having witnessed as a child and as an adult the two attacks of the World Trade Center in hometown of New York City, I saw the darkest side of the mind of an Islamic radical. However now that I have read this book, I can say that it was unlike anything I could have imagined.
I was born in the west and as a result, my knowledge of the Middle East had always come from the media but hardly ever from people who had actually lived there and were of of the Islamic faith. It easy to fall into the trap of believing that everyone from the Middle East supports terror and wants to see the downfall of the United States. Those who have traveled and are students of the many cultures in this world, will know that such a notion if unfounded. This autobiography by Najwa and Omar is an invaluable asset in understanding the Islamic culture, the personal side of Osama Bin Laden and the effects that his lifestyle had on those closest to him. To truly enjoy the book it is necessary to put aside any pre-conceived beliefs about Islam. And while we may not agree with that way things are done in the Middle East, their traditions have existed for centuries and will not change overnight. Our judgments about those who practice the Islamic faith and those closely related to Bin Laden will be challenged on every front. Their story is eye-opening and informative and largely unknown in the western hemisphere.
What I enjoyed the most about the book is that there is no glamour and they do not glorify their lives. Contrary to the beliefs of many, not all of his family members supported his radical beliefs and actions. In fact, through the book, Omar could easily be the son of any other person, he’s a typical kid yearning for a strong bond with his dad, who was often away or involved in many nefarious deeds. Does he love his father? Absolutely. But he makes it clear that he knows what his father was involved in but never took up the same cause. As for Najwa, she has her own struggles, first with the Islamic system of polygamy and later Bin Laden’s extremism. But throughout each ordeal, mother and son remained strong and have to this day. Their memories have allowed us to examine the complex character that was Osama Bin Laden. i As a husband to several wives with a growing brood of children and relatives to support, his life comes across chaotic and stressful but not filled with the gratuitous violence or tragedy that you might expect. His commitment to his ideology and unwavering support of the blind Sheik caused suffering not only on the victims of his acts of terrorist but on members of his own family. Largely absent from the lives of at least 20 children, he created strained relationships between that were never up to the time of his death. And with his death several years ago, all hope of repairing those relationships has been lost forever. For Najwa and Omar, they still love the husband and father they knew but have came to terms with his life many years ago. And in the middle of everything that transpired, they too became victims in the process. Among the endless number of books regarding terrorism, this one stands out as required reading for anyone interested in Osama Bin Laden. Not only will you learn about his life but you might learn something about yourself as well.