April 19, 2008

Banal bin Laden

Steve Coll's new book, "The Bin Ladens: The Story of a Family and its Fortune" doesn't offer any arguments to help support the appeasers who would like to have afternoon tea, cucumber sandwiches and fairy cakes with terrorists.

Osama Bin Laden is much newer to terrorism than you might imagine.

His alleged hatred - more a trivial preoccupation turned into a misguided obsessive compulsive disorder - came late, even if the seeds might have been planted in youth.

"Coll goes back to Osama's father, a young illiterate Yemeni called Mohammed bin Laden.

Mohammed gathered wives at whim, marrying at least nine times between 1943 and 1953 and fathering 54 children from numerous partners. Seven of his children were delivered in 1958 alone, one of which was Osama, whose mother was a 15-year-old Syrian who split with his father soon afterwards.

“When Osama was seven, his father died in a plane crash, a loss that deeply hurt the young boy. "He was affected by the death of his father, he was very solitary”

Osama idolised his father and saw him as a role model. He was told that his father died as a result of a mistake by an American pilot.

Mohammed's death left control of the family business in the hands of his eldest son, Salem.

Relatives remember Osama as calm and extremely quiet, almost to the point of timidity.

Outside of religion, Osama was passionate about outdoor activities such as swimming, hunting and horse riding, and he had a weakness for action movies and westerns.

His only conspicuous pleasures were sex, cars, work and the outdoors.

In the early 1980s, Salem bin Laden sent Osama to Pakistan to oversee the distribution of funding to the Afghan resistance, which was fighting the Soviet invaders.

By dispatching Osama, the bin Ladens were supporting the Saudi Government's clandestine foreign policy of helping the Islamic resistance.

Osama revelled in his role. He soon moved into supplying arms to the Afghan rebels, the mujaheddin, and gained a taste for Islamic-style armed resistance. With Salem providing substantial financial backing, Osama soon became a hero to the mujaheddin.

The bin Ladens used publicists and the media to market Osama, promoting him as a fearless rich man who lived among the poor and who was willing to sacrifice everything for his religion.

Salem bin Laden did much to make Osama's reputation, and when he died in a plane crash in 1988 Osama was deeply affected, overlooking his half-brother's hedonistic ways.

When Osama returned to Saudi Arabia in late 1989 he saw himself as a international guerilla leader who worked in the service of his king.

But within a year he fell out with the royal family over its plans to employ American-led troops in a war to oust Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Disgusted, Osama moved to Sudan in 1991.

In 1996, under pressure from the US, Sudan expelled Osama and he moved with his family to Afghanistan. Once there he became increasingly preoccupied with the US, reading books about America, including long tomes on Washington's foreign and defence policy towards Saudi Arabia and the Middle East."

Of the 19 hijackers involved in 9/11, five were recruited from the Saudi village where bin Laden’s father’s plane had crashed all those years ago – the plane piloted by an American. Read into that what you will, but don’t dwell long on such trite data. A quarter of them were from that village? It’s not a big number, certainly no better than chance. Where else would Osama recruit, other than regions well known to him, and in which the bin Laden name was well known?

Osama is the black sheep of the bin Laden family. The black sheep who, as in all good Westerns, grows up to avenge his Daddy's death.

Osama "hates us" because ... ?

No particular reason, it would seem.

No compelling economic, cultural, or religious reason.

Just because he can. He found an obscure object for an obscure grudge, and let the minor scab fester.

There is, contrary to globally held and persistent emotionally aberrant over-heated imaginings, nothing more banal than evil.

Taking stock of evil's bloodline ...

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