Osama bin Laden has all but vanished from the radar of the American media/public. Even president Barack Obama seems no longer interested in bin Laden, while the world had thought that the “war against terror” was all about capturing bin Laden! The present chase to capture al Qaeda looks like fighting with the severed tail of a lizard.
Meanwhile Osama, dead or alive, manages to come back into spotlight. Whether one hates him or not, one can’t but admire his wife Najwa bin Laden. Najwa, their son Omar bin Laden, and Jean Sasson (a New York Times bestselling author) provide fascinating insights into bin Laden family’s private lives in a new book Growing Up bin Laden.
Najwa bin Laden, who married her cousin Osama bin Laden at the age of 15, is his first wife and the mother to seven of his sons and four of his daughters. She currently lives with three of her eleven children in the Middle East. Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of Osama bin Laden, has publicly called for his father to “change his ways.” Both Omar and his mother left Afghanistan before September 11, 2001, and neither has been in contact with Osama bin Laden since.
“In 1979, the (bin Laden) couple visited America. Najwa bin Laden says Americans were kind and friendly, but the country was not to her conservative tastes. ‘My husband and I did not hate America, yet we did not love it,’ she writes.
“Bin Laden became a hero in Saudi Arabia because he fought the Russians in Afghanistan. But he began to clash with the royal family after they ignored his offers of military aid and instead let Americans liberate Kuwait in 1991.
“The final straw, Omar writes, was when his father saw female American troops on his soil. ‘Women! Defending Saudi men!’ he cried. (Obviously, this was American establishment’s major failure in the conduct of diplomacy by overlooking/hurting the sensitivities of a highly conservative nation. Actions that may appear inconsequential can lead to greater disasters later.)
“Under pressure from the king, Osama went into a self-imposed exile in the Sudan. Najwa and Omar describe two Osamas here. One happily tends his garden, delighting in sunflowers. The other walks with a Kalashnikov and a cane, wielded if any of his sons showed their eye teeth while smiling.
“One is so embarrassed when his boat goes out of control that he slips into the water so no one can see him. The other rants into a Dictaphone, spouting epithets about America and Israel, pausing only to listen to his favorite station — the BBC — on a small radio…”
Now excerpts from Najwa bin Laden’s narrative: “Once I was an innocent child dreaming little girl dreams…My parents and siblings and I lived in a modest villa in the port city of Latakia, Syria. The coastal region of Syria is lovely, with sea breezes and fertile land where lucky farmers grow fruit and vegetables. Our backyard was abundant with green trees bursting with delicious fruit. Behind our narrow seaside plain one could see the picturesque coastal mountains, with terraced hills of fruit orchards and olive groves.
“…My closest sibling was Naji, who was one year older. Although I loved my brother dearly, he, like most boys, possessed a mischievous streak that caused me many moments of terror. For example, I was born with a fear of snakes. One day, Naji used his pocket money to slip into the local bazaar to purchase a plastic snake, then knocked very politely at my bedroom door. When I answered, my brother gave me a ro guish grin and suddenly thrust what I thought was a live snake into my hand. My piercing screams stirred the entire house hold as I dropped the snake to run so fast one would have thought I was riding on air.
“…How I loved school! School expanded my small world from family members to new friends and teachers who had so much information crammed into their heads that I didn’t know how their skulls kept from bursting. I was an inquisitive child, and read as many books as possible, mostly enjoying stories about faraway places and people. I soon came to realize how much I shared with other young girls my age, no matter where they might live.
“Contrary to many people’s assumptions about the lives of conservative Muslim women, I was a skilled tennis player. Although I never owned special tennis attire, I would wear a long dress so that I did not expose too much of my legs while leaping about, slip on comfortable shoes, and practice for hours. My goals were to hit the ball just right, or return a serve with such power that my girlish opponent would be left standing with her mouth open in surprise. Yet in truth, the main thing was the sport.
“To this day I can still hear the laughter that would ring out when my girlfriends and I played tennis. I also loved riding my colorful girl’s bicycle. Once again I would select a long dress so I would not expose my legs to bystanders, then run out of the house with my brothers and sister to pedal up the gentle slopes of Latakia. We would squeal with laughter as we went past surprised neighbors on the way down. Other times I would ride my bicycle to the homes of my girlfriends or nearby relatives.
“For many years I experienced great joy as a fledgling artist, painting portraits and landscapes on canvas and smooth pieces of pottery. I spent hours mixing the colors and making the pictures pleasing to my artist’s eye. My siblings were impressed enough by the quality of my paintings to predict that Najwa Ghanem would one day become a world-famous artist.
“These days I am unable to enjoy such pursuits, but even now, as a mother alone with many responsibilities to my young children, I still derive some small pleasure from using my imagination. In my mind I often paint beautiful scenes or strong faces conveying great intensity, or I imagine my muscles being stretched tight from cycling up and down a steep hill, or even winning a tennis match against a faceless opponent….” More here…
The New Yorker has this to say: “The question of whether Osama bin Laden has ever visited the United States, a subject on which I have expended an unhealthy amount of energy in the course of various journalistic and biographical research, has now seemingly been settled. Osama was here for two weeks in 1979, it seems, and he visited Indiana and Los Angeles, among other places.
“He had a favorable encounter with an American medical doctor; he also reportedly met in Los Angeles with his spiritual mentor of the time, the Palestinian radical Abdullah Azzam. All this is according to a forthcoming book by Osama’s first wife, Najwa Bin Laden, and his son Omar Bin Laden, to be published in the autumn by St. Martin’s Press…”
Swaraaj Chauhan describes his two-decade-long stint as a full-time journalist as eventful, purposeful, and full of joy and excitement. In 1993 he could foresee a different work culture appearing on the horizon, and decided to devote full time to teaching journalism (also, partly, with a desire to give back to the community from where he had enriched himself so much.)
Alongside, he worked for about a year in 1993 for the US State Department’s SPAN magazine, a nearly five-decade-old art and culture monthly magazine promoting US-India relations. It gave him an excellent opportunity to learn about things American, plus the pleasure of playing tennis in the lavish American embassy compound in the heart of New Delhi.
In !995 he joined WWF-India as a full-time media and environment education consultant and worked there for five years travelling a great deal, including to Husum in Germany as a part of the international team to formulate WWF’s Eco-tourism policy.
He taught journalism to honors students in a college affiliated to the University of Delhi, as also at the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication where he lectured on “Development Journalism” to mid-career journalists/Information officers from the SAARC, African, East European and Latin American countries, for eight years.
In 2004 the BBC World Service Trust (BBC WST) selected him as a Trainer/Mentor for India under a European Union project. In 2008/09 He completed another European Union-funded project for the BBC WST related to Disaster Management and media coverage in two eastern States in India — West Bengal and Orissa.
Last year, he spent a couple of months in Australia and enjoyed trekking, and also taught for a while at the University of South Australia.
Recently, he was appointed as a Member of the Board of Studies at Chitkara University in Chandigarh, a beautiful city in North India designed by the famous Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier. He also teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students there.
He loves trekking, especially in the hills, and never misses an opportunity to play a game of tennis. The Western and Indian classical music are always within his reach for instant relaxation.
And last, but not least, is his firm belief in the power of the positive thought to heal oneself and others.