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Det er ingen tilfeldighet at 911 ble orkesterert og utført av personer fra Saudi-Arabia, skal vi tro Osama bin Ladens svigerinne.

Jeg har nå lest tre ulike artikler om Carmen bin Laden. Først Osman Kibar i lørdags-DN, så Dagens Nyheter, og igår Guardian, som også har et utdrag fra boken. Guardians var langt overlegen de to andre. Det handler både om et mer uttrykksfullt språk, og fordi Guardians journalist går tettere inn på Carmen som menneske. Hun har det ikke lett og det syns. I Lørdags-DN ble det mer «å, se, vi intervjuer svigerinnen til verdens farligste mann».

Guardian får også bedre frem hvorfor Carmen velger å stå frem, med bok og intervjuer i fleng: for at ikke bin Laden-familien og Saudi-kongehuset skal vinne. Hun vet at hvis hun skal vinne over dem må hun gå til frontalattakk. Blir det bare henne og dem, taper hun.

Storyen er den samme i alle tre aviser: Hvordan datteren av en sveitsisk far og en iransk mor av fin familie, som vokste opp i Geneve, en dag traff den saudi-arabiske unge mannen som leide en etasje i morens hus. De giftet seg. Studier ved Berkely, og hvordan han overtalte henne til å bli med hjem. I Saudi-Arabia blir hun stengt inne, bokstavelig talt. Hun kan aldri gå til fots, til en svømmehall, et bibliotek, et hotell. Selv hvis hun skal ut i sin egen have, må hun sende en tjener i forveien som sørger for at det ikke er noen der som hun ikke skal se, dvs. menn. Selv ordet «undertrykkelse» blir fattig i møtet med denne verden. Man må ta seg god tid, tenke etter, hvilke menneskesyn som ligger bak. Det handler om å beherske kvinners seksualitet. Og kvinner er ikke annet enn seksuelle vesener, bestemt til å føde barn.

«Only the men could come and go as they pleased. We women were confined to the house … even to go into the garden we had to notify the male employees to vacate the premises.» She couldn’t go anywhere without a chaperone. «We took no exercise. Walking anywhere was unthinkable. Hotels, sports arenas, theatres, swimming pools, restaurants, if they existed at all, were only for men.»

Bin Laden senior haddde 22 koner. De fikk navn etter den eldste sønnen. Altså: moren ble oppkalt etter sønnen hun fødte mannen! Fikk hun ingen, ble hun oppkalt etter datteren.

The life that awaited her in Saudi Arabia was one that her husband tried to prepare her for, but which still came as a shock. They moved to Kilometre Seven, a district of Jeddah where most of Bin Laden Sr’s 22 wives, 25 sons and 29 daughters lived. Each wife was referred to by the name of their oldest son, so her mother-in-law was Om Yeslam (in the absence of a son, a mother would take on her daughter’s name), a woman who, despite being disappointed that her son had married a westerner, was cautiously welcoming.

Bin Ladin made her first mistake minutes after stepping off the plane, where one of Yeslam’s brothers had come to meet her. «Hi, Ibrahim!» she called and wondered why he frowned so, before remembering that women were not permitted to speak to men in public. She would make the same mistake, some time later and to more violent effect, with another of Yeslam’s brothers: Osama.

Guardian gjengir noen avsnitt av boken, og det er ikke fordi Osama figurerer i dem, at de er interessante, det er hva de forteller om synet på og behandlingen av kvinner:

It was steaming hot, and a group of the Bin Laden brothers made plans for a day trip to the family country house in Taef, in the mountains, about two hours’ drive from Jeddah. This was a vast house, built in the 1950s or 60s, devoid of any special charm, but it was a little cooler there, and it made for a change of routine. We women established ourselves in the female quarters with the children.

My second daughter Najia was a few months old, and Osama’s wife, Najwah, had a son, Abdallah, who was about the same age. In this society of women I found Najwah’s presence particularly unsettling, perhaps because she was so meek. She was constantly pregnant; by the time I left Saudi Arabia for good, she and Osama had had seven sons – and she was not yet 30. With drab clothes and downcast eyes, Najwah seemed almost completely invisible.

What could I talk about with a woman like this? What can you say to someone with whom you have nothing in common? There I was, thinking to myself, «What does this girl have in her life? She is pious … religion is her entire world. She cannot listen to music … she bears children and her husband doesn’t let her out.» She might smile at me, probably thinking to herself, «Poor woman, she will go to hell,» and I was thinking, «Poor woman, she is living in hell.» We had totally opposing convictions.

On one very hot day, Abdallah commenced howling, and kept it up for hours. He was thirsty and Najwah kept trying to feed him water with a teaspoon, but it was obvious he was far too small to manage to drink properly from a spoon. Najia was gulping water from her baby bottle constantly and I offered it to Najwah.

«Take it, he’s thirsty,» I told her, but Najwah wouldn’t take the bottle. She was almost crying herself. «He doesn’t want the water,» she kept saying. «He won’t take the spoon.»

My mother-in-law, known to me always as Om Yeslam, had to explain that Osama didn’t want the baby to use a bottle. (Following the Koran, Islamic scholars lay firm emphasis on the mother’s duty to breastfeed their children; bottle-feeding is regarded by some Muslim people as a decadent western practice.) There was simply nothing Najwah could do about it. She was so sad, and so powerless – a drab little figure, very young, cradling her baby in the fold of her arm, watching him in such obvious distress. I couldn’t stand it.

Even up at the Bin Ladens’ house in the mountains, it was punishingly hot, perhaps 100 degrees outside, and a baby can dehydrate in a few hours at such temperatures. I couldn’t believe someone would really let his tiny child suffer so much over some ridiculous dogmatic idea about a rubber teat. I couldn’t just sit there and watch this happen. Surely my husband Yeslam could do something? I couldn’t go over to the men’s side of the house to appeal to him to intercede, but a sister could. I begged one of them to get Yeslam.

When Yeslam arrived, I railed at him. «Go and tell your brother that his child is suffering,» I said. «The baby needs a bottle. This has to stop.» But Yeslam came back shaking his head. He told me, «It’s no use. This is Osama.»

I just could not believe it. All the way back to Jeddah it haunted me. Osama could do as he wished with his wife and child: that was a given. His wife didn’t dare disobey him: this was a given, too. Worse still, nobody would dare to intercede. Even Yeslam seemed to agree that Osama’s rule over his household should be absolute. The force and command I had once seen in Yeslam, and admired, seemed to be dissipating in the hot Arabian air.

As Yeslam drove back down the hills, I sat in silence, veiled, my fists clenched, staring at the empty world outside. I felt suffocated. I’m sure Osama would not have wanted to lose his baby. It was not as if he didn’t care about the child, but the baby’s suffering was less important than a principle which he probably imagined stemmed from some seventh-century verse in the Koran. And his family was simply awed by Osama’s zeal and intimidated into silence. For them, as for most Saudis, you simply could not be too excessive about your religious beliefs.

That is when I realised just how powerless I had become. If Yeslam were not there, and if I did not have a son to take on that role, my guardian – and the guardian of my daughters – would be one of Yeslam’s brothers. I would be dependent for everything on that man. Men like Osama could one day rule over me and my children. There would be nothing whatsoever that I could do about it.
From: ‘When Osama stepped into a room, you felt it’

i DN.Se kaller Carmen Saudi-Arabia for Taliban i luksusutgave. Osman Kibar hadde med en viktig detalj: En dag fant Carmen at jentene hennes ble satt til å skrive: «jeg hater jøder». Det reagerte hun på. Hun ville ikke at døtrene skulle vokse opp med en slik innstilling.

Storpolitisk/religiøst/kulturelt får hun frem at det ikke er noen forskjell på Osama bin Laden, hans filosofi, og det resten av bin Laden-familien står for. Hun mener familien aldri har brutt med Osama. Flere av hans sønner arbeider for selskapet. Båndene er så tette, og lojaliteten så stor. Det er utenkelig at de utstøter sine egne. Det er heller de andre, de utenfor, de kutter ut. Etter 911 opphørte all kontakt med svigerfamilien. Mannen har ifølge Carmen også frasagt seg all kontakt med døtrene. Sveitserne har av alle ting gitt ham sveitsisk statsborgerskap.

Carmen holdt ut. Mannen var mer liberal enn andre, og hun trodde at Saudi ville bli nødt for å liberalisere. Det var tegn på endring til det bedre. Men så gikk det i stå, i likhet med hennes egen mann. De falt tilbake på det gamle. Hvis dette er korrekt ser det ille ut for landet med verdens største oljereserver.

Contrary to her expectations, the country never did liberalise and it wasn’t until Bin Ladin had her second child that she began to exhaust her husband’s liberal streak. He resented the way she was bringing them up. He told her the children were not permitted to celebrate their birthdays as this was a Christian affectation. He made no attempt to assuage his wife’s concerns about what would happen were he to die: in Saudi culture, the widow is bequeathed to her husband’s surviving male relatives. They lived in palatial splendour (she cattily remarks in the book that the Bin Ladens have no taste in interior decor, all gold taps and terrible paintings) and it wasn’t unusual for Yeslam to give her $50,000 to go out shopping with. But he started to exclude her from his decisions and, after a fall-out with his brothers, he struck out alone and made another fortune – she puts it at $300m – when he set up Saudi Arabia’s first brokerage firm. The deranged double life they led wore her out; one weekend she and the girls would be water-skiing in France, the next encased in black cloth, virtual prisoners in their own home.

Meet the in-laws

Veiled Kingdom by Carmen bin Ladin is published by Virago.