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Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia    by Carmen Bin Ladin order for
Inside the Kingdom
by Carmen Bin Ladin
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Carmen Bin Ladin comes from intellectual parents, a Swiss father and an Iranian mother. Her father left in later years, bringing shame to her mother, who raised her four daughters with strict decorum, and for many years dressed them all alike. They were brought up according to the 'conventions of Middle Eastern culture, where clan rules are more important than personality. In the Middle East, you never develop as an individual.'

Yeslam Bin Ladin was a tourist in Switzerland when Carmen met him. They married in 1974, and attended the University of Southern California. She knew little of the Bin Laden hierarchy, soon learning that Yeslam came from a family of twenty-five brothers and twenty-nine sisters. She tells us of a first encounter with the 'odd rules' of Saudi Arabia when they were out for an evening. 'Yeslam told me pointedly that I shouldn't dance with his brother Salem, if he asked as then Salem would get the 'wrong impression of me'.' After their move from the States to Saudi Arabia, Carmen faced adjustments, struggles, and changes, including wearing the black abaya.

Yeslam and Carmen worked at, and were close in their marriage, which was solid for nine years. Carmen had the love and respect of her husband, but that began to change along with the culture around them. The Bin Laden brothers' rivalries resulted in power struggles and shady deals in the family businesses. Carmen's and Yeslam's marital separation began in 1988, resulting in a fight for the custody of their daughters. She fled the clan and fought to save her three daughters, Wafah, Najia, and Noor, so that they could grow into free-thinking women, with choices. The youngest daughter Noor has never been on Saudi soil.

Carmen condemns Osama whom she seldom saw, defining him as an imposing, threatening, and powerful figure. She traces Bin Laden ties with royals from Sheik Mohammed, who began the thriving Bin Laden Organization. She makes a strong case that oppression, combined with fanaticism, dominates Saudi society. Carmen says 'the Saudi are the Taliban, in luxury ... among puritanical-male domination, women are no more than house pets.' Saudi law gives husbands a divorce-at-will with no court proceedings, and the children can be taken away forever.

At first glance, Carmen Bin Ladin's writing is simple - about falling in love, marriage, and the pleasure of her children. As her story continues, she offers a candid view into the Saudi kingdom, and builds to a life in fear. Of herself, she says, 'In those beginning days, I had no fear and felt no limits. I had found my life's partner and I felt I could take on the world. My temerity knew no bounds. I KNEW NOTHING!.' I recommend Inside the Kingdom as an informative, quick and thoughtful read, written by a woman with the courage to open her life to public scrutiny.

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