Inside The Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia is the true story of a woman born in the western world to mixed parenthood and married to a Saudi Arabian hailing from none other than the much known Bin Laden family – this is a tale of the innocence of childhood, the defining moments of youth and love, the saga that is marriage, the pain that motherhood brings, the bitterness of dreams that go sour when faced with the recklessness of reality.
However, this is not simply one of the many hapless stories of broken marriages and international divorces that are tough on women – this is a narrative convoluted by the clash of religions, beliefs, and faiths – this is the life of Carmen Bin Ladin, sister-in-law of the world’s most dreaded terrorist.
Carmen is a Swiss national now residing in Geneva post her divorce with Yeslam Bin Ladin. Inside The Kingdom chronicles snapshots from Carmen’s life, in her words. She talks about her growing up years in Europe – her strained relationship with her Swiss father and her exotic vacations to her mom’s Persian home in Iran. She lovingly recalls how she fell in love with Yeslam - his commanding presence, his alluring roots, his belief in equality of partners in a relationship, his intelligence. Her fond memories of their time together in California, US and the big fat wedding in Saudi Arabia convince the readers of her assurance of a life of fulfilling love and empowering freedom.
Life is a bubble balanced on swords – and unfortunately, Carmen’s bubble broke. The oil boom in the Middle East in the mid 1970s compelled Yeslam to move back to Saudi Arabia in order to take advantage of all the money that was waiting to be made. And thus, started the long and arduous journey of Carmen – the black cloak or burqa, the thick veil, the walls within homes, the eyes that never meet, the suffocating shadows, the deafening silences, the blatant disregard for individualism, and finally the fervent and fanatic reverence of Islam that threatened to annihilate Carmen and her beautiful daughters.
The final straw to her 11-year marriage was the disintegration of her only pillar of strength – her husband, Yeslam. As his personal traits and attitude collided with the radical Islamism and complicated family politics, his weakness to stand by his wife and daughters against the established system came to the fore.
The book published in 2004 is Carmen’s attempt to distance herself form the “Bin Laden” name that had become a curse for her and her daughters in light of the 9/11 attacks in the US. She was compelled to come out in the open to state her severed ties with the family of 22 wives, 29 daughters and 25 sons – of which Osama Bin Laden was one.
Sadly, her struggle is not over. Though legally divorced in 2006 after a bitter long battle, Carmen still worries about her daughters’ well-being given Yeslam’s constant threats of abduction. Unfortunately, Yeslam holds a Swiss passport in order to keep in touch with his children.
This book is a must read for all of us who are so smug in the cobwebs of our everyday living, so entangled in our small worlds that we forget to thank god for our blessed lives, forget to cherish what we have, and forget to pray for others...
(The lives of women in Saudi Arabia remain deplorable even in today’s times – While modern amenities are making their way to the region, the people continue to steep deeper into the harshest form of Islam – that derived from the Bedouin practices. The power nexus that oil, money, dependence of the western world on Saudia Arabia, and the failure of milder forms of Islam as, for example, preached by the Shah of Iran is blood curdling. Jean Sasson has written a trilogy on the life of a Saudi princess – This is also a true account. You can read about it in my post here.)