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Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia

Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia

3.5 39
by Carmen Bin Ladin, Shohreh Aghdashloo (Read by)

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On September 11, 2001, Carmen bin Ladin heard the news that the Twin Towers had been struck. She instinctively knew that her brother-in-law was involved in these horrifying acts of terrorism, and her heart went out to America. She also knew that her life and the lives of her daughters would never be the same again.

Now, with her candid memoir, she dares to pull


On September 11, 2001, Carmen bin Ladin heard the news that the Twin Towers had been struck. She instinctively knew that her brother-in-law was involved in these horrifying acts of terrorism, and her heart went out to America. She also knew that her life and the lives of her daughters would never be the same again.

Now, with her candid memoir, she dares to pull off the veils that conceal one of the most powerful, secretive, and repressive countries in the world-and the bin Laden family's role within it. Inside the Kingdom is shocking, impossible to put down, and a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the events of today's world.

Editorial Reviews

In 1973, half-Persian, half-Swiss Carmen Dufour married Yeslam bin Laden, Osama's older brother. After a fairy-tale courtship, they married and settled in Saudi Arabia, where Carmen soon received a painful initiation into the strict gender prohibitions of Wahhabi custom. Her Inside the Kingdom not only recounts an often harrowing marriage, which ended in 1988, but also offers unique insights into the family of the world's most notorious terrorist.
Carol Memmott
Bin Ladin's story is a courageous one. To stand up as a woman and share her personal experiences and feelings, although quite subjectively, about the Bin Laden family's daily life in Saudi Arabia is surely a bold and possibly consequential act.
USA Today
Publishers Weekly
Addicted to the "I-married-the-Mob" genre? Try this variation: smart women who marry Islamic fundamentalists. In 1973, Swiss-born Carmen fell in love with Yeslam bin Ladin, Osama's older brother; after a fairy-tale courtship, including a semester together at USC, the two married in Saudi Arabia. Alas, it wasn't long before the fantasy turned sinister. By Saudi Wahhabi custom, women are usually confined to the home. Activities like listening to music or reading books other than the Koran are either sinful or shameful. Only Carmen's young daughters, occasional international trips and her dear, understanding husband helped her cope. Then, things worsened. The 1979 Saudi mobilization to support Afghan Muslims against the Soviet invasion gave religious hard-liners like Osama more clout. Carmen's husband, now a successful Geneva businessman, reverted to a more orthodox lifestyle. Finally, in 1988, Yeslam divorced Carmen, but by bringing charges against her in Saudi Arabia, made certain she feared for her life-and her daughters' freedom-if she ever again entered an Islamic country. Beyond Carmen's terrible story hovers the larger, later tragedy of 9/11. Remember, Carmen warns, the bin Laden brothers have always supported each other, financially and socially. When Osama dies, he'll certainly be replaced. The gravity of the events Carmen writes of, her insider's perspective and her engaging style make this memoir a page-turner. Photos. Agent, Susanna Lea. (July 14) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Half-Swiss and half-Persian, the author has plenty to say about former brother-in-law Osama. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Hachette Audio
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5.25(w) x 5.75(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Inside the Kingdom

By Carmen Bin Ladin

Warner Books

Copyright © 2004 Carmen Bin Ladin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-57708-1

Chapter One


SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, WAS ONE OF THE MOST TRAGIC dates of our lifetimes. It took, and shattered, the lives of thousands of innocent people. It robbed the Western world of its sense of freedom and security. For me, it was a nightmare of grief and horror-one that will imprison me and my three daughters for the rest of our lives.

And yet 9/11 began as a lovely Indian summer day. I was enjoying a leisurely drive from Lausanne to Geneva with my eldest daughter, Wafah, when one of my closest friends, who was working in New York, called me on my cell phone.

"Something terrible just happened," he told me, his voice urgent, from his office in Manhattan. "I'm watching the news. It's incredible: A plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center." And then, his voice rising further, he yelled, "Wait a minute-there's another plane-it's going straight toward the second tower. Oh my God"-he was screaming now-"it hit the second tower!"

As he described the second hit, something in me snapped. This was no freak accident. This had to be a deliberately plotted attack, on a country I had always loved and looked on as my second home. I froze. Then waves of horror crashed over me as I realized that somewhere at the bottom of this lay the shadow of my brother-in-law: Osama Bin Laden.

Beside me in the car, my daughter Wafah was yelling, "What? What happened?" I was in shock. I managed to force out a few words. Wafah lived in New York. She had just graduated from Columbia Law School, and had spent the summer with me in Switzerland. She was planning to head back to her New York apartment in four days' time. Now she was in tears, frantically punching in numbers on her cell phone, trying to reach all her friends.

My first instinct was to call my dearest friend, Mary Martha, in California. I had to hear her voice. She had already heard about the double attack in New York, and she told me a third plane had just hit the Pentagon. The world was spinning off its axis: I could feel it.

I raced to the high school attended by my youngest daughter, Noor. The look of shock in her eyes told me she already knew. The blood had drained from her face.

We rushed home to meet my middle girl, Najia, as she returned from college. She, too, was devastated. Like many millions of other people around the world, the children and I watched CNN, mesmerized, alternately weeping and phoning everyone we knew.

As the hours passed, my worst fear came true. One man's face and name was on every news bulletin: Osama Bin Laden. My daughters' uncle. A man whose name they shared, but whom they had never met, and whose values were totally foreign to them. I felt a sick sense of doom. This day would change all of our lives, forever.

OSAMA BIN LADEN IS THE YOUNGER BROTHER OF MY husband, Yeslam. He is one of many brothers, and I knew him only distantly, when I lived in Saudi Arabia, years ago. At the time, Osama was a young man, but he always had a commanding presence. Osama was tall, and stern, and his fierce piety was intimidating, even to the more religious members of his family.

During the years that I lived among the Bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia, Osama came to exemplify everything that repelled me in that opaque and harsh country: the unbending dogma that ruled all our lives, the arrogance and pridefulness of the Saudis, and their lack of compassion for people who didn't share their beliefs. That contempt for outsiders, and unyielding orthodoxy, spurred me on to a fourteen-year struggle to give my children a life of freedom.

In my struggle to sever our ties to Saudi Arabia, I began amassing information on my husband's family. I watched as Osama grew in might and notoriety, spiraling deeper into murderous rage against the United States from his redoubt in Afghanistan.

Osama was a warlord, who assisted the Afghan rebels in their fight against the Soviet occupation of their country. When the Soviets left, Osama returned home, to Saudi Arabia. For many he was already a hero.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, in 1990, Osama was outraged at the idea that U.S. forces might use Saudi Arabia as a base. He offered Saudi King Fahd the use of his Afghan warriors to fight Saddam Hussein. Some of the more religious princes thought Osama's ideas had merit, but King Fahd refused.

Osama began making incendiary statements against the corruption and moral bankruptcy of the Saudi ruling family, and the Americans who were defending them. Finally, Osama was forced to leave his country, and take refuge in Sudan, where his compound of armed men was surrounded by sentries in tanks. Then he moved back to Afghanistan.

In those days, even though we were separated, I was still on speaking terms with Yeslam, who kept me up-to-date on the evolution in Saudi Arabia and the Bin Laden family news-including Osama's whereabouts. Yeslam told me that Osama's power was growing, despite his exile. Osama, he said, was under the protection of conservative members of the Saudi royal family.

In 1996, when a truck bomb blasted the Khobar Towers living quarters of American forces posted in Dahran, in eastern Saudi Arabia, Osama was mentioned as a possible culprit. I was dumbstruck, yet I knew it could be true. Who else could possibly have at his disposal enough explosives in a country so highly controlled? Osama was a warrior, a zealot, and a member of the family that jointly owned the Bin Laden Organization-the wealthiest and most powerful construction company in Saudi Arabia. I knew of Osama's fiercely extreme opinions, and deep down I felt that he was capable of a terrible, blind violence.

As attack followed attack, I read everything I could lay my hands on about Osama. So on September 9, 2001, when the news broke of the attack on Afghan fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, I realized it had to be Osama's doing. I walked over to the television, with a sick feeling. "This is Osama. He is getting ready for something truly awful." "Oh Carmen, you're obsessed," scoffed a friend of mine. But I knew.

I wish I had been wrong.

It never occurred to me that Osama was plotting an assault on the heart of New York. I thought perhaps it would be an embassy-that would have been bad enough. But when the World Trade Center went down in flames just two days after Massoud's death, it hit me again. The sick feeling in my stomach. The fear.

Now I know that it will never go away again.

In the days that followed the attack on the World Trade Center, our lives revolved around the TV news bulletins. The toll of victims kept rising, as the dust settled on the ashen streets of my children's favorite city. We watched people searching for the missing, clutching old snapshots in their hands. Bereaved relatives told reporters about the last phone messages left on their answering machines before their loved ones died. There were those awful photographs of people jumping. I kept thinking, "What if Wafah had been there?" I felt so very deeply for those mothers, for those children.

My three girls were distraught with grief and bewilderment. Noor, the girl who just one year earlier had brought an American flag home from South Carolina to stick on her bedroom wall, sank into despondency. She sobbed, "Mom, New York will never be the same." Fortunately, she never became the target of hostility from her classmates: Her pro-American cheerleading had made her the subject of friendly teasing for years, so all her friends realized how truly hurt my little girl was.

We hardly left the house. Reporters called constantly: I was the only Bin Laden in Europe with a listed phone number. Friends called, their voices strained. Then they stopped calling. We were rapidly becoming personae non grata. The Bin Laden name frightened even the hardiest professionals. A new law firm refused to take my divorce case: I suddenly found myself without a lawyer.

Of all of us, it was Najia who focused most on the suffering of the World Trade Center's victims. She couldn't bear to watch TV most of the time. Her name was becoming public currency: This was particularly hard to bear for such a private person. Najia is perhaps the most discreet of all my children. She doesn't display her emotions easily, but I could see she was stricken.

The terrible irony was that we identified, and grieved, with the victims, while the outside world saw us as aggressors. We were trapped in a Kafkaesque situation-particularly Wafah. After four years of law school, Wafah's life was in New York. Her apartment was just blocks from the World Trade Center. She talked night and day about her friends there; she felt she had to be in New York, and wanted to fly back immediately.

Then one newspaper reported that Wafah had been tipped off: She had, they said, fled New York just days before the attack. This was untrue. Wafah had been with me, in Switzerland, since June. But other papers picked up the story. They said Wafah had known in advance about the attack, and had done nothing to protect the people and the home that she loved.

A friend who was staying in Wafah's New York apartment called: She had begun receiving death threats. It was an understandable reaction-how could strangers distinguish one Bin Laden from another?

I felt I had no choice. I alone could defend my daughters. I issued a statement saying that my three girls and I had had no connection whatsoever with this evil, barbaric attack on America, a country we loved and whose values we shared and admired. I went on TV. I wrote to the newspapers to express our sorrow. My long battle to free myself and my children from the ideals of Saudi Arabia was all the evidence I could offer for our innocence: that, and our goodwill, and the pain we felt for Osama's victims.

I had so longed for an end to my bitter fight against the Bin Ladens and their country. But now I faced a whole new struggle. I would have to shepherd my children through the anguish they felt as their name became synonymous with evil, infamy, and death.

My private life had become a public story.

IRONICALLY, IT WAS ONLY AFTER SEPTEMBER 11 THAT my fourteen-year fight for freedom from Saudi Arabia made sense to the people around me. Before that, I think no one truly understood what was at stake-not the courts, not the judge, not even my friends. Even in my own country, Switzerland, I was perceived, more or less, as just another woman embroiled in a nasty international divorce.

But I always knew that my fight went far deeper than that. I was fighting to gain freedom from one of the most powerful societies and families in the world-to salvage my daughters from a merciless culture that denied their most basic rights. In Saudi Arabia they could not even walk alone in the street, let alone choose the path of their own lives. I fought to free them from the hard-core fundamentalist values of Saudi Arabian society, and its contempt for the tolerance and liberty of the West, which I have learned to value deeply.

I am afraid that even today, the West does not fully understand Saudi Arabia and its rigid value system. For nine years, I lived inside the powerful Bin Laden clan, with its close and complex links to the royal family. My daughters went to Saudi schools. I lived, to a great extent, the life of a Saudi woman. And over time, I learned and analyzed the mechanisms of that opaque society, and the harsh and bitter rules that it enforces on its daughters.

I could not stand quietly by while my little girls' bright minds were extinguished. I could not teach them to submit to the values of Saudi Arabia. I could not watch them be branded as rebels because of the Western values that I taught them-despite all the punishment that might ensue. And were they to comply with Saudi society, I could not face the prospect that my daughters might grow up to become like the faceless, voiceless women I lived among.

Above all I could not watch my daughters be denied what I valued most: freedom of choice. I had to free them, and myself.

This is my story.


Excerpted from Inside the Kingdom by Carmen Bin Ladin Copyright © 2004 by Carmen Bin Ladin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
During the course of taking a class on the modern Middle East, I came across this book in my search to get a more personalized perspective on the region. Initially, I didn't think the book would be all that informative or interesting because I was under the impression that the author was just capitalizing on her tie to bin Ladin family. However, that was not the case at all. The book was a compelling vista into lives of women in Saudi Arabia and how repressive that existance can be. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Middle East, Women's Studies or just enjoys well written autobiographies.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having heard only the name Osama Bin Ladin in the news, I never really thought of the women in that family. This book not only gives a new look 'behind the name', but through the eyes and experiences of a woman who also had to learn the culture. Whether through the book or through the CD, the reader's attention is kept and swept along by the author. Reading and re-reading is like learning more of the history of an ancient culture in modern times. This is a book that should be added to the 'must read' list.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was a little hesitant to pick up this book and boy am I glad I did. It's a quick, easy read and really opens the eyes of any woman to see what it would be like in the country of Saudi Arabia. I'm blessed to be able to have my freedom and make my own choices and raise my children the way I'd like. A must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book, and it definitely opened my eyes to a world that is completely foreign to me. Carmen writes with honesty, and she doesn't attempt to explain things she doesn't understand. This is truly an autobiography---it is her story, from HER perspective. To that end, I'm surprised at how critical the reviews have been, people claiming she only saw her side of it, that maybe the Bin Laden women were happy and she just couldn't see it---I wonder if any of these people can claim they've grown up in a western society, then moved to Saudi Arabia after marrying into one of the wealthiest and most notorious families of the middle east? Probably not! So how can they know? There are few surprises here, but its still a fascinating read and I recommend it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book to anyone interested in a true life account of life in Saudi Arabia for women. Very interesting first hand account and a very quick read. I really enjoyed the little bit of history lessons thrown in with her account. Written very well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anita-2674 More than 1 year ago
"This book had me spellbound from beginning to the end. I loved this book because it sparked my curiosities and gave me the in-depth look inside the daily routines and extremely sheltered lives of women in Saudi Arabia. What drew my attention to this book was that it entailed the personal life experiences of Carmen Bin Ladin, while being married at the time to her now ex-husband, Yeslam Bin Ladin and brother of Osama Bin Ladin. What a tangled web poor Carmen fell into and was trapped for many years while married to Yeslam. In her book, Carmen describes the many layers of the required codes of conduct, both inside her home in the kingdom and outside in public, and describes the beliefs and interactions she had with the other women of the Bin Ladin clan. The Saudi Arabian lifestyle became difficult for Carmen to conform to and accept, in every aspect of her life as a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law in Saudi Arabia. Carmen, the author, describes in her book how her freedom to make her own decisions and to voice her own opinions became a privilege she desperately needed to recover, which she lost in Saudi Arabia. Her human rights of freedom became a valuable necessity for the happiness of herself and her daughters. I admire Carmen for having the strength to stay true to herself, not change her beliefs to please her husband and his family. She didn't allow her young daughters to accept the Saudi lifestyle and the nightmares she had endured. Therefore, she followed her heart and instincts by divorcing her husband Yeslam and attained full custody of her daughters. It was heartbreaking that Yeslam turned his back on his own children and cut them off financially and denied he was the father. To make matters worst, Yeslam's side of the family also turned their backs to Carmen and her daughters. This book served as an educational tool for me, because it taught me that not everything that sparkles is gold, and to be cautious of who you open your heart to because you can end up with a wolf in sheeps clothing".
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LarkAbroad More than 1 year ago
Carmen sincerely reviews her life in Saudi Arabia, how she got stuck there and what compelled her to break free from oppression there.
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Becky Fox More than 1 year ago
A quick read. Entertaining and an interesting snap shot into how quickly things can change and the unfortunate fall out.
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Medora More than 1 year ago
From Page 1, the reader is literally captured, and transported to Middle East, with 1st hand accounts from an extremely knowledgeable, reputable source. Every mother- every father, and every youmg female should read this book- and learn!
TexasChica More than 1 year ago
I will recomend this book to anyone! I loved it! She explains everything in such great detail. At times in this book, I did want to cry. Part of it is very sad. I am part persian, and I can see where she is coming from. P.S. I am trying to read 20 books by 2010, If you would like a list of the books I am reading. email me at dorkysissy[at]yahoo[dot]com
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