Penguin (2008), 671 pages
The Bin Ladens: Oil, Money, Terrorism and the Secret Saudi World is an in-depth look at the Bin Laden family from their time as Yemeni emigrants to Osama Bin Laden’s role in mass murder and the tarnishing of his family’s name. Any reader looking for a biography of Osama Bin Laden should look elsewhere; over two-thirds of this book is devoted to family members other than Osama.
Osama’s father, Mohammed Bin Laden, single-handedly built the Bin Laden construction empire and earned his wealth through contracts granted by the Saudi royal family. After Mohammed’s death the Bin Laden companies were led by Osama’s colourful brother Salem Bin Laden. Mohammed Bin Laden fathered 54 children by 22 wives (he divorced wives so that he never had more than an Islamically acceptable four wives at a time). Mohammed divorced Osama’s mother Alia a few years after their marriage. Alia remarried and Osama moved with her away from the Bin Laden compound. It’s possible he resented this sense of exclusion from the seat of Bin Laden power, even if he was still entitled to a share of the Bin Laden wealth. Coll estimates that in his lifetime (Bin Laden’s terrorist activities eventually led to them cutting off his funds) Bin Laden received about $27 million.
As a youth Bin Laden became involved in Islamic extremism. This extremism initially found its outlet in jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Following the Afghan war Osama’s opposition to Saudi policy, especially the sanctioning of US troops on Saudi soil during the Gulf War, led to outright opposition to the Saudi regime. In the Bin Laden family, as in the Saudi royal family, and Saudi society in general there are liberal and conservative wings. Osama’s extreme views would have been tolerated if he had restricted himself applying them to his family life. Osama’s justifiable accusations of hypocrisy against the royal family could not be tolerated especially as they threatened the family business. Perhaps Osama’s own insecurities in relation to his position in the Bin Laden clan enabled him to justify mass murder as a way of forging a identity separate from the Bin Laden business.