I was drawn to Carmen Bin Laden's memoir, Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia when I was doing research about the country of Saudi Arabia. I was pleased to find a fascinating story of a woman trying to protect her children from the fall-out after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and raise them to be educated free-thinkers instead of grooming them to become chattel in a severe culture.
Young and deeply in love, this half-Swiss and half-Persian girl married into the vast Bin Laden family. With her European upbringing, she was not prepared for her several years of married life in the male-dominated Muslim world, where "women are no more than house pets." The harsh treatment of Saudi women seems almost criminal, and Carmen doesn't hide the fact that money, status, and location all play an important role in determining how a woman is treated treated. In Saudi Arabia, sequestered Muslim wives are oppressed and treated like second class citizens. It's not only the men who expect women to stay "under wraps," uneducated, and out of the public eye; the older Saudi women often force young women to adopt codes of behavior that turn them into pieces of property. Money, on the other hand, can buy a woman a temporary reprieve, a trip to Europe and America, where an almost unfettered life can be led, but when she returns behind the veil, life becomes frightening.
Not wanting her three young children to be subjected to this upbringing, Carmen fights her way out of a painful marriage and makes a life for her family in Europe and America. Just when things seem to be leveling out, the horror of 9/11 occurs and Carmen has to fight the stigma attached to her married name of Bin Laden.
This painful memoir will be quick to read and difficult to put down, but you may find yourself returning to read again about life Inside the Kingdom.
Carmen Bin Laden lives in Switzerland with her three daughters and has made many public television appearances to speak out against terrorism and the plight of mistreated women of all nationalities. She is the author of two books about life in Saudi Arabia and her books are translated into several languages.
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