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Jewish World Review Jan. 15, 2002 / 2 Shevat, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Oh brothers, where art thou? -- MAYBE you've cried your last tear over terrorism, but that's only because you never gave a thought to the pitiful plight of Abdullah Mohammed bin Laden (a.k.a Binladin). Bin Laden is one of Osama bin Laden's 50 siblings -- or is that 500 siblings? Anyway, this is a man, according to a rare interview he gave to the London Telegraph, of many siblings, many allergies, and many 50-pound notes (more on that below). He is also a man of many gripes. Or at least one big one: "People have no understanding what it is like to be a bin Laden right now," he says. "To be the brother of Mr. O."

Ah, to be a bin Laden ... now that winter is here in Afghanistan. Frankly, I'm not sure anyone much cares. The uninterrupted silence of the bin Laden family since Sept. 11 has, to say the least, done the clan little credit. Aside from periodic bulletins from Osama bin Laden's dear mama -- a Saudi Arabian newspaper most recently quotes Alia Ghanem as having said that she, "like all mothers," is "satisfied and pleased" with her son -- nothing. Mum's the word.

Why? Despite battalions of media specialists and public relations pros in London and New York, the bin Ladens haven't put together any sort of public statement because, as the Telegraph puts it, "there is still no agreement among the extended family on how an international press statement should be worded." But how hard can it be? A member of this extremely "extended" family became the most wanted man in the world after murdering thousands of people sitting at their desks equipped with nothing more than their morning coffee. The official silence of the family is, in a word, unconscionable. It is also especially curious given how much is made of the family's act of having "disowned" the Terrorist Brother some years ago.

Even the simplest statement would be better than nothing -- "Osama is a reviled cretin" -- although they could easily come up with something possessed of a little more heft: "Words cannot describe the enormity of the shame and distress that we, the bin Laden family, feel over the terrible fact that one among us has brought so much suffering and strife into this world ..." But no. "Those in Saudi fear offending Muslims by outright condemnation," the paper reports, and "those in the West fear condemnation by almost everyone." No profiles in courage here.

But back to Abdullah Mohammed bin Laden, he whose life "has changed utterly since September 11."

Does he have nightmares? A loss of appetite? A sense of helpless guilt? Not exactly. Since Sept. 11, this younger brother of Osama bin Laden doesn't use credit cards anymore, poor chap, lest his notorious name incite the shrieks of sales clerks (so stressful). That means, of course, he must personally tote stacks of 50-pound notes, or the equivalent currency, everywhere he goes. He has also given up his favorite pastime, flying airplanes, since, as the paper notes, "the association with the bin Laden name and flying is, of course, a tense subject." He doesn't go jogging, either, when at his home in Boston.

"We have always shunned the limelight," he explains. "Yet authors writing on Osama pick our lives apart and invent sensational lies. ... Much of it is not true, but what can we do?" Here's what the paper labels "the most extreme example": Newspapers ran a vacation photo of family members posing by a Cadillac in Sweden and misidentified one of the dozens -- scores? -- of bin Laden brothers as Osama. He wasn't even there, said his brother. Well, well. What is left to say that hasn't been said about man's inhumanity to man? Just imagine the mental anguish of it all -- he wasn't even in the snapshot! -- and try to answer the one question that springs to mind: How do you say "big deal" in Arabic?

Abdullah Mohammed "sighs heavily" when asked whether he would rather see his brother stand trial or be killed. "I cannot answer that question now. I need more time to think," he replies. "I feel sad, that this (attack) is a tragedy for humanity. And that it is a tragedy for our family. How will people look at our family?"

If it begins to feel as if this interview is veering into the territory of the deeply Gothic, deeply Southern novel (Southern Saudi Arabia, that is), don't be alarmed. Or, rather, be alarmed. The point is, it's not your imagination: Abdullah Mohammed bin Laden's biggest concern, post-Sept. 11, seems to be what people will think of his family.

Answer: not much.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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11/09/01: A beef with bin Laden's Beef Noodles
11/07/01: Facing up to the FBI's past mistakes
11/02/01: A school that teaches patriots to shutup
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10/26/01: The ties that bind (and gag)
10/24/01: This war is more than Afghanistan
10/22/01: The fatuous fatwa
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02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West