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 horrorone 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 minutethere's another planeit'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.
Copyright © 2004 by Carmen Bin Ladin.
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