The impacts of parenting pitfalls on the life of Osama Bin Laden

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It’s almost everyone’s contemplation that most acts of terrorism are an outright expression of religious fundamentalism. Indeed more credence is lent to this belief by the declaration of some “terrorists”  themselves, most of whom claim to be fighting “Holly wars”or Jihad. Some actors in “terrorist” circles proudly designate themselves as mujahideen or  “God’s fighters”. And religious fundamentalism isn’t limited to just one religion.  Different religious sects seem to have their own version of fundamentalists; it is only the grand scale and scope of overt atrocities committed by certain fundamentalists that make them stand out of the crowd.

However, upon subtle circumspection, the uniqueness or barbarity of some of such acts can only portray that religion is just one of the many factors, not the sole factor fueling terrorism. If it is Boko Haram bombing innocent Christians in churches, one may astutely conclude that religious fundamentalism is at play, but what about the suicide bombing being orchestrated by Al-Shabab in Somalia, a country in which 99% of the populations are Muslims?  For Somalia’s case, it implies they are killing fellow Muslims purportedly in the name of the Almighty. That is so ridiculous.  I doubt that they are doing so in the name of the almighty. In any case, since when should powerless human being fight on behalf of a powerful deity?

Certainly, not all religious people take pride in killing or harming others.  That alone elucidates that for those individuals who take pride in killing others, there must be other factors driving them to do what they do, not just religion per se.  The biggest culprit seems to be ignorance and unconsciousness. Anybody can be religious, but it takes some amount of unconsciousness for one to venture into killing innocent people just because of religious differences.  Mark Twain, an atheist once observed that “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction”.

Osama Bin Laden’s life, as detailed in Adam Robinson’s book, “Bin Laden; Behind the mask of the terrorist” does offer some valuable clue on the childhood of the “future terrorist”. Surprisingly, poverty, which is billed as one of the factors behind proliferation of terrorism wasn’t the case for Osama. His father was a wealthy contractor who is known to have yearly sponsored poor Muslims to go to for pilgrimage mecca.  In the 1960’s Saudi Arabia economic crisis, Mohamed Bin Laden single handedly bailed out the Saudi government by paying government workers from his own money. In an interview with Arabic Television interviewer, Osama boasted that his father “built the holy Mecca mosque where the holy Kaabah is located and at the same time  because of God’s blessings to him, he built the holy mosque in Medina for our Prophet”.

Why would a man from such a wealthy family give up his luxury to engage in clandestine activities such as “terrorism”? One of the factors goes back to Osama’s life as a child. The deep rift that had opened between his parents went on to overshadow the first and the most painful chapter in Osama’s life. By the time Osama was born, his mother, Hamida, was isolated and ostracized. Hamida was spitefully nicknamed Al Abeda (the slave) and Osama was soon callously branded Ibn Al Abeda (son of a slave) . It was so harsh for him as a kid, it cut him like a knife.

To even make things worse for Osama, children being children, his siblings often ridiculed him basing on the “Ibn Al Abeda” tag. Because of that he was characteristically introverted, often isolated himself and was reluctant to participate in family life. This instead made him both unpopular and shunned as playmates by his siblings. It hurt and confused him, to an extent that he sought attention through silly childish antics and mischief. He was however clever enough to transform himself into a dutiful, well behaved son whenever his father was nearby.

As he grew older, he continuously felt deeply hurt with mounting anger. There was no way the youngster would recognize the affections of a nanny or a nurse to be the same as the permanent and deep love of a mother. The fact that other siblings had their mothers only exacerbated the gravity of his emotional problems. It is said much of his early isolation was self-imposed while the wounds to his immature pride had been largely self-inflicted. He was over-sensitive, and often misinterpreted childish squabbling with his peers as vicious personal attacks, even though in reality much what his siblings said about him were mere childish jokes.

Brian Fyfield-Shayler, an English teacher who taught Osama at Al-Thaghr school described him as a reticent student never spoke in class unless called upon and preferred to sit anonymously at the rear of the class. Unlike many students who wanted to show you how clever they are by raising their hands to give answers, Osama wasn’t their type. Even if he knew the answer to something, he wouldn’t parade the fact. The only exception to the norm was during Islamic studies. In this particular class, his was the first hand in the air when questions were asked.

After the death of his father in 1967, Osama aged ten, finally got the chance to see his mother Tabuk. They both cried at the sight of each other. Interestingly, after only a couple of months at Tabuk, Osama had withdrawn almost completely from his mother and interaction between the two became virtually nonexistent. It was around 1973 that Osama at last began to reconstruct the bonds with his mother.

Osama is said to have been simply aloof and preferred to remain in his room to socializing. With no real friends to speak of, he sought refuge in books. His appetite for reading was insatiable. Returning home from school, within minutes he would be safely ensconced in his room – reading books.  Replacing people with books was a diversion that worked in the short term, but in the longer term his social skills suffered immensely. He became an outcast, only the obligation of attending school preventing a complete introversion. All that reading had not been in vain as his exam results were excellent.

 The strange twist in Osama’s life was when he completed secondary school and went to Beirut for further studies. He boasted of a car and a chauffeur. He was driven across the city in a top-of the-range silver Mercedes-Benz 350 SE.  In Beirut, Osama interestingly transformed himself from a depressed, God-fearing, Koran-quoting young Saudi to another extreme of a lively, bar-hopping drunkard who at one point. Lebanon gave Osama a taste of acceptance and friendship that he had hankered after

all his life. At Beirut he took a more liberal attitude towards religion, adopting what would perhaps most accurately be described as a pacifist approach.  Despite the abundance of mosques,

he was lax about praying five times a day. Gradually his appearances at school became less frequent to the point where he was no longer even missed at school. Now café society, as much as nightclubs and bars, became his focus.

Wish his cash, an exclusive front table near the stage was always Osama’s, despite the Casbah night club being perennially full. Should he arrive unexpectedly, the manager would think nothing of offending other customers to clear space. At the Crazy Horse night club, his table was one of the finest in the house, and when he arrived it was already well stocked with Dom Perignon and Black Label in anticipation. Periodically he would switch from whisky to champagne, back and forth, and in doing so get hopelessly drunk. Osama’s fun in Beirut was cut short by Lebanon civil war of 1975.

Osama was the only one of Mohammed bin Laden’s sons to go off the rails. His other siblings were in several European capitals and throughout the United States, where they went on to become respected business leaders, advocates of law and decent citizens.

After Lebanon civil war cut short his “further studies”, the family decreed that Osama should no longer be allowed to go and study in foreign countries, as that will allow him to begin where he stopped with regards to drinking and “reckless” life.  As is often the case for youths in the autocratic Saudi family hierarchies, and indeed Arab society, Osama was given little room for input into decisions regarding his life and found himself studying economics and Islamic economics he detested both.

Such is Osama’s extraordinary life. At least his life style in Beirut showed that he wasn’t so much religious at the time. As many people had already given up that Osama was beyond redemption, the catalyst to his redemption came in 1977. His brother Salim, although not dogmatically religious himself, had made plans to perform the Hajj pilgrimage and invited Osama to join him. Visiting the site of the Prophet’s revelation had some impact on Osama; he quit drinking. By the end of Hajj, Osama bin Laden returned home in Jeddah as a changed man. He now prayed five times a day, something that he had not done since his early days in Lebanon.

It was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that marked a turning point in Osama’s career. He provided funds and supplies to aid the resistance, set up training camps, trenches, roads, recruited and transported large numbers of military volunteers from many countries to fight the Soviet invaders. When the war neared its end in 1988, Bin Laden established al-Qaeda (Arabic for “the Base”).


Here’s What Stands in the Way Of Africa Becoming an Economic Success

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By Diptesh Soni

Recent statistics compiled by the Economist‘s Intelligence Unit forecast economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa – specifically South Africa, Angola, Kenya, and Nigeria – to increase from 3.7% to 6% percent within the next five years. Indeed, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the continent’s growth trajectory: improved fiscal management, sustained crude oil prices, and the high start-up costs for mining ventures mean that the slow shift from export-led to consumer-led growth that occurred in China will not devastate African economies. Others have cited rapid urbanization and a demographic shift as further reasons to expect big things in upcoming years.

But much of the optimism surrounding future African growth rests on weak assumptions. There’s no guarantee that an influx of young workers will provide cheap labor to sub-Saharan Africa, for example. African economies already suffer from a severe shortage of adequate skills in the labor force, and while countries have made strides in increasing access to basic education, the quality of the instruction that students receive in the classroom remains poor. As the UN’s 2013 Human Development Report highlights, high fertility rates in Africa were likely a direct consequence of expenditure cuts in education. If Africans are not given a proper education, fertility rates will remain high and the demographic shift will become a youth burden.

The belief that rapid urbanization will yield rapid development is also suspect. While it may be true that “large urban centers allow for innovation and increase economies of scale,” as Wolfgang Fengler of the World Bank claims, African urbanization has been ad hoc and chaotic. Governments and donors across the continent have been unable to provide growing urban populations with basic services, let alone viable employment, and as a result many of the poor are stuck in slums. Khayelitsha in South Africa and Kibera in Kenya are just two examples of these struggling cities.

The purported rise of the African “middle class” also warrants clarification: The African Development Bank deems as “middle class” anyone earning between $2 and $20 a day, 60% of whom fall into the “floating” middle class made up of those who earn between $2 and $4 a day. These people could easily slip back in to poverty. Others such as Citigroup’s David Cowan cite high levels of inequality, which force businesses to cater either to the emerging wealthy elite or the consuming poor, as creating little room for a middle class.

American giants such as IBMWalMart, and General Electric are making inroads into African markets, to say nothing of Chinese investors. While these movements might be harbingers of growth to come, the danger of assuming big growth figures lies in the possibility for complacency. Demographic trends will not yield dividends, nor will large urban centers yield attractive economies of scale, if governments and donors do not step up to solve Africa’s problems of human and physical development.

Africa is well positioned for a grand economic takeoff, but transforming deeply agrarian economies into global manufacturers will entail transforming large urban and youth populations into productive assets. This will require greater and more innovative investments in infrastructure, energy, education, and social services.

Mr. Diptesh is a Master’s candidate at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) studying Economic and Political Development