July 8, 2009 | 4:36 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Last week, Steve Coll, who has spent the past decade digging deep into the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, wrote on the New Yorker’s Think Tank blog that the question of whether bin Laden had ever been in the United States had finally been answered. Coll wrote:
The question of whether Osama bin Laden has ever visited the United States, a subject on which I have expended an unhealthy amount of energy in the course of various journalistic and biographical research, has now seemingly been settled. Osama was here for two weeks in 1979, it seems, and he visited Indiana and Los Angeles, among other places. He had a favorable encounter with an American medical doctor; he also reportedly met in Los Angeles with his spiritual mentor of the time, the Palestinian radical Abdullah Azzam.
This settling of the debate, Coll says, is thanks to a new forthcoming book by Osama’s first wife, Najwa bin Laden, and his son, “Growing Up bin Laden.”
“Not a particularly consequential experience, perhaps,” Coll wrote, “but surely one that has a life in Osama’s memory and imagination—and another indication, among many available in his life, that he should be understood not only as a self-isolating radical imbued with millenarian religious narratives, but also as a modern and globalized figure whose experiences and outlook belong very much to our age.”
Thanks to LAObserved for the link to Coll’s piece. After the jump, an excerpt from a bound galley of “Growing Up bin Laden” and a classic “South Park” clip mocking Osama:
One evening he [Osama] arrived home with a surprise announcement: ’Najwa, We are going to travel to the United States. Our boys are going with us.’
I was shocked, to tell you the truth…Pregnant, and busy with two babies, I remember few details of our travel, other than we passed through London before flying to a place I had never heard of, a state in America called Indiana. Osama told me that he was meeting with a man by the name of Abdullah Azzam. Since my husband’s business was not my business, I did not ask questions.
I was worried about Abdul Rahman because he had become quite ill on the trip and was even suffering with a high fever. Osama arranged for us to see a doctor in Indianapolis. I relaxed after that kindly physician assured us that Abdul Rahman would soon be fine.
…I am sometimes questioned about my personal opinion of the country and its people. This is surprisingly difficult to answer. We were there for only two weeks, and for one of those weeks, Osama was away in Los Angeles to meet with some men in that city. The boys and I were left behind in Indiana with a girlfriend whom I would rather not name…
My girlfriend was gracious and guided me on short trips…We even went into a big shopping mall in Indianapolis…
I came to believe that Americans were gentle and nice, people easy to deal with. As far as the country itself goes, my husband and I did not hate America, yet we did not love it.
There was one incident that reminded me that some Americans are unaware of other cultures. When the time came for us to leave America, Osama and I, along with our two boys, waited for our departure at the airport in Indiana. I was sitting quietly in my chair, relaxing, grateful that our boys were quiet….
I saw an American man gawking at me. I knew without asking that his unwelcome attention had been snagged by my black Saudi costume…
I took a side glance at Osama and saw that he was intently studying the curious man. I knew that my husband would never allow the man to approach me…
When my husband and I discussed the incident, we were both more amused than offended. That man gave us a good laugh, as it was clear he had no knowledge of veiled women…
We returned to Saudi Arabia none the worse for our experiences.
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