The Bin Ladens

Interesting review by Christopher Caldwell of Steve Coll’s biography of Osama’s folks.

Is Osama bin Laden a rebel against the Saudi Arabian ruling class or a model member of it? That question lurks behind “The Bin Ladens,” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker writer Steve Coll. The world’s most famous terrorist owes his fortune and his standing to a family business that Coll calls “the kingdom’s Halliburton.” Like Halliburton, the Saudi Binladin Group specializes in gigantic infrastructure projects. Government connections are the key to the family’s wealth.

Caldwell gives an excellent summary of the book, culminting in the revelation that the bin Ladens are still doing just fine.

Sept. 11 changed the family in two big ways: it made one of the sons into the hero of the Arab world, and it drove up the price of oil, igniting a construction boom. With oil topping $100 a barrel, the bin Laden group is thriving. It has 35,000 employees and expects to double in size in the coming decade. It is building airports in Egypt and elsewhere. In Mecca and Medina, it oversees vast real estate projects. “To please American audiences, the bin Ladens would have to seek forgiveness and denounce Osama,” Coll writes. “To please audiences in the Arab world, where the family’s financial interests predominantly lay, such a posture would be seen as craven.”

Seven years’ distance reveals a brutal reality. For both his family and his country Osama bin Laden’s attacks turned a profit.