8/1/08 - osama in school

In today's excerpt - the Muslim Brotherhood, a precursor to Al Qaeda, was established in Egypt in 1928 as a reaction against British colonial rule. Then Gamal Abdel Nasser succeeded the British as a secular military dictator of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood continued their struggle against Nasser. At the same time the ambitious Nasser began a long-term effort to unseat the King of Saudi Arabia by funding an insurgency among other things. So it was only natural that Saudi Arabia provided some support to the Muslim Brotherhood as a matter of self-defense, though that support was given uneasily and they had no great enthusiasm for the Brotherhood's brand of fundamentalism. Due in large part to this support one of the better secondary schools in Saudi Arabia had as one of its teachers a Muslim Brotherhood-influenced teacher--a gym teacher from Syria. In 1972 one of that school's students was ninth-grader, Osama bin Laden, who was described by contemporaries as 'extraordinarily courteous', 'shy', 'an honorable student' and 'serious':

"Around 1971 or 1972, when Osama was in the eighth or ninth grade, he was invited to join an after-school Islamic study group led by one of Al-Thaghr School's Syrian physical education teachers. ... In recruiting candidates for his after-school Islamic study group, [the Syrian teacher] appealed to five or six boys, enticing them with promises of extra credit and organized sports. ...

"At first the study group proceeded as the teacher had promised. 'We'd sit down, read a few verses of the Koran, translate or discuss how it should be interpreted, and many points of view would be offered.' ... Gradually, the teenagers stopped memorizing the Koran and began to read and discuss hadiths, interpretive stories of the life of the Prophet Mohamed, of varied provenance, which are normally studied to help illuminate the ideas imparted by the Koran. Increasingly the Syrian teacher told them 'stories that were really violent,' [a] schoolmate remembered. 'It was mesmerizing.' The schoolmate said he could remember one in particular: It was a story 'about a boy who found God -- exactly like us, our age. He wanted to please God and he found that his father was standing in the way. The father was pulling the rug out from under him when he went to pray. ... Finally, the boy shot the father.' ...

"During the next several years, Osama and the others [in the group] ... openly adopted the styles and convictions of teenage Islamic activists. They let their beards grow, shortened their trouser legs, and declined to iron their shirts (ostensibly to imitate the style of the Prophet's dress), and increasingly, they lectured or debated other students at Al-Thaghr about the urgent need to restore pure Islamic law across the Arab world. ...

"Saud Al-Faisal, a son of the king who would become foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, complained years later that Islamist teachers from Egypt and Syria had 'misused' the hospitality offered them by preaching politics. 'We dealt with them honestly, and they dealt with us underhandedly.' "


Steve Coll


The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century


Penguin Press


Copyright 2008 by Steve Coll


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