The XX Factor

The Sad Saga of the Youngest Mrs. Bin Laden

The truth might have outed about Osama Bin Laden using a wife as a human shield , but the latest version being reported-that his youngest wife charged the Navy SEALs and was shot in the leg-is still disturbing. Vanessa, you had an insightful post yesterday about Bin Laden’s wives and, more largely, marriage in the Muslim world, pointing out that there are loving and respectful relationships even in a place where women have few rights. I think it’s a helpful reminder that marrying for love is a rather modern concept.  If couples hadn’t found a way to live compatibly during the long history of arranged marriages, well, none of us would be here today.

I admit, when I first heard the “human shield,” story, I had mixed feelings. If an American man robbed a bank and, in the course of his getaway, used his wife as a human shield, my sympathy for the woman would be tempered by the thought that, “well, she did CHOOSE to marry a bank robber, so she gets what she gets.” But it’s undeniable that, in Muslim society (as well as others), women often have no say in who they get to marry.

Now we learn-at least according to the latest reports, that Osama’s youngest wife did indeed try to protect him, but wasn’t being used as a shield by her husband. Which nods to Vanessa’s question-why do we assume she has no agency? She could have been acting out of love and devotion. However, ABC News reports that the woman, 29-year-old Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, “had been gifted to the al Qaeda leader from a Yemeni family when she was just a teenager.”

I don’t want to speculate on the nature of their marriage. But this goes even beyond the typical idea of an arranged marriage.  A young woman-a girl, really-was handed over to not just any man, but an extremely powerful man who was held in high regard by her family, as if she were a trinket.  That doesn’t mean they didn’t have a “normal” marriage (or at least as normal a marriage as one can have when one spouse is the most wanted man in the world). But it muddies the picture as to how much “free will” was involved in her running to her husband’s defense.