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Non Fiction

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

You may have noticed that I am on a bit of review slump these past 3 weeks. I reviewed almost every book I read except manuals and guidebooks of course, and with 4 books in queue, I was getting a bit pressurised. All is well, once I start, I can’t stop. First up is this book Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden? I hope you enjoy my string of reviews but don’t forget to take time to tell me what you think of each one of them, especially this first one which holds a special place in my heart!

I picked the book up at my local library’s feature month “In the News”. Osama bin Laden seems like old news, but is he?

I first watch Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden (OBL)? documentary in 2009. Every Muslim country may have known about the documentary, because I bought my DVD copy of the documentary from Morocco. I didn’t know the movie maker published a book. 😉

Watch the documentary trailer:

Not knowing what to expect from the DVD I was quite taken up by Spurlock’s humour. Spurlock embarked his search of OBL with intellectual rigour, bravado and a great sense of humour that had me in stitches from laughing too hard (don’t forget to watch Osama Bin Laden doing the MC Hammer’s signature theme “Can’t touch this” at the end of my post!) and along the way learning more than a thing or two about Osama bin Laden, his network and what Middle Eastern countrymen think about him.

You see, Spurlock and his partner Alex is about to have a baby. Spurlock wonders what kind of world that he is bringing his baby into and felt a need to make the world safe for the future generations. Kicking off his quest in New York City, Morgan Spurlock zigzags the globe in search of the bearded man. He has been to (in chronological order) Britain, France, Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, drawing ever close to the heart of darkness in the tribal regions of Pakistan.

But what did I really know about him? What did I know about his life before September 11?Where did he come from? Where did he get his ideas? Why did he decide to start Al Qaeda? Was he married? Did he have kids? Did they run and hug him when he came home to the cave after a hard day of global Jihadism?(“What did you do at work today, Daddy?” “Oh, I terrorised the West.” “Cool!”) And what was he doing living in a cave, anyway? Wasn’t he, like, a multimillionaire? What drove him to give up the cushy life in favour of waging jihad?

Along the way he meets with experts and imams. His interviewee coverage is wide and far and includes many famous names: Reza Aslan, writer of No God but God, Martin McGuinness (ex-IRA turned deputy Prime Minister), Prince Hassan bin Talal etc.

He also breaks the Ramadan fast with Muslim families, eat with Ahmed in Casablanca’s Boudonville (French word for the slum), helps disarm bombs with an Israeli squad, accompanies British and US Armies in Afghanistan and much much more.. all in an attempt to understand the Muslim world and the roots of the conflict overshadowing the world today.

I read a lot about Middle East history and politics, and experienced first hand the culture of Middle East, Arabs particularly, yet Spurlock provides me the research and insights seen from the perspectives of Osama Bin Laden. What is his family background? Where and when his ideas are germinated? What does Al Qaeda believes in? What are his plans? (I don’t want to unsettle you, but imagine my shock when I read that OBL has a well articulated 2020 plan). Why is he attacking the world? What are the reactions of the politicians of the Arab world? What do the people of the Middle East thinks about OBL? etc. etc. Spurlock attempts to provide explanations for the questions people around the world are asking by interviews that he conducted.

The thing is Spurlock is not judgemental in his outlook. He doesn’t make his own conclusion throughout the book except fair to say that all of us want peace, even the Middle Eastern wants peace at the end the book. His materials are well researched, it breaks down Middle Eastern politics into easily digestible chunks and deftly handle topics of serious issues with the right pinch of humour. A class act.

My favourite passages:

What fundamentalism in all religions, has in common is that it’s not an independent ideology. Fundamentalism is a Reactionary ideology. It needs something to rebel against. – (pg 19) Reza Aslan.

Q: The IRA and the PLO were eventually persuaded to abandon violence and work for peaceful political change. Do you think Al Qaeda can be persuaded to do the same thing?

A: The problem with Al Qaeda is that there are clearly elements of the movement that seem beyond politics, that have devoted themselves to a vision of transformation, a vision of religious ecstasy, that is beyond negotiations. Trying to separate those who will never negotiate and form a kind of death cult from those who politically aggrieved and may be prepared to accept ordinary politics as a vehicle for their grievances – that’s the key. It’s really difficult, because within a movement like Al Qaeda there is no parliamentary party, there is no nation-state. It’s a global movement that imagines itself to be representative of a community of believers dispersed all over the world.pg 31 – Steve Coll, author of Ghost wars: the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001.

Terrorists were frightening because they seemed completely normal, except for their ideological zeal. – (pg 165) Dr. Post

If you first read the book title, it draws you to it. Then you see the poster, you would think with the moustachioed Morgan Spurlock  sitting atop a camel, holding on for dear life as the beast races towards you and…. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was a new Jim Carey movie. It may have been dismissed as B rate film and not taken seriously. No doubt setting up to find OBL the man himself is ominous to fail, so what is this guy on about??

The thing is this is a great current affair book. The documentary is a slice down version of the book and I am so glad that I read the book. The documentary didn’t cover his track in Britain, Ireland and France, and the many more interviewees that he talked to. The scenes that I saw in the documentary enhanced my reading pleasure of the book, as I can visualise the faces of people that he talked to. However, the book did not mention this ugly scene encountered in Jerusalem:

Rating: 5/5

What I like most about the book: Travelogue, informative, political discussion, current affairs, best of all humour, and Spurlock pulls it off with grace. Who can ask for more? All the ingredients of a great reading experience for me. My other half said this is one book that you want to keep reading and never want it to come to an end. I couldn’t agree more. My review is late, but it is one of my top 10 for last year.

Go read this, you won’t regret it.

What I like least about the book: I am not sure if I have anything bad to say about the book. If I have to say something, I would say this book should run like the length of “A Suitable Boy”. 😉

About the writer:

A picture of Morgan Spurlock with the backdrop of King Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, Morocco

Morgan Valentine Spurlock (born November 7, 1970) is an American documentary film maker, television producer, screen writer and journalist, best known for known for the documentary film Super Size Me. Spurlock was the executive producer and star of reality television series 30 Days. In 2007, Spurlock was placed within the Top 10 “Best Journalists of the World” by Time magazine.

Spurlock was born in West Virginia as a Methodist. He went to New York University and graduated in 1993 and is a member of the fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta. He currently lives in New York City. He married long-time girlfriend, vegan chef Alexandra Jamieson, on May 3, 2006. They have a son, Laken James Spurlock, born on December 9, 2006. His birth is depicted in Spurlock’s documentary Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden? which Spurlock dedicated to Laken.

Watch Osama Bin Laden do the MC Hammer’s dance “Can’t touch this”:

I am reading this for Middle East Reading Challenge.

Paperback. Publisher: Vintage,  2008.  Length: 290 pages, Setting: Middle East and North Africa.  Source: Library. Finished reading at 28 December 2010.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

  1. Thank you for participating in the Middle East Challenge! This book sounds interesting, I like it when books cover various parts of a region. The movie poster is definitely off-putting and makes it all seem like a joke so I am glad to hear the book is serious and that you learned about Osama bin Laden and parts of the Middle East.

    Posted by Helen | January 15, 2011, 2:32 pm
    • Thanks Helen! The poster seems like a joke, so I was surprised myself when I enjoyed the documentary. The book is so good that I want to go buy my copy this instant. The book did one thing that the documentary fail to do, to understand more about Osama Bin Laden’s family and intent.

      Posted by JoV | January 15, 2011, 4:45 pm
  2. I was worried this would be along the lines of Michael Moore’s works, but glad to hear the research is good and one can take it more seriously 🙂
    You in a slump are still so much more productive than I am! 😀

    Posted by Bina | January 18, 2011, 2:28 pm
    • Bina, I read Michael Moore’s book before, but Spurlock’s documentary doesn’t have the feeling of propagading; whereas MM seeks to run down certain political figures.

      I am in a slump still! It takes me ages to pick myself up after reading a book to write the review! 😀

      Posted by JoV | January 20, 2011, 8:56 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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