Hamida's Heartbreak

Hamida married Mohammed, a powerful construction magnate, when she was 22 years old. The Syrian beauty caught Mohammed’s eye later in his life; she was his tenth wife. Muslim law allows men to have up to four wives; Mohammed got around this rule by keeping three long-term wives, and marrying and divorcing other women who filled the fourth slot. Hamida was one of these women.

She moved to Saudi Arabia when they married, but she was reportedly never happy there. An independent woman, Hamida disliked being confined to Mohammed’s family compound. It’s been reported that she didn’t like covering her face with a burka, and was scorned by the other wives and ex-wives. They called her “the slave,” a nickname that conveyed how she felt living in the confines of the family complex, under her husband’s rules.

She had only one child with Mohammed before they divorced; his name was Osama bin Laden.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about her, this woman who mothered one of the most impressively evil terrorist masterminds in modern history. Because he was once merely a baby in her arms, a little boy making her laugh, a child being taught right from wrong.

It is said that he lived with her off and on during his childhood and was tended to in the early years by nannies and nurses, a common practice there. As one of Mohammed’s reported 50-plus children, Osama no doubt craved the attention of his father, who died in a helicopter crash when the boy was just 10 years old.

None of this is meant to paint a sympathetic picture of a man who is responsible for the destruction of so many lives. Still, I keep going back to his mother. Hamida eventually remarried and had four more children, yet her first son had to have held a place in her heart, as all children do in their parents’ hearts. When she heard the news of his assassination, was part of her relieved that the hunt for her son was over, that the trouble he’d caused might cease? Or was she just a grief-stricken mother, feeling with absolute clarity once again the babe she rocked in her arms long ago? Did she hear in her heart the echo of his newborn cry one last time?

I couldn’t find much written about her, which strikes me as a pretty accurate parallel for motherhood. We are at one time the center of our child’s universe, yet by the time they become adults we are mere footnotes to their story, at least to the outside world. And really, that’s the goal, isn’t it:  To help them grow up and then get out of the way and allow their lives to unfold as they were meant to.

How painful to be a footnote in that story, though. I wonder if she disassociated herself from him years ago. I wonder if she felt guilty somehow, culpable in the way we mothers feel responsible for our children’s behavior, the way we believe it reflects our values or our parenting, the best and the worst of who we are and what we taught them. How do you live with knowing you gave birth to a person who would mastermind the deaths of thousands and take up permanent residence on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and Most Wanted Terrorists lists? Did she choose to marginalize in her head Osama’s ties to Al Qaeda and the large-scale terrorist attacks they carried out? Did he have any contact with her toward the end of his life? Did he say goodbye before he disappeared into hiding?

I wonder if she was too afraid or ashamed to ever say, or even think, “I still love my son.”

I’m not trying to glorify her plight or slight the Sept. 11 victims or their families. There are plenty of mothers who to this day mourn the loss of their sons and daughters at the hands of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda henchmen, and we, as a nation, have grieved with them.
But as the free world rejoices over the demise of such a commander of hatred and violence, there is a woman, somewhere, perhaps hidden beneath a burka, whose mother’s heart grieves for a life wasted and ultimately lost.

There is something about that haunting image, however imaginary, that makes me think we might learn a great deal about the soul of a mother by speaking to Hamida al-Attas.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

I thought that, too. I think of that stuff with a lot of killers and evildoers here and around the world.
I don't know much about Hamida, and I like to think all moms, all parents, are loving, nurturing and interested in their children's lives, from birth to death. Then I see the evil that works in parents -- stories I've covered as a reporter or worked on as an editor. Or I think about movies such as "Precious," or we see the moms and dads who abandon, abuse or otherwise neglect their children. And that cycle breeds and continues.
I don't know anything about Hamida and her relationship with her son. Evil doesn't discriminate, though. And some of the most-loved kids have grown up only to fall into it. It's too hard to speculate, but I do like to think that all moms (and dads) hearts would be broken over such evil.