The Retired Terrorist: Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad

Rafia Zakaria in Guernica:

Osama-house-1-credit-shaukat-qadirOn pleasant afternoons, when he was not feeling ill, when the tumult of 23 children didn’t weigh too heavily on his nerves, when the onerous demands of being equally loving to three wives and five daughters didn’t wear him down, Osama bin Laden took a walk. He began at the door that led from his bedroom, then went through a veranda shielded by the now-infamous seven-foot walls. From here he followed a path at the back of the house; the path was flanked on either side by tall trees grown just to shield him. Above his head was the clear Abbottabad sky, over the horizon, the faint outlines of the mountains in the distance. Around the walls and the trees, beyond the gates, was a country whose language he did not speak, and whose government and military his organization, Al-Qaeda, had declared infidel for their crackdowns on Islamic militants.

As Osama walked the tree-lined path, he may have rolled between his fingers the wooden spheres of prayer beads that had accompanied him from the palaces of his childhood to the craggy caves and safe houses of Waziristan, a few hundred miles to the west. At the end of Osama’s walking path would have been a small, sparse building known as the hujra. In Pashtun towns, such buildings are placed front and center of every settlement; they are the beating heart of the tiniest collection of homesteads. The hujra is and has always been a place for men: where important matters can be discussed away from women, their plaintive cries and petty wants.

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