Multiple wives, part II.

11 May

Despite initial reports, bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a human shield during last week’s Navy Seals siege, and the three wives are now reportedly in Pakistani hands. According to the NYTimes (, the U.S. military would like to speak to the three women. My question is: what information could women kept in total seclusion offer?

According to bin Laden’s first wife and her son, bin Laden required his wives be kept in strict purdah. The women in the household were completely cloistered, unable to leave the house even as far as its garden. If any of the women were to leave the house’s borders, they were to be fully covered and accompanied by either bin Laden or a close male relative. Involvement in business affairs or encounters with any man who was not a member of the immediate family was strictly prohibited.

These prohibitions were maintained throughout the marriage, whether the family was in hiding in the years after 9/11 or prior to it. This is an important detail, for if the women were kept in absolute seclusion in the 90’s, their containment post 9/11 must have been complete and total.

Utter isolation. What must that do to a woman? Unable to walk out the front door, be seen through a window. The absence of the sun’s warming rays on her skin, the absence of the moon’s glow reflected in her eyes while gazing upwards. An inability to discover news, art, information of any kind unless it is filtered down to you from a man able to walk through the world and absorb its details.

She would not experience the season’s small and large changes, flowers aren’t smelled unless they are uprooted and brought inside. Learning through books, classes, others’ passions….things that can’t be heard, read, and seen when one is not allowed to leave the home.

The simple refreshment from talking to people on the street, in the market, at the library is never experienced. She is alone with her children, her fellow wives, and their children, day in and day out. Indeed, the days must seem to lapse into one unending blur, the lack of change in environment and stimuli resembling the bars of a cage, with a cloth thrown over the top for good measure.


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