Perhaps it all comes down to birth order. The 17th son out of 54 children is a notoriously difficult slot. And if, in addition to being a hyperactive polygamist, the father is an illiterate billionaire, then a certain amount of deviousness, among the older boys, shouldn't surprise us.
Bin Laden, 50, had to work up his enmities, which were not innate. He is surrounded by men who have been redefined by injury or torture. But Osama is a child of privilege who has never been wounded or jailed. In the 1980s, his stated policy for dealing with Americans went as follows: whenever you meet one, air your grievances. More recently, of course, his approach has evolved from suasion to indiscriminate slaughter. It is the classic path of fanaticism: your ferocity redoubles as you lose sight of your goal.
Aside from the plodding threats and grievance rosters, bin Laden's statements are tangles of tautology. What he has is charismathe visionary smile and a talent for asceticism. Moderate Islam has had to decide whether Osama is a good Muslim or a bad Muslim. That many have opted for the former view owes much to the sacrifices that seem to have been made by this rich but stoic troglodyte.
Amis' latest book is House of Meetings
Next Oprah Winfrey