Joan Smith: So Osama loves Whitney. No wonder - she's his dream date

Can you be the world's scariest man if you listen to Van Halen?
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Well he would, wouldn't he? Osama bin Laden's hardly going to moon over Madonna, but Whitney Houston? The claim that he's obsessed with her comes from a Sudanese-American feminist (of whom more later) and it's true that the singer is a pitiful figure these days. She's a performer with a great voice whose life is in a downward spiral, which makes her Bin Laden's dream date, I would have thought.

What would be amazing is if the world's most-wanted terrorist leapt up in the middle of one of his interminable diatribes against the West and launched into an impromptu version of "Where Life Begins", Madonna's rapturous celebration of oral sex, with Ayman al-Zawahiri on backing vocals. Houston is the ideal woman for a man with unreconstructed patriarchal attitudes (leaving aside the fact he's got a rival in the shape of her violent and abusive husband, Bobby Brown). Bin Laden supposedly described Houston as "truly Islamic" but brainwashed by American culture, while he spoke of having Bobby Brown killed.

The claim about Bin Laden's obsession with the singer appears in the September issue of Harper's magazine, in an excerpt from the autobiography of the controversial novelist Kola Boof. Let me enter a caveat here: it comes in the form of a lengthy digression in a piece of breathless prose in which Ms Boof claims she had a relationship with Bin Laden after he followed her home in Morocco in 1996, frightened her into having sex with him and terrorised her into staying with him for six months.

One of his biographers, Peter Bergen, denies that Bin Laden was ever in Morocco and describes the claim as "delusional". I don't know who is telling the truth but there are persistent rumours about the al-Qa'ida leader's louche past, including a recent assertion by Peter Stringfellow that Bin Laden visited his nightclub years ago with a group of young Saudis. If it was Osama rather than one of his many brothers - I mean, the lengths those 17th sons will go to get attention - I don't imagine he'll be returning next year to celebrate his 50th birthday.

The reason Bin Laden attracts such stories, and I've talked to men who swear they came across him in nightclubs in Beirut 25 years ago, isn't just that he's hardly in a position to sue. ("My client is happy to admit he's carried out mass murder, m'Lord, but is absolutely outraged by the suggestion he visited a lap-dancing establishment.") Men like Bin Laden are constructs creating their own legends - that's a polite way of putting it - and opposing legends spring up in turn. They sound plausible not just because we want to see the al-Qa'ida leader brought down a peg or two (can you really be the scariest man in the world if you listen to Van Halen?) but because we all know he is a fake.

The guy who dresses up in long robes and a beard to lecture us on our wicked ways is no more authentic than I would be if I messed up my hair, wrapped myself in a sheet and pretended to be Boudicca. He wants Muslims to identify him with the Prophet during his flight to Medina, but Bin Laden is as much a product of the 20th century, and quite as gripped by technophilia as the American military-industrial complex he affects to despise. He sits in a cave with his phallic props, sending deluded young men to die, and the only authentically medieval thing about him is his attitude to women. Which brings me back to Whitney. If Osama Bin Laden isn't in love with the poor woman, he damned well should be.