Osama Bin Laden as an arch-villain seems to have become so unimportant that even imposters are not sending tapes with his voice to al-Jazeera anymore. It has been over a year since his last tape was posted. His number-two, al-Zawahari, makes the news more often. But some of his extended family members have picked up the slack. Imagine a novel in which Osama has a sexy niece who is trying to make it into the hip-pop culture scene and, better yet, that she poses in seductive poses for a men’s magazine like GQ? Sound too far fetched? Well it happened this month.

The January issue of GQ has an article entitled “It Isn’t Easy Being the Sexy Bin Laden.”

“It Isn’t Easy Being the Sexy Bin Laden
What’s in a name? Plenty. Especially if you’re trying to become a sultry little pop star and you just happen to be the niece of public enemy number one By George Gurley
On a hot August afternoon, aspiring pop star Wafah Dufour walks into the media lunch hub Michael’s, in Midtown Manhattan. Accompanied by her publicist, Richard Valvo, the slender, exotic young woman with long dark hair in a high ponytail à la I Dream of Jeannie is dressed in a white tank top, green love beads, lacy miniskirt, and backless pumps. Conversations continue as heads look up to check her out.

Ms. Dufour passes by Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, who is lunching with designer Isaac Mizrahi, then stops at the next table to meet former Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola and NBC head Jeff Zucker.

“You know Wafah bin Ladin?” Valvo asks the men loudly.

“Wafah Dufour,” she snaps, shooting him a look that’s more pleading than hostile.

The niece of the man who orchestrated the destruction of the World Trade Center seventy-eight blocks to the south has a point. After September 11, the name bin Laden (which is how it’s spelled when referring to Osama) turned radioactive, borderline satanic-by-association. It made her feel cursed, presumed guilty—made her wonder if it might keep her from ever getting a record deal. So she took her mother’s maiden name, Dufour, which makes for a better first impression, even though the bin Laden taint is always there.

Ms. Dufour, who’s vague about her age but almost certainly younger than 30, sits down at a good corner table and thanks me for helping her tell her story. “It’s really important for me,” she says with a French accent. “I was born in the States, and I want people to know I’m American, and I want people here to understand that I’m like anyone in New York. For me, it’s home.

“It’s really tough that I have to always explain myself,” she continues in a soft, husky voice. “It’s like every time I meet someone, I have to move a huge mountain that’s in front of me, and sometimes I get tired.”

The face is alluring (big dark eyes, long lashes, plump lips, caramel skin), but she looks wounded. And there’s something else. At first I can’t quite figure it out, but then it hits me: She looks a little like her uncle, albeit a waify ninety-eight-pound tiny-footed version. Sexy Osama! I hold that thought while I listen to her explain that she’s his half niece and one of hundreds of bin Ladens, most of whom are in Saudi Arabia, where she hasn’t been since she was 10. She has no contact with most of her relatives, including her father, doesn’t speak Arabic, has an American passport… The list goes on. “At the end of the day, I believe that the American people understand things and they have compassion and they see what’s fair,” she says. “They’re very fair, and that’s why I love America, and that’s why my mom loves America.”
[For the full article, pick up the January issue of GQ.]

Such a feature, perhaps not to the surprise of the magazine publishers, did not go unnoticed when the web tease first hit the blogosphere. It was not the first news media attention to Bin Laden that has become laden with a rather heavy burden (Imagine how far Britney Spears would have gone if her last name was Hitler?). As far back as March 15. 2005, there was a profile in, as you might expect, the New York Post and this has been circulating Borg-like from blog to blog. In June Wafah sat down and let her hair out with Barbara Walters on 20/20.

There is more than a little media atttention to live down. For example,
“The high-living daughter of one of Osama bin Laden’s brothers, who had an apartment just a mile from the Twin Tower blast site, unexpectedly left the country just weeks before her uncle gave the order to attack the U.S. ‘Wealthy 26-year-old party girl Wafah bin Laden lived in the lap of luxury, renting a huge $6,000-a-month loft in lower Manhattan that had a picture-postcard view of the Twin Towers,’ reports the National Enquirer this week.”

In a Times article from April the aspiring singer lamented: “‘I am not a bimbo. I don’t want sympathy. I only ask that people try to understand.” There is also a video. It is hard to look at the pictures (voyeuristically reproduced here) in the latest GQ issue and the self-promoting video and not have the word “Bimbo” come to mind. All this brings us back to the Monica ogling days of President Clinton (in between the bushes in the White House). Given the killings and secret wiretappings in the current news, what a welcome return.

Daniel Martin Varisco