A Whiff of Terror

“You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

So run the famous lines of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (played by Robert Duvall) in the 1979 movie “Apocalypse Now,” recently voted “the best speech in cinema history” in a movie fan poll, according to a report by BBC News. But now napalm has a competitor in the “War: what scents does it make?” department. Adam Hannestad, Cairo correspondent of the leading Danish daily Politiken reports on a new best-seller at Pakistani perfume-counters, “Usama Bin Laden Cologne Spray.”

Yes, we’re obviously referring here to “the world’s most wanted man.” (The way vowels work in classical Arabic, not only are “Osama” and “Usama” both possible spellings, but the latter is in fact more appropriate.) And the underlying message here won’t be new to many, namely that in some parts of the world bin Laden is regarded not with horror and hate, but with admiration. After all, t-shirts bearing the Saudi militant’s visage were spotted long ago on the same cohort of Muslim young men among which sales-counter personnel now report this cologne to be selling briskly. Still, according to Hannestad’s report, this perfume does go a bit further than portraying Usama’s slight smile, at least on the box containing the perfume-bottle: behind his head one can see the faint outline of a tall white building surrounded in smoke, which turns out to be an image from the September 11 attacks. And there are rumors that part of the sales proceeds are channeled to finance al-Qaeda, although others dismiss these as simply a marketing ploy.


Who is behind this fragrance, who makes it and boxes it? While the reporters from Arabic papers that Hannestad cites found it on sale in the boutiques of the Pakistani port-city of Karachi, the manufacturer is simply listed as “Islamic Products” and is supposedly based in one of the country’s other cities, Peshawar, located further inland. And while Western sensibilities might find it strange, to say the least, to freshen up with a bit of Usama cologne before heading out to the night-life, in fact, as Hannestad points out, “perfume is very Islamic” and so used very widely by practicing Muslims. One of the traditional sayings attributed to Mohammed has it that “The only two things I really value in this Earth’s life are women and perfume.” The Dane also does us the favor of recalling a passage out of the instructions to the September 11 terrorists, found afterwards in an abandoned automobile: “Swear an oath that you wish to die, and renew your intentions. Shave excess hair from your body, and put on cologne. Take a bath.”

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