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Suspects’ actions don’t add up

By Jody A. Benjamin
Posted September 16 2001

Three guys cavorting with lap dancers at the Pink Pony Nude Theater.

Two others knocking back glasses of Stolichnaya and rum and Coke at a fish joint in Hollywood the weekend before committing suicide and mass murder.

That might describe the behavior of several men who are suspects in Tuesday’s terrorist attack, but it is not a picture of devout Muslims, experts say. Let alone that of religious zealots in their final days on Earth.

Islam does not condone killing innocent people in the name of God. Nor can a devout Muslim drink booze or party at a strip club and expect to reach heaven, said Mahmoud Mustafa Ayoub, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

The most basic tenets of the religion forbid alcohol and any sex outside marriage.

“It is incomprehensible that a person could drink and go to a strip bar one night, then kill themselves the next day in the name of Islam,” said Ayoub. “People who would kill themselves for their faith would come from very strict Islamic ideology. Something here does not add up.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the United States is focusing on extremist Islamic leader Osama bin Laden, who in 1996 declared Jihad or holy war on the United States, and his followers, as the prime suspects.

As a federal investigation into the attack continues, many are asking how men can kill in the name of Islam. Adding to that confusion were reports last week that suspects were seen drinking liquor at a Shuckum’s restaurant in Hollywood and patronizing a strip club in Daytona Beach.

John Kap, owner of the Pink Pony, said on Wednesday he turned over to FBI agents credit card receipts and a Quran, the Muslim holy book, left behind by bar patrons. The night before the New York and Washington attacks, the patrons had boasted to his employees that “America’s going to see bloodshed.”

But religion may not be the entire answer, according to at least one professor. University of Florida religion professor Richard Foltz said the tragedy might better be understood in terms of larger social problems such as violence, economic imbalance and political extremism.

“People have been imagining that if they can somehow understand Islam better they can understand these events better,” said Foltz. “But this isn’t about Islam. These are the actions of human beings. Human beings always explain their actions in terms of the culture they grew up in,” he said.

He gives the example of people who bomb abortion clinics in the name of Christianity even though Christian doctrine does not support killing. Or the 1994 massacre of 29 praying Muslims at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs by Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein — again, despite religious doctrines against killing.

“This is a social problem,” said Foltz. “[Tuesday’s attack] tells us a lot about our society, but it tells us little or nothing about religious traditions.”

Some of the suspects are believed to have been devout.

Richard Surma, owner of the Panther Motel, 715 S. Ocean Blvd. in Deerfield Beach, called the FBI after Tuesday’s attacks because he had found aeronautical maps, books on how to fly 757 and 767 airplanes, and other items in an efficiency apartment that two Middle Eastern men, including suspected hijacker Marwan Alshehhi, had been renting.

“They didn’t like American women’s pictures,” Surma said. “I had some pictures of 1920s women. They were holding umbrellas and wearing long pantaloons. They were covered 75 percent, but their knees were showing.

“They covered every single picture on the wall,” he said. “They put towels over them to cover them up completely. I don’t know why that bothered them. Yet, they were always at the swimming pool.”

Staff Writers Jose Dante Parra Herrera and Shannon O’Boye contributed to this story, which was supplemented with information from wire reports.

Jody A. Benjamin can be reached at 954-356-4530 or jbenjamin@sun-sentinel.com.

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