Beer and Muslim terror

Portrait of a young man holding a beer stein

What is it about Muslim terrorism and northern Virginia? Five men — ranging in age from late teens to mid-20s — from the suburbs near here were arrested in Pakistan and authorities are questioning them about links to terrorism.

When this story broke yesterday, the Washington Post had what I found to be the most interesting angle:

The men, all Muslims from the Alexandria area, were reported missing by their families last week and taken into custody near Lahore on Monday. One of them left behind a video that quoted Koranic verses, cited conflicts between Western and Muslim nations and showed wartime footage. A Muslim leader described it Wednesday as a farewell statement. Law enforcement sources said the video had jihadist overtones but cautioned that they had no evidence it was intended as a farewell. They said they had no information about the men’s intentions.

At a time of growing concern about homegrown terrorism, the information that these men were reported missing by their own families is certainly newsworthy and the Post places it high in the story. What’s more, apparently the Council on American-Islamic Relations says they put the FBI in touch with the family. This is also noteworthy.

I hope we see some stories explaining the significance of these actions.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight this bit of reportage from the New York Times piece:

At the I.C.N.A. Center in Alexandria, which occupies a modest brick building without a sign at the edge of a residential neighborhood, most people arriving for prayers on Wednesday night declined to comment.

One man who would not give his name acknowledged that he knew some of the young men but described them as good kids who had never been in trouble.

“They didn’t even know the price of beer,” the man said.

Great reporting there! What does knowing the price of beer have to do with whether these men aspire to be Muslim terrorists? If anything, wouldn’t knowing the price of beer be a mark that indicates you’re not a likely candidate to head over to Pakistan to engage in violence? There had to have been a better quote — or a follow-up, right?

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  • Chris Bolinger

    Domestic or imported? Draft or bottles?

  • Clint Porter

    Muslims in many places in the world avoid alcohol, as it is forbidden in the Quran.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Clint,

    Right. So not knowing the price of beer isn’t really relevant to whether or not they’re wannabe terrorists, right?

  • http://dairystatedad.blogspot.com DairyStateDad

    Um, read a little more closely, please.

    “If anything, wouldn’t knowing the price of beer be a mark that indicates you’re not a likely candidate to head over to Pakistan to engage in violence?”


    That was exactly the point of the person being quoted!

    I think it was a great quote. Pithy and colorful and on point.

    DSD, who happens to be a working journalist, albeit not for the Good Gray Lady.

  • Peter

    I think it’s a great quote too. Colorful. If you are going to ask man-on-the-street questions, you aren’t always going to get telling responses like that.

    What’s your specific beef with the comment, Mollie?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    So you guys don’t think the quote is set up as if the acquaintance is saying that these guys would not be involved in trouble?

    “One man who would not give his name acknowledged that he knew some of the young men but described them as good kids who had never been in trouble.”

    You’re saying that he’s trying to say something else?

    Or what?

  • Peter

    That’s exactly what he’s saying, in a more colorful way than usual. He’s saying the young men seemed harmless.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Right, you’re saying this is like when a serial murderer is arrested and the neighbors say, “He always seemed normal.”

    But here’s the thing, NOT knowing the price of beer in no way speaks to Muslim terror unless it’s well known that, say, Muslim terrorists DO know the price of beer.

    But since a lot of Muslim terrorists are known for their particular piety, I don’t see how this quote works without different set-up or a bit of explication.

  • dvmac

    Certainly a great quote, pithy and colorful indeed, but I believe Mollie’s point is that the man’s quote made the opposite point he intended.

    He was characterizing the men as good kids, not knowing the price of beer, in other words (one might infer) strictly observant Muslims. The problem is (again, bear with me here) the more strictly observant, the more likely to desire to engage in jihad.

    I, too, was heartened to see CAIR’s participation.

  • Peter

    You are overthinking it.

    He says they are nice kids, so naive they didn’t know the price of beer. So how could they become terrorists. This actually comports with the argument no one knows what they were doing, and some suggestion that Al Qaeda rejected them because they didn’t know what they were doing.

  • Jerry

    Mollie,

    You’re insisting on news stories being totally literal with no scope for figurative language. It’s like you would disagree if someone wrote “he does not know the meaning of the word sin” to describe someone who is pious.

    I think the better question to ask is whether or not the average reader (whoever that is) would understand that or not. And if not, put in an explanatory clause or sentence to accompany that quote.

    Even though Islam forbids alcohol while Christianity does not, I think the average reader would get that comment even without knowing that specific fact so in this case I don’t think that explanation is necessary this time.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Unless Muslim terrorists are known for their extensive knowledge of fermented beverages OR their sophistication, I think my point stands.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    A reader just sent this to me, from a WSJ columnist, remarking on the same issue:

    An Islamic fanatic who doesn’t know the price of a tall cold one–what are the odds of that?

  • Peter

    It’s nice that you and Taranto have decided they are “Muslim terrorists” or an “Islamic fanatic,” but for readers looking at the story without that presumption but instead for background on the suspects, its a colorful quote.

  • Peggy

    “What is it about Muslim terrorism and Northern Virginia?” I thought some of you were in DC Metro. I used to see “I heart Allah” bumper stickers going down my Alexandria street and attached to street poles. Now, we’re in the midwest.

  • Jerry

    Taranto is a classic example of a right wing fanatic. What he writes has only accidental correlation to reality and then he only uses it to promote his wingnut ideology.

  • Pam

    Where are you guys from? That’s an idiomatic expression, indicating a degree of ignorance and naivete. Maybe it’s too regional.

  • http://www.nytimes.com Paul

    Sorry, but GetReligion often seems to get confused about what reporters do. The beer quote, whether it indicates what you say it’s intended to indicate, or something else, is What the Guy Said outside the mosque that night about those men. Period. It’s an interesting quote because it’s not boring. It meant what the guy who said meant it to mean. Or maybe it indicated something else. It’s a scrap of verbalized reaction from a shaken community. It’s not necessary that it be a link in a chain of evidence of Something. You frequently seem to misread the reporting of events, or about people’s reaction to events, as having some main-stream-media-intent buried within every word. That’s a good way to read the Bible. It is not how most newspaper stories work.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Pam,

    That’s interesting. It doesn’t show up in Google. Although another GR reader wrote about it here, making the same point I did. To wite: “Is not knowing the price of beer a sign of a good kid or a wannabe terrorist?

    Paul,

    Unless you think that there is no selection process in quote gathering, writing to set up a quote, or usefulness for a followup, I can’t say I agree. Also, perhaps you’re not aware that everyone who writes for this blog is a reporter.

  • Dave

    Mollie, I agree that the meaning of the price-of-beer quote can be taken as inverted, but it may simply reflect the fact that the man quoted is a highly assimilated American Muslim who has completely walked away from Islamic alcohol prohibitions.

    I see a much bigger journalistic question: These lads from Northern Virgina give the lie to a tacit assumption that, because American Muslims are so much better integrated into US society than European Muslims are into their respective host societies, Europe is a likelier source of jihadist terrorism that America. How well are the MSM adapting to this change of frame?

  • MichaelV

    Saying a good kid doesn’t know the price of beer is a way of saying that they are harmless, because young men who are bad dudes generally like to smoke, cuss, and drink. But it’s a weird expression to use when talking about an alleged Muslim fanatic because Muslim fanatics – like bad dudes – don’t drink. One might wonder if a young Muslim who does drink (and is therefore less observant and more secular) is LESS likely to be a terrorist, though perhaps more likely to TP your front lawn. Though I suppose some terrorists probably are hypocrites.

  • Bern

    “Doesn’t know the price of beer” IS an American localism denoting naivete. Does it need “explanation” in the context of this story? Maybe . . . but I thought it was just fine to leave it as it.

    The weird vibes coming to Mollie and the WSJ guy seems to me more based on a generalization that observant (e.g., teetotalling) Muslims are more likely to be terrorists. Yes, observant Muslims, like Baptists, eschew alcohol. But connecting “not knowing the price of beer” as stated in this story and the possibility of being or wanting to be a terrorist, well, it’s getting too close to a smear for my tastes . . . Besides, I recall reports that a least some of the Twin Towers killers would have a few beers after flight training. Teetotalling is irrelevant.

    Not that I think these “kids” were on some kind of lark in Lahore, mind you. The parallel I see is not to the neighbors of serial killers, but to the parents and adult acquaintances of kids back in the sixties who joined the Weather Underground and blew things up . . .

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    A smear? Really? I don’t think anyone connected a general ignorance of the price of beer to seeking a job as a terrorist. The point was that these men in PARTICULAR have been linked to Muslim terrorism. Therefore, the defense that they didn’t seem like terrorists on account of not knowing the price of beer doesn’t really work.

  • http://www.nytimes.com Paul

    Mollie,
    Perhaps everyone writing is a reporter, but I think the reporters working on this site sometimes look too hard for spin.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Paul,

    I try not to but I’m sure I fail. In this case, I didn’t think it was spin at all — just more an interesting thing to point out.

  • harold

    How about waterboarding with Maccabee’s?