From The Sunday Times, U.K.
August 18, 2002
Daniel Pearl: A Banner of Hope
(Published under a different title)
By Judea Pearl
Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan more than six months ago, was laid to rest last Sunday in Los Angeles, California. Danny was my son.
I last spoke to him on January 21, two days before his abduction, when he called to tell us the great news: he and Mariane had discovered their child would be a boy.
Danny’s remains were flown back from Karachi after months of searching for the body and procedural delays. The funeral ceremony was private and simple: family and close friends gathered to pay last respects to their beloved Danny; a violinist friend played selections from Bach; the rabbi reflected on the significance of Danny’s life and work; I said the Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning) and Danny’s body was finally laid to rest in his home town, overlooking the concert hall where he loved to perform with his youth orchestra.
But who was this young man whose life and writings caught world attention? Why has the world been shocked by his death? Why has he become a symbol? And what is he a symbol of? After all, Danny was not a political leader, military hero or famous celebrity, yet millions of people worldwide identify with his life, tragedy, mission and legacy.
For his family and friends, Danny was “a walking sunshine of truth, humour, friendship and compassion” with “not one shred of malice in his bones” (the description comes from “At Home in the World,” a recently published anthology of Danny’s articles for The Wall Street Journal). Among his colleagues, Danny was known as a fiddler, storyteller and a bridge-builder who formed connections wherever he went. To his readers he was an unbiased truth seeker who made the world seem friendlier.
The shocking aspects of Danny’s death exceed any imaginable account. A cold-blood killing of a reporter is in itself a barbaric act of unprecedented character. Coupled with the fact that this reporter was a gentle soul, with a pregnant wife who appealed for his release, and that the brutal murder was enacted in front of a camera, the killing of Danny marks a new dimension of savagery.
The irony of this tragedy is that Danny was the antithesis of the “ugly American” that the terrorists were hoping to capture and destroy. Wherever he went, Danny radiated friendship and genuine respect for people of all backgrounds. For millions, then, he came to personify tolerance, humanity and dialogue, and his death turned him into a symbol for these values.
Furthermore, his lively prose, honesty and sensitivity to other cultures made him a perfect emissary for the West and the Muslim worlds to understand each other better. Therefore, Danny’s murder represents a betrayal of humanity, and it tests the very survival of civilised society as we know it.
Another shocking element of this tragedy is the role played by Danny’s Jewish background in the planning and execution of the murder. Danny’s captors did not hide their underlying motives. Whereas their early communications expressed anti-American and anti-journalism passions, the videotape depicting Danny’s murder exposes raw anti-Jewish hatred. Danny’s captors showed no interest whatsoever in his background or work except his “crimes” – Danny’s Jewish and Israeli heritage. Clearly, knowing the mentality of their prospective audience, the murderers were confident that Danny’s Jewish connections were sufficient to licence the gruesome actions they planned.
Such a brazen call to licence the killing of human beings by virtue of their religion or heritage has not resonated on this planet since the second world war.
It is natural to ask how we, his family and friends, are coping with this tragedy. The answer is not easy. In addition to our personal loss, the tragedy is amplified by the fact that Danny’s killers seem to have achieved their objectives.
They embarrassed Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, gained publicity, recruited more terrorists, inflicted pain and humiliation on the West and scared foreign journalists. They even managed to find publicity-seeking publishers to help disseminate their gruesome propaganda tapes.
On the surface, then, they seemed to have won on all fronts – a thought that initially caused us great pain. Fortunately, we became aware of positive developments beneath the surface that have given us the strength to endure the tragedy and to turn it into a source of hope and strength.
Danny’s death has generated an enormous awakening of goodwill worldwide, as witnessed by thousands of letters, e-mails, donations and ideas on how to prevent such tragedies in the future and make the world a better place. This awakening has called our attention to the good things that can come out of our tragedy, and has prompted Daniel’s family, friends and colleagues to establish the Daniel Pearl Foundation in his honour (www.danielpearl.org).
The foundation aims to continue Danny’s mission; to create positive connections among people of different cultures, to reduce cultural and religious hatred, to encourage responsible and creative journalism and to enrich people’s lives through music.
This mission may sound ambitious – some might even consider it unrealistic – but the opportunities presented are unique and real, and cannot therefore be overlooked. The trust and respect that Danny earned, especially in the Middle East and south Asia, allow us to embrace and mobilise new communities to work towards bridging the East-West divides.
We have been fortunate indeed to enlist prominent public figures and activists as advisers, board members and volunteers, with representatives from all parts of the political spectrum. In particular, we were gratified to receive tremendous encouragement from Pakistanis. While only time will tell how successful our efforts will be in penetrating major pockets of closed-mindedness, the prospect of saving some communities from the deadly claws of hatred fills our lives with hope that some good may come after all from Danny’s tragedy.
The anti-semitic component of Danny’s murder has also generated a counter-offensive. In his April 30 speech President George W Bush said: “We reject the ancient evil of anti-semitism whether it is practised by the killers of Daniel Pearl or by those who burn synagogues in France.” Such statements made us realise that if Danny’s death can raise people’s awareness of the various manifestations of intolerance and inspire them to speak against them, each and all, a giant step would then be made towards a peaceful, hate-free world.
But the greatest uplifting to me and my family came in realising how Danny’s legacy becomes a “banner” and a source of strength and inspiration to various peace-loving communities in the West. By killing Danny, the terrorists have in effect destroyed the “ugly West” image that they and their ideological supporters have laboured to erect in the past few decades, be it explicitly or implicitly.
Instead, what emerged from this killing was an image of westerners (including Americans, and Jews and Israelis) as exporters of values. It has reminded many that in addition to colonialism, materialism, arrogance, selfishness and other ills and maladies that we are constantly being accused of inventing or practising, the West is also the world’s largest exporter of pluralism, tolerance, dialogue and basic freedoms and values, which Danny personified in his life and which were violated by his murderers. I became aware of this aspect of Danny’s legacy when letters started to arrive suggesting monuments, memorials and awards in Danny’s honour.
I came to realise then that many goodwill organisations, fighting for noble causes in the service of humanity, have difficulty finding a symbol that would give the spirit of humanity a face and a body and a smile.
And I understood then that if Danny’s death can give humanity, or whatever is left of her, the banner that she needs to defend herself, something good may come out of it. Thus, if my grandson Adam asks me 10 years from now: “What good came out of it?”, my answer will be: “Your father gave humanity a banner with which to fight hatred and fanaticism and intolerance.”
“And a banner is a very powerful weapon! It makes each soldier feel an inch taller, it calls for duty new recruits and it makes armies march in unison.”
My hopes are that I will be able to add: “You see? Your father’s banner helped us win that battle.”
Judea Pearl is professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.