From The Dallas Morning News
December 1, 2002

Danny Pearl’s Legacy Is a World of Music
By Rena Pederson

 

Sometimes, the postscript is the real message.

 

At the beginning of this year, the name of Danny Pearl became synonymous with tragedy. The Wall Street Journal reporter was held hostage by terrorists in Pakistan and brutally murdered. His interrogation and grisly decapitation in January were videotaped and shown around the world. It was a hard image to forget.

 

But wait. Something wonderful has started happening in many corners of the world since then.

 

Music.

 

Danny Pearl’s life is being celebrated in spontaneous concerts from India to Boston. The music has been surfacing with the same kind of quirky joy that he was known for. You see, Danny Pearl was a talented musician as well as a journalist. He became an accomplished fiddler and mandolin player even while graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University. He played with bands with names like “Clarence” and “Ottoman Empire” and loved music as much as journalism. He often treated his newspaper colleagues to impromptu concerts. He gave violin lessons to needy children.

 

Once Danny Pearl even composed a song for a pregnant friend who was struggling to deliver an overdue baby. To coax the baby out, he went to the hospital and sang softly, “The World Is Not Such a Bad Place.”

 

Now, other musicians are returning that spirit. They are celebrating Danny Pearl’s gentle life in song, so he won’t be remembered just by his death. On Oct. 10, on what would have been Mr. Pearl’s 39th birthday, 100 tribute concerts were held in 17 countries — including a performance by an Arab-Jewish youth orchestra in Tel Aviv and a Pakistani fusion band in San Francisco.

 

Even in Karachi, where the journalist was murdered, several musicians sent word that, while it was too dangerous to perform publicly, they would play a private tribute.

 

And just a few weeks ago, a grass-roots concert of acoustic music was held in Boston to benefit the new Daniel Pearl Foundation. It was a night of goose-bump moments — one of the bands lifted the violin track off one of Danny Pearl’s recordings and played live music along with it. “It was like he was there, like he really was there,” said his sister Tamara afterward.

 

Many families might become bitter after losing a loved one in a hateful murder. The Pearls are determined to transform Danny Pearl’s death into a positive legacy. The foundation they have created in his honor (Danielpearl.org) is trying to bridge divisions between Western and Islamic cultures. The honorary board includes CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour, former President Bill Clinton, violinist Itzhak Perlman, Nightline host Ted Koppel and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

 

The idea is that every year a concert will be held on the anniversary of Mr. Pearl’s birthday, and the proceeds will finance scholarships for young journalists. Students from the Middle East will work at The Wall Street Journal, and journalists from Stanford University will get to study in the Middle East, retracing Mr. Pearl’s career path both ways. In addition, there will be an essay project on tolerance for students around the world to reduce religious, ethnic and cultural hatred.

 

There have been a host of events honoring Danny Pearl since his death, and, to its credit, his family has elevated those moments into messages for tolerance. When the Lovejoy Award for courage in journalism was presented at Colby College last month, Tamara Pearl, who is 41 and bears a strong resemblance to her brother, accepted with grace and sisterly affection. She spoke of her brother’s jaunty, happy-go-lucky way of walking — which his family called “the Danny walk” — and expressed hope that the foundation can encourage others to walk through life with the same optimism and joy.

 

Afterward, she said efforts are under way to extend her brother’s love of music as well — a friend who is a violin maker has created a violin with Danny Pearl’s name on it, and every summer the violin will be used by an inner-city student at music camp.

 

It is a heartening example — like the Biehl Foundation created in 1993 by the parents of Amy Biehl. She was the Fulbright scholar who was stoned to death in South Africa, where she was helping people make the transition from apartheid to democracy. Among other projects, that foundation has started a bread-making venture that employs two of the young men who helped murder her.

 

Those postscripts remind us that, in the long run, the best antidote for hate isn’t more hate but reconciliation on a person-to-person basis. And that music sometimes can provide a great bridge.

 

P.S.: Remember that song “The World Is Not Such a Bad Place”? The foundation is having it recorded by musicians from around the world as a peace anthem — and will use the proceeds to send youngsters from Israel and Palestinian territories, as well as Pakistan and India, to Seeds of Peace camp to discover what they have in common.

 

Rena Pederson is editor at large at The Dallas Morning News.