May 18, 2004 
Nicholas Berg
By Judea Pearl


This commentary was initially published in the May 18, 2004 edition of the Wall Street Journal, page A-18.


The world has had to witness the horrific murder of Nicholas Berg, a young American man from Philadelphia. Two years ago, my son, Daniel Pearl, a reporter for this newspaper, was the victim of a similar attack on humanity.  Daniel’s legacy as a bridge builder and dialogue maker compels me to communicate a personal message to the many friends that he left behind in the Muslim world.


I am not directing this letter to the followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is thought to have beheaded Nicholas Berg, or to Osama bin Laden. Rather, I am speaking to those who can win the minds of the young and faithful to the side of hope: intellectual leaders who pride themselves on peace and modernity, and clerics, imams and mullahs who have been voicing concern over the hijacking of Islam by a minority of anti-Islamic extremists. You now have the opportunity to bestow honor on your faith and pride on your children.


I beseech you to join the courageous Muslims who have denounced, in unambiguous language, not only the killing of Nicholas Berg, but the growing practice of killing innocent human beings as a means of communicating grievances, irrespective of how valid or urgent the grievance.


No civilized society can survive the intensity of modern conflicts unless such killings are repelled back to the realm of the inconceivable.


As a father of a person who experienced the horrors of captivity, I can personally feel the anguish of the parents of the Iraqi prisoners who were abused in the Abu Ghraib prison. I nevertheless appeal to you, intellectual leaders of the Muslim community, to unilaterally refrain from joining the cycle of accusation of “who treated who worse” and help transform it into a contest of pride: “whose role models are more humane.”


This transformation can become a reality if condemnations of last week’s horrors are not left to political leaders but become a public outcry at the grassroots level.


I therefore urge Muslim clerics to cast their denunciation in plain religious vocabulary, to proclaim these crimes to be sins, or blasphemy, and to remind their followers that the murderers of Nicholas Berg, Fabrizio Quattrocchi and Daniel Pearl will be punished by Allah Himself, as it is said: “We have prepared fire for the wrongdoers” (Koran:16).


Muslim clerics can further guard the image of Islam by issuing fatwas against the perpetrators of those acts, thus mobilizing their communities to take a pro-active role in the apprehension of those perpetrators, and in bringing them to justice. (Recall, the murderers of Daniel Pearl are still at large, and his abductors are still mocking justice, two years after their conviction.)


The American public has reacted to the Abu Ghraib atrocities with outrage, seriousness and resoluteness. I am proud of this reaction because I know that self-criticism is a prerequisite to progress and self-improvement. My grandchildren will live in a better society because of this outrage. To Muslim clerics I say that you, too, have a chance today to shape your children’s future, by turning your condemnation into a public outcry.


As a devout disciple of my son, I feel an obligation to communicate this appeal to you: Let us make those inhumane killings a thing of the past.


I hope you accept the sincerity of my appeal by virtue of the respect that my son held for your faith, his unshaken belief in humanity and, in particular, by virtue of the faithful way he amplified the voices of your brothers and sisters from Iran to Yemen, from Sudan to Pakistan.


Let us create the conditions for mutual respect, not mutual accusation.

Dr. Pearl, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation ( and co-editor of “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004).