From The Wall Street Journal
Opinion: July 17, 2002

* An Urdu translation of this piece appeared in the News Section of Pakistani daily Jang, July 17, 2002.

Turn Tragedy Into Opportunity
By Judea Pearl

 

An open letter to the people of Pakistan:

 

When my son, Daniel Pearl, was murdered in Karachi earlier this year, I received many letters from Pakistanis expressing shame and anger at the perpetrators of this horrific crime. I was told in these letters that the majority of the Pakistani people condemn the murder and view Danny as a symbol of their country’s longstanding problem with terrorism.

 

“Daniel has become a mission,” said one writer. “I am outraged, ashamed and humiliated of this evil act,” wrote another. “The people responsible for your son’s death might claim to be Muslims but they are actually beasts and have no religion.”

 

The verdict issued Monday in Hyderabad casts these personal expressions into a collective moral statement of historical significance. This was the first verdict since Sept. 11 to convict and sentence international terrorists in a court of law. It thus proves to the world that Pakistan is not merely a place where people fear and abhor terrorism, but also a place that possesses the legal muscle to subdue terrorism and secure justice and dignity for its people.

 

Now that the first trial is over and a verdict is out, I would like to tell you a few things about my son, Danny, including things that have not been made explicit in the press. In particular, I would like to explain who Danny was, why the world has been so shocked by his death, why he has become a symbol, and what he is a symbol of.

 

If one reads the many stories written by Danny and about Danny’s life and work (www.saja.org) one finds that his death shocked the world not because he was an innocent victim of terrorism, but because of the irreconcilable irony of his tragedy: Danny was a perfect mouthpiece for both the West and the Muslim worlds to understand each other. His lively prose, honesty, and sensitivity to other cultures earned him the respect of all who met him and made him a perfect emissary of goodwill and understanding.

 

Additionally, Danny embodied qualities that some close-minded people have found hard to accept. He showed that an American can faithfully and unjudgmentally present anti-Western points of view.

 

He showed that a journalist need not be considered a “spy,” because honest and accurate information can benefit both providers and receivers. He showed that being Jewish does not mean being anti-Islam. For the past seven years, Danny’s articles in The Wall Street Journal served in fact as Islam’s best advocates; they showed readers the hardships and aspirations of people in Islamic countries, as well as the intricate nuances of their religion.

 

Thus, when he declared to his captors: “I am Jewish!” what he said in fact was: “I respect Islam precisely because I am Jewish, and I expect you to respect me and my faith precisely because you are good Muslims.” In short, Danny personified tolerance, humanity and dialogue, and his death turned him into a symbol for these values.

 

Not surprisingly, Danny’s death has generated an enormous awakening of goodwill world-wide, as witnessed by thousands of letters, emails, donations and ideas on how to prevent such tragedies in the future and make the world a better place. In an effort to channel this energy into constructive tracks, Daniel’s family, friends and colleagues have established a foundation in his honor (www.danielpearl.org).

 

The Daniel Pearl Foundation aims to continue Danny’s mission, to create 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. We have recently been fortunate to enlist Abdul Sattar Edhi, founder and president of Edhi Foundation, onto our honorary board, and we plan to collaborate with your schools and universities to initiate cross-cultural programs in the near future.

 

We will need your help and trust, and we are hopeful that the people of Pakistan will join us in turning Danny’s tragedy into an opportunity. Never before have the ears of good people world-wide been so attentive to Pakistani voices of moderation. Never before have the hands of the West been stretched so warmly for Pakistanis to join in the promotion of humanity and tolerance.

 

As one Karachi paper put it: “He died because Pakistan’s enemies could not bear to see the country retake the course of tolerance and moderation that its founding father envisaged.”

I call upon you today to prove those enemies wrong and to make the voices of tolerance and moderation heard loud and clear.

 

The loss of Danny will forever tear my heart. But I can think of no greater consolation than seeing your children some day pointing at Danny’s picture and saying: “This is the kind of person I want to be.”

 

Mr. Pearl is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.