From a victim of barbarism to a global inspiration
ON January 25, 2002, the Wall Street Journal reported one of its reporters had gone missing in Pakistan. Daniel Pearl had not checked in with his editors on the Wednesday evening and had still not been heard from by late the following night.
The paper’s parent company, Dow Jones, went through official and unofficial channels with the aid of the US and Pakistani governments in an effort to find Pearl, 38, who had worked for the Journal for 12 years. He had been trying to secure an interview with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, who was rumoured to have been seen with the shoe-bomber, Richard Reid. The journalist was lured to a restaurant in Karachi, put in a car and blindfolded, then taken to a remote location.
A group calling itself The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty sent two emails to US and Pakistan-based news organisations claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and accusing Pearl of being an American spy. On February 22 it was reported that Pearl had been executed: a harrowing video with footage of his final moments had been sent to Pakistani authorities and relayed to the US consulate in Karachi.
Pearl, of Jewish heritage, was made to describe his family as “Zionist” on camera and denounce the US before being beheaded. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks, later claimed responsibility for the murder.
What the world forgot, though, in the aftermath of his horrific and pointless killing was that Pearl, known as Danny to his friends, was not just a first-rate reporter, he was also a talented violinist. In 2002, his family and friends established the Daniel Pearl Foundation and his love of music has been reflected in the foundation’s Daniel Pearl World Music Days held throughout October this year.
The Wall Street Journal described Pearl as “an outstanding colleague, a great reporter” and added: “His murder is an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of everything Danny’s kidnappers claimed to believe in. They claimed to be Pakistani nationalists, but their actions must surely bring shame to all true Pakistani patriots.”
Pearl’s wife Mariane, who was pregnant at the time of the abduction, publicly condemned the “act of barbarism” carried out by “evil people”.
“The messages I have received from the five continents have shown me that a lot of you who don’t even know Danny personally have come to understand him as a man,” she added. “Not a hero, not a spy, but an ordinary man and great journalist who has travelled the world to reveal facts and seek the truth – a value for him as sacred as freedom itself.”
In July 2002, at a court in Hyderabad, four men, including a British-born Islamic militant, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, were convicted of Pearl’s murder. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is currently sitting in Guantanamo Bay, preparing for his 25th pre-trial hearing, on charges relating to 9/11.
Pearl is one of hundreds of journalists worldwide who have died for their work. Two weeks ago, the Maltese investigative blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb.
Pearl’s name, and his mission, however, have lived on. In 2007, the British film director Michael Winterbottom made A Mighty Heart, based on Mariane’s memoir, with Angelina Jolie as Mariane and Dan Futterman as Daniel.
The Daniel Pearl Foundation was set up to “address the root causes of this tragedy in the spirit, style and principles that shaped Danny’s work and character”. His principles included “uncompromised objectivity and integrity; insightful and unconventional perspective; tolerance and respect for people of all cultures; unshaken belief in the effectiveness of education and communications; and the love of music, humor and friendship”.
The foundation works to promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding, to counter cultural and religious intolerance and to cultivate responsible and balanced journalism.
After Pearl’s funeral his family sought to inspire hope and unity by inviting people to dedicate a musical event on the day he would have turned 39 – October 10, 2002. The music days have now grown to comprise a full month of worldwide Harmony For Humanity concerts. Since its inception, more than 14,200 events in 143 countries have been dedicated to Danny Pearl. Artists who have taken part range from Elton John, REM and Rickie Lee Jones to Ravi Shankar and violinist Itzhak Perlman – as well as Scottish acts such as the Battlefield Band.
Pearl was also remembered in 2010 when, in the Oval Office, watched by members of his family including his seven-year-old son Adam, President Obama signed into law the Daniel Pearl Freedom Of The Press Act. It expanded the State Department’s annual human-rights reports to identify countries that participate in or condone attacks on journalists.
Obama himself said: “Oftentimes without this kind of attention countries and governments feel that they can operate against the press with impunity. And we want to send a message that they can’t. The loss of Daniel Pearl reminded us of how valuable a free press is, and it reminded us that there are those who would go to any length in order to silence journalists around the world.”
After his kidnap in 2002, Daniel Pearl was forced to denounce his religion and his home nation before being executed by al-Qaeda