Feature Stories

The evolving legacy of Daniel Pearl

Daniel Pearl

Daniel Pearl’s legacy begins with his final words.
The South Asia Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal, Pearl was kidnapped and killed by Al-Qaeda on Feb. 1, 2002 in Pakistan, where he was investigating alleged links between shoe bomber Richard Reid and Al-Qaeda.
A decade later, Pearl is remembered in a multi-dimensional fashion — spanning Judaism, music, education, and journalism. Not an observant Jew, he was filmed speaking his final words: “My Mother is Jewish, my father is Jewish, I am Jewish.” Pearl’s executioners welcomed these words as a confession, but Jews all over the world were united in horror over the terrorists’ actions and inspired by Pearl’s strength.
Since 2004, when the book “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” was published, many events have been held around the country based on people sharing what Judaism means to them. In some events, contributors to the book have read what they wrote for it; in others, members of the community spoke about what they feel when they say the words, “I am Jewish.”
“That is our path. That is our heritage. ‘I am Jewish’ means you are not alone. It means we are all part of the same community. It means we have responsibility to each other,” says the website of Temple Beit El of Northbrook, Ill.
Steve LeVine, Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, a contributing editor to Foreign Policy Magazine and a former colleague of Pearl, told JNS that his experiences with Pearl were confined to the four-month period following 9/11, when both were assigned to cover the aftermath in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“The one thing that sticks in my mind is a conversation in Peshawar or Islamabad,” LeVine recalled. “Whether one ought to, if asked, identify oneself as Jewish. My own view. having previously lived and worked in Pakistan and Afghanistan for three years, and in all reported on the countries for two decades, was that the answer is manifest in why we are there: as journalists, and not as Jewish Americans. Therefore, if it gets in our way and possibly subjects us to danger — which I believe it does and would in Afghanistan, though not necessarily in Pakistan — there was no reason to self-identify and I would not.
“Not Danny. He said that under any circumstance he would identify his religion,” Levine continued. “There was no talking him down from that position. I personally thought it unnecessarily provocative under the guise of being principled. But Danny’s sticking with it told me that he intimately and deeply was Jewish. That he had superlative pride in his identity was obvious in that conversation.”
According to Pearl’s widow, Mariane, he broadened his identity through his work.
“Danny had a very solid sense of his own identity, and that gave him the freedom to be open to others,” she told JNS. “The world of international journalism has changed dramatically since Danny died. Before this, I believe there was a tacit understanding that journalists were neutral. His death was a blatant message for all journalists to stay away from the matters he was investigating, and since then journalists have been much more intentionally targeted.”
Also a journalist, Mariane said the industry has changed since Pearl’s death when it comes to the safety of reporters.
“Most of us have undergone training for safety and most of us are aware that there is a lot of our work we can’t do anymore without taking considerable risks,” she said. “This is sad, but it is reality. On the other hand, this has brought changes that could have a positive outcome, as more journalists from the developing world are covering their own countries and acquiring a global voice themselves, when before they were merely used as fixers.”

The Message in music
The Daniel Pearl Foundation’s annual “World Music Days”—held throughout October to commemorate Pearl’s Oct. 10 birthday—uses our universal language to unite. This year’s theme was “Harmony for Humanity.”
Formed in 2002 in memory of Pearl to promote the ideals that inspired his life and work, the foundation works domestically and internationally to promote dialogue and understanding, to counter cultural and religious hatred, to encourage responsible and balanced journalism, and to promote peace through music.
This year’s honorary committee members of World Music Days included Herbie Hancock, Elton John, Alison Krauss, R.E.M., Yo-Yo Ma, Matisyahu, Itzhak Perlman, Ravi Shankar, and Barb­ra Streisand.
“[Streisand] was touched by what happened to Danny and asked her executive director to help the foundation,” Paul Karlsen, program director of the foundation, told JNS. “They worked closely with us. Other big stars found out about the initiative through our outreach and joined in.”
World Music Days incorporates eStage, an Internet Radio Station broadcasting music inspired by Pearl’s own recordings on violin, fiddle and mandolin. Listeners from all over the world tuned into eStage to hear music by the honorary committee and original compositions honoring the ideals for which Pearl stood.
Karlsen said the foundation’s programs—which also include the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, PEARL Youth News, and the Daniel Pearl Journalism Fellowship—encourage people to take a moment to find similarities that might not be apparent.
“Music has the ability to do things that nothing else can,” Karlsen said. “It truly is a universal language that everyone can understand.
“Seeing something on TV or in the news can [elicit] a reaction, but nothing as emotionally touching as experiencing something in person.”

Focus on education
Pearl’s legacy in the education realm can also be emotional. Each year the Daniel Pearl Education Center at Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick, NJ, sponsors a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, for the Temple’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah class and the eighth grade class at East Brunswick’s St. Bartholomew’s parochial school.
The center has worked with New Jersey officials to co-sponsor a workshop for educators called, “How to Identify and Deal with Stereotyping.”
According to Chairman Dr. Andrew Boyarsky, the center brings the issues of tolerance and understanding to the forefront. On the bus to the Holocaust Museum, Boyarsky chooses his words wisely. “I tell the students that we are not going to see a religious shrine today because, besides 6 million Jews, the Nazis also exterminated gypsies, homosexuals, and the disabled during the Holocaust,” he told JNS.
Boyarsky said the center’s joy comes from taking such a diverse group to the museum. “Daniel Pearl valued diversity as a journalist,” he said. “He was non-judgmental, and he let his readers make up their own minds.”

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