“Five and half years ago, in a desolate dungeon in Karachi, Pakistan, in the midst of a great madness, there was a young man who confronted a TV camera and looked straight in the eyes of evil and proclaimed his identity. He said, ‘My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American from Encino, Calif. My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. And I’m Jewish.’ ”
This was not the opening passage of a spy novel, but the opening of a speech by Dr. Judea Pearl, father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. He spoke Sept. 8 at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks to an overflow crowd of more than 400 people. The topic of his speech: “Being Jewish in a Post-9/11 World.”
Rabbi Richard Spiegel arranged the lecture as part of an evening of events, including a book signing by Pearl, and a late-night service in anticipation of the High Holidays which began at sundown three days earlier.
“This is the time when Jewish people think about important matters,” Spiegel said.
“We wanted a speaker who would be of interest to our temple and to our community.”
The supportive crowd that packed the synagogue spanned all ages, including a sprinkling of teens. Judea Pearl spoke from a podium in front of a projected image of a smiling Daniel, which guaranteed his son’s presence would be felt throughout the speech.
Daniel Pearl was a Wall Street Journal reporter in Karachi, Pakistan, when he was kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists in January 2002. He left behind a wife, Marianne, who at the time was pregnant with their first child. A film starring Angelina Jolie depicting the ordeal was released a few months ago. Pearl’s parents began the Daniel Pearl Foundation and edited a book of essays from prominent Jews discussing what it means to be Jewish.
Dr. Pearl elaborated on his son’s last words and what meaning was intended. Speaking as the voice of his son, Pearl said, “I come from a place where one’s heritage is the source of one’s strength and one’s strength is measured by one’s capacity to accommodate diversity, because it is only through diversity that we can recognize our common humanity. ‘I am Jewish’ means ‘I am reminding you of the challenge of understanding others.’ ”
Pearl said Daniel’s final words resonate because, as a reporter, his son had a long record of honest and sometimes difficult journalism. “The respect that Danny got from both sides of the East-West divide, the goodness of his smile and the sound of his laugh became iconic personal reminders to millions of people around the world that the current wave of hatred and terror is aimed not at policy or country or institute, but against the very fabric of civilized society,” Pearl said.
“And Danny’s last words, ‘I am Jewish,’ immediately assumed a universal dimension and has since come to symbolize the right of every individual to assert his faith, heritage, and identity,” Pearl added.
Pearl also spoke about what it means to be an American in post-9/11 society. “What the murderers miscalculated was the effect of bringing a camera into that dungeon in Karachi because by zooming in on Danny’s face, they drew the world’s attention onto the face of America, an America that extends a trembling hand to the less fortunate part of the world, an America that cares without asking in return, an American journalist, a Jewish journalist, who is fair and objective. This is not the image of America and of Jews that the murderers meant to advertise.”
Turning shattered faith into opportunity
Pearl wondered how it was possible for God to allow such a cruel act to occur and spoke of how much he still needed to believe in goodness.
“Without faith in God, how do I cope with the terrible injustice that befell my family that day, and how do I reconcile the crime between our intuitive notions of good and evil, reward and punishment, divine supervision, a loving and caring God, and the brutal murder of the most gentle person I have known?” Pearl asked. “I simply put my mind on the opportunities that my private tragedy has imposed on me and my family rather than agonizing over a God that slept late on the morning of Jan. 30, 2002.”
One of the opportunities was a chance to be heard. “In an open letter to the people of Pakistan, I made it quite clear the love of Danny, I wrote, will forever tear at my heart, but I cannot think of a greater consolation than seeing your children here in Pakistan pointing to Danny’s picture and saying, ‘This is the kind of person I want to be,’ ” Pearl said.
Pearl focused on the need for all societies to battle terrorism or risk collapse. He distilled terrorism to simple terms. “All terrorism is built on three pillars. First pillar is suffering that we don’t understand — economic, poverty and desolation. Second pillar is an ill-intended enemy. And the third pillar is a license to kill. All terrorists share one thread; your grievance counts and your grievance precedes the norms of civilized society.”
The lasting message of Danny’s life transcends the horror of his death, Pearl said. “The legacy of Danny Pearl radiates two messages in the post-9/11 world. First, to the Muslim world, we are not your enemy. We have a common enemy elsewhere that we need to fight together. And second, to young Americans and young Jews, you have something positive to offer in this world.”
Pearl finished the speech with a reference to his son’s love of music and playing the fiddle. “Danny hated funerals, and when a friend asked him whether he believes in the afterlife, he said, ‘Not really. I have more questions than answers. But I sure hope Gabriel likes my music.’ ”
A philosopher of science
The audience responded to the lecture with several standing ovations. Afterward, Pearl signed copies of his book, which sold out that night. He answered the questions and comments of each person who waited in line to capture his signature.
Even those who did not buy the book were enthusiastic about the speech. “I was very moved on a personal level, on an emotional level, and on an intellectual level,” said Lucy Friedland of Thousand Oaks. “I feel now, having heard the father speak, that I understand more about Daniel Pearl. You get more insight into the kind of man he must have been.”
Gail Ginell, also of Thousand Oaks, was impressed by Pearl’s answer to a question about forgiveness. “He was saying that if terrorists ask forgiveness and say they shouldn’t have killed your son, he might be able to say I forgive you. But just to forgive them when they have no regret, he can’t do that. That makes sense. He was saying, ‘How can you ask me to forgive them when they don’t want me to forgive them?’ I thought that was very honest.”
Ginell was surprised at how distinguished Pearl is in his own field of study. “At first, I thought he was speaking just because he was Daniel’s father, then I realized that he had many more credentials in his own right.”
Pearl was born in Tel Aviv and came to the U.S. for post-graduate work in 1960. He joined the faculty at UCLA in 1969 and is currently a professor of computer science and director of the Cognitive Systems Laboratory. He is known internationally for his work in artificial intelligence, human reasoning and the philosophy of science.
Pearl co-founded the Daniel Pearl Foundation in April 2002 to continue Daniel’s pursuit of dialogue and understanding among cultures, as well as to address the root causes of the tragedy.
Pearl also co-edited the book I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl. He explained why he felt the book was necessary.
“After the tragedy, especially in view of Daniel’s last words, I had to explain to people what he meant,” he said. “I’m not a philosopher of social science. I am a philosopher of science. So it took a different kind of thinking on my part.”