A Spirit of Defiance
Mariane Pearl widow of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, is a journalist, filmmaker, and author of A Mighty Heart: The Inside Story of the Al Qaeda Kidnapping of Danny Pearl.
June 21, 2007
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: I’m Krista Tippett. Today, “A Spirit of Defiance.” My guest, Mariane Pearl, was married to The Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in 2002. A film based on her memoir, A Mighty Heart, opens in theaters this month. Daniel Pearl was killed, in part, because he was American and Jewish. Mariane Pearl, a Buddhist, speaks this hour about making sense of her husband’s murder and her spiritual ethic on what she calls the “frontlines of the war on terror.”
MS. MARIANE PEARL: Danny and I were very, very aware of what was going on. I think Danny knew he could die. I think I knew he could die. And I think we both knew that, somehow, we had to oppose those people. So he did it in the face of death, and I did it in the face of life, you know? But it’s the same defiance.
MS. TIPPETT: This is Speaking of Faith. Stay with us.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett. This month, a film based on Mariane Pearl’s memoir, A Mighty Heart, opens in theaters nationwide. Her husband, Daniel Pearl, was murdered in Pakistan four months after September 11th. At that time, she was pregnant with their first child. In our 2004 conversation, Mariane Pearl spoke openly with me about her experience of human and spiritual dynamics on the frontlines of the war on terror. She says that years of Buddhist practice gave her the clarity to see what the terrorists’ goals were and how to resist them, an ethic of compassion and defiance that sustains her even today.
From American Public Media, this is Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. Today, “A Spirit of Defiance: Terrorism, Love, and Survival with Mariane Pearl.”
On January 23rd, 2002, in Karachi, Pakistan, Daniel Pearl went out to interview an elusive imam with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. He never returned home.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The last time that Daniel Pearl was seen before he was abducted was outside this restaurant in Karachi. He came here to meet a contact and then simply disappeared.
MS. TIPPETT: Weeks after his disappearance, Daniel Pearl’s captors released a chilling videotape of his murder. They killed him, in part, because he was an American, a journalist, and a Jew.
MS. PEARL: They killed a man, and that’s who I lost. I didn’t lose a symbol. I didn’t lose a Jew. I didn’t lose an American. You know, I lost Danny. So that’s the blindness of terrorists.
MS. TIPPETT: Mariane and Daniel Pearl had been married for three years. They were adventurous journalists committed to being agents for change. He was South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. She was an award-winning documentary film producer and a former radio host in France. They came from disparate backgrounds. He was of Polish, Israeli, and Iraqi extraction. She is French and of Cuban, Dutch, Spanish, African, and Chinese descent. She’s also a practicing Buddhist.
Mariane and Daniel Pearl often discussed religion in the months prior to his abduction and murder. They reflected on the danger of religious extremism in the parts of the world they’d come to inhabit. They also spoke often about the dangers and ethical perils created by poverty in that part of the world. In her book, A Mighty Heart: The Inside Story of the Al Qaeda Kidnapping of Danny Pearl, Mariane Pearl recalls one conversation a year before their last trip together to Karachi. She asked her husband which values he considered most essential.
MS. PEARL: I was wondering whether he, having been born Jewish and having been educated also, did he really actually believe in God, and would he call himself a practicing Jewish. And he said, ‘No, what I would call my, my strongest beliefs is ethics.’ And I could say the same, even though I’m a practicing Buddhist. Because I believe that, you know, it is — I think religion, for me, is a tool. It’s not a mean, but a tool to be able to live up to your own beliefs. That’s what I use it for. And I think that’s what he meant. But he also said like, if something like a life-and-death situation would happen, then he would go to his own roots.
MS. TIPPETT: To, to his Jewish roots?
MS. PEARL: To his Jewish roots. He would explore that because that’s the most natural thing for him. But in terms of a belief on which you ground your life, ethics was his answer.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm. It’s fascinating to me that his mother was an Iraqi Jew, that she was born in Baghdad of an ancient Jewish Iraqi family.
MS. PEARL: Right. Right.
MS. TIPPETT: Of course, what happened to you and your husband was set in a much larger context of terrorism and the war on terrorism.
MS. PEARL: I felt, you know, that, for us, it was like we were at the crossroad of international geopolitics…
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. PEARL: …because of the situation in Palestine and Israel, and now in Iraq, but also, I mean, just with the Muslim world and America and Afghanistan, obviously. So I felt, yes, you know, here we have the Jewish element, and we have the American element, and then the Muslim element. And, really, that’s like being at the center of the whole situation.
And I think, you know, for Danny and I, that’s why he said ethics, you know, because that was his way of approaching the world. He might have been Jewish, but that’s something that didn’t, as far as I saw, alter his approach to people. Like, he would not come as a Jewish person. He really came as a journalist. And what he put forward as, you know, his reason to meet the people or to do his job, really were journalistic reasons to do that.
You know, he really, I think it’s this whole role of transparency and truth and truth-telling, that’s what mattered to him. So I think, also, for me, religion is something on which you act upon. And the fact that he died for that is still not something that make me change my mind.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, the word ethics can sound a bit dry. It doesn’t have a lot of generic meaning. You just used the words truth-telling, and truth and transparency. I mean, flesh that out for me a little bit more, what that word ethics meant for you and Danny in that place in which you found yourselves as journalists, but also as human beings.
MS. PEARL: Well, it’s very concrete.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. PEARL: It was very concrete because it really is about how we were going to conduct our daily life and our work. So, for instance, you know, one of the main challenges for journalists abroad would be toward the prejudices, your own prejudices. So, for instance, that was a constant battle to always double-check with yourself your opinion on things.
And having this really demanding attitude, which was, you know, never take impressions for granted or people for granted and, you know, that kind of approach. It was very difficult in India or Pakistan because it’s such a strong country, and that you have so many impressions. And you have so many prejudices. And you have so many clichés, that to fight them, it has to be a very conscious effort. So that’s, that’s what I mean, for instance.
MS. TIPPETT: And that was also an ethical act for you, was fighting your own prejudices as you encountered that new culture.
MS. PEARL: Yeah. Yeah. It was the basics of it, yeah. It’s really like a conduct, like on how you behave as a human being, as a professional. It really is about your interaction with the world. That’s what I mean by ethics. In no way, for me, ethics is something, you know, like a general, broad, you know, system of value. It’s really something that I walk on. It’s really the ground on which I walk, yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: So something else that really jumped out at me as you describe arriving in Pakistan is how very aware you were of poverty, of the condition of people. There is this scene where you meet, I believe, the servant of the woman you’re staying with. And you say, “She was pregnant, but I dare not say ‘like me'” because you were aware that, that life of that child growing up would be quite different from the life of your child.
MS. PEARL: Right. You know, the poverty in the world is, is something that I had, you know, seen before. But in this part of the world, especially in India, the scale of it, it was completely overwhelming to me. I found it interesting that you might live in Europe, for instance, or in America and completely ignore that whole, huge part of the world. And we’re talking about a billion people in India. When you confront it every day, you know deep inside you that there’s not going to be any world peace unless there’s some kind of wealth distribution somehow because those people are also human beings. They don’t have lesser needs than we do. If you’re a journalist, you have to confront it. And when you confront it, you know, it’s a very — for me, it was something very difficult to confront because, first of all, of course, I felt powerless, but also, I was angry. I was angry that I hadn’t acknowledged that before. I had no idea of that reality. So that’s something that really stayed with me.
MS. TIPPETT: Journalist and author Mariane Pearl. She was married to The Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, and was expecting their first child when he was kidnapped and murdered by Islamic extremists. In her memoir, A Mighty Heart, Mariane Pearl writes of her increasing awareness in Karachi of the human cost of poverty. Here’s a reading from that book.
READER #1: “As I awaken, I struggle for the right words to describe this place. It is the curse of all journalists, I suppose, to be writing a story even as you are living it. … There are so many people in this city, but no one seems to know how to count them all. Are there ten million? Twelve? Fourteen? Most of Pakistan is landlocked, pressed between India and Afghanistan with parts of its borders touching southwestern Iran and the farthermost reaches of China. But Karachi, on the brown coast of the Arabian Sea, is the country’s major port and, as such, is a magnet for migrants who drift in from the Pakistani countryside and across the border from even poorer places — Afghan villages, Bangladesh, the rural outposts of India. By day you see the poor burn under the scorching sun, selling vegetables and newspapers at dusty crossroads. At night they disappear in the labyrinthine streets, lending the city an air of foreboding. To us, this third-world city may glow with a feeble light, but Karachi draws the desperately poor like a torch draws fireflies.”
MS. TIPPETT: From Mariane Pearl’s book, A Mighty Heart: The Inside Story of the Al Qaeda Kidnapping of Danny Pearl. I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Today, “A Spirit of Defiance,” a conversation with Mariane Pearl on terrorism, love, and survival.
She came face to face with the violence of Al Qaeda extremists even as, as a journalist, she was analyzing the social conditions that breed terrorism and extremism. I asked Mariane Pearl if she tried at the time to make sense of the larger context in which her husband died, not just who killed him, but what drove them.
MS. PEARL: You know, he was killed by hatred. And to me, to put a label on that hatred, and not to know whether he was killed as an American, as a journalist, as a Jew, it doesn’t matter so much. Whatever label you put on it doesn’t change anything to me. It’s not worse or better to have died because you were American or because you were Jewish. You know, both ways has no — this is not a reason to kill someone. So I am very suspicious of labels. And, you know, if they use that, I’m certainly not…
MS. TIPPETT: You mean the labels they put on him as reasons.
MS. PEARL: On him. You know, they killed him as a symbol, right?
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. PEARL: So symbolism is something I’m very wary of. And, you know, they definitely used that to justify their action. For me, it’s crap, you know? They killed a man. And that’s why I wrote a book because ‘OK, here’s the reality. Here’s the truth. That’s the man you’ve killed.’ And that’s something that is my reality. That’s who I lost. I didn’t lose a symbol. I didn’t lose a Jew. I didn’t lose an American. You know, I lost Danny. So that’s the blindness of terrorists, you know, who, in front of their own people, justify action by saying, you know, ‘This was the enemy,’ which is a big lie. So, so for me, it’s important to clearly state that, you know, there’s no color on hatred. One reason is not better than the other.
MS. TIPPETT: You quote a letter that a Pakistani journalist wrote to your friend Asra, that “We have a depressed society and all other avenues are closed. Only this avenue of violence is open.” I’m not asking you to excuse, whether you excuse the men who killed your husband. That would be a ridiculous question. But I wonder if your thoughts in trying to make sense of this, of how this could happen, if you do look at the larger context in which this happened, and find some reasons there for how this could happen.
MS. PEARL: You know, I know that for a long time, that this can happen. I know it because, because it’s enough to travel to know that. And it’s enough to explore the world. You know, for instance, in the Arab world, once you are — I’m pretty familiar with the Muslim world. And when I traveled on Nigeria or even Gaza Strip or Morocco, whatever, or Pakistan, you see thousands and thousands of young men who are frustrated in every way, including sexually, have no perspective, have no work, no hope, no nothing. You know something is going to happen. You know it’s going to either implode or explode, but something is going to happen because they are human, and you know what human means. You can — you’re not a cow. You can’t just like stay there until you die. So this is actually common sense.
So I knew that for a long time, and Danny knew it, too. I think, you know, that’s something we’ve been very aware of for a very long time. And that’s when I say, you know, it’s time to maybe embrace the complexity of the world because it’s not fair to just say, ‘Oh, you know, they’re just bad guys out there,’ you know? There are a lot of those people who are involved in al-Qaeda operation are illiterate, young — you know, maybe they’re 25 years old — completely desperate young men. But it is true that they have no access to education. They have no access to dream, period. They have no access to hope.
MS. TIPPETT: Could you have thoughts like this in the midst of what was happening to you when Danny had disappeared and you didn’t know whether he was alive or dead?
MS. PEARL: Yes. You know, you can’t change reality. I mean, it’s something that anybody, whatever your beliefs are and your political inclinations are, everybody can see that. It’s just common sense. And so it’s just a matter of are you going to open your eyes or not. But if you are going to have some kind of honesty to the world, you’ll realize that it’s impossible. And if you have a knowledge of also the history of the region, then you understand. I think it’s a pretty easy task to be a terrorist over there, you know? It’s easy to recruit people because all the elements are there.
MS. TIPPETT: And what you’re saying is very straightforward, but I think it’s pretty remarkable that you can say that having gone through what you’ve gone through, having lost your husband to those dynamics.
READER #1: Mariane Pearl writes: “Another official-looking man in his mid-thirties, polite and smiling and dressed in a suit, summons me with a discrete gesture. He tells me he is from an acronym’s police branch, and he asks for a photo of Danny ‘for the needs of the inquiry.’ We happen to have made identity photographs recently and I riffle through Danny’s computer bag for his. When I pull it out, Danny’s sweet and slightly ironic glance crosses mine and something suddenly starts screaming inside me. I experience an instant of pure panic. I feel a devastating urge to charge into the streets shouting his name, demanding that he be given back to me now.
“… The anger that rushes through me goes well beyond the hellish night I’ve just lived through. In a flash, I feel a terrible bond not only with the victims of September 11th but also with the kids brainwashed to become instruments of death in the name of an invented Islam. The terrible absurdity of it all overwhelms me.”
MS. TIPPETT: From Mariane Pearl’s memoir, A Mighty Heart.
MS. PEARL: You, you were asking me about forgiveness.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. PEARL: Forgiveness, for me, is not so — it’s not an incentive. Like, I have no incentive to forgive those people, and to a certain extent they, particularly those who made decisions are responsible for what they did, and they should probably die for it. So I’m not forgiving them. And even though the situation is the way I described it, it doesn’t mean that everybody goes into fundamentalism. And I think at some point, what they learned what to do in terrorist camps is to even — and there’s no wisdom there. There’s not any more logics. It’s just passion, right? So in my own personal challenge, I am not interested in forgiving them, but I’m interested in winning over them. And I think because I’ve understood them and I have, and I’ve seen them and I have faced them, I know them. And I know what I’m facing, and I know how to, thus, I know how to, to challenge it.
MS. TIPPETT: And what does it mean to win over them? What does that mean?
MS. PEARL: Well, it means something very, very deep and very personal, but, you know, to give you an example, if I was somebody who could not trust people anymore because of what happened to Danny, then they would have claimed some part of my soul, I guess. You know? If I was overwhelmed by bitterness or if I hated Muslim, which is, you know, all, all of those are goals that they’re trying to achieve by act of terrorism. When they kill a target, whether it is 3,000 people or one person, like Danny, it’s the same goal. It’s like, you know, it’s not about the people who they kill, it’s about the people who relate to them. So because what they’re trying to achieve through act of terrorism is so clear to me, so clear that I was able to stand up against those goals each time they did it. And that’s what gave me the strength. I knew that if, you know, if I was going to be bitter, I was going to be half dead, and that’s exactly what they wanted, right? I can’t do that. It’s impossible. But it’s a defiance. It’s not a forgiveness. I have no reason to forgive them.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, defiance is not a Buddhist term, but I do sense your, I do sense a sort of fierce Buddhist practice…
MS. PEARL: I’m a fierce Buddhist, right?
MS. TIPPETT: …running beneath that.
MS. PEARL: No, Buddhism, I think, you know, there’s 84,000 teachings actually in Buddhism, so it’s, you know, I guess, and I don’t know them all, at all. I’m not a specialist. I know the one I practice. For instance, here’s a tool. When I, you know, when I feel — I have a legitimate feelings of, for instance, you know, anger, I chant to, to overcome that anger. But it’s more of a determination than a prayer in a way. But I use the force of Buddhism, like whatever He brings me, whatever He awakes in me, to achieve my goals. You know, I don’t look in the texts to see whether it’s a Buddhist attitude or not, you know? I just — what I do is to be as honest and sincere with myself as I can be. And that really works with Buddhism. And, you know, I like it that it’s not, it’s not a philosophy that has this moral on what is good. You don’t know. You don’t know what’s good, what’s bad, you know? It’s more like what’s value-creating and what’s, what isn’t. So, for instance, it is a Buddhist victory for me to, I mean, that I relate to Buddhism the fact that I can live, for instance, you know? That I can love after all that, and that I can understand, for instance, the — in Pakistan, I chanted, obviously, to try to save Danny, and I think what Buddhism brought me at that time was a very strong insight into what’s, what was going on. I think Danny and I were very, very aware of what was going on, I think.
MS. TIPPETT: In that place?
MS. PEARL: Yes. I think we were in the same mind frame. I think Danny knew he could die. I think I knew he could die. And I think we both knew that somehow we had to oppose those people. And he did it in the face of death, and he did it through gestures and, you know, in the photos, there were photos of him. And you can see him giving the fingers or showing the “V” for “victory,” you know? And he did what he could. And some sentences that he, that he said also in the video that was going to document his murder. So he did it in the face of death and I did it in the face of life, you know? But it’s the same defiance.
From Mariane Pearl’s memoir, A Mighty Heart: “To the end, he fought back. In the video, my friends tell me, Danny says, ‘My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.’ Yes, I’m sure they made him say that.
“… But here is how I know Danny was undefeated to the end: He says on the video, ‘In the town of Benei Beraq in Israel there’s a street called Chaim Pearl Street, which is named after my great-grandfather, who was one of the founders of the town.’
“This was not a piece of information his captors could have known or forced Danny to utter before the cameras for their propaganda purposes. The choice of those words and the decision to say them was pure Danny Pearl, his own act of defiance, essentially saying, ‘If you are going to kill me for who I am, then do it, but you won’t have me.’ Danny said this for me and for our son and for his parents. He said it so we’d know. So we would be proud, so we would go on. His words about the past created a future.”
MS. TIPPETT: This is Speaking of Faith. After a short break, Mariane Pearl’s stories of the Pakistani policeman who helped her through her ordeal, and the human face they put on the war on terror.
MS. PEARL: The interesting part was that we ended up being two Jewish people, one Buddhist, two Catholic, and two Muslim. So that’s where we were. And so I think the reason why people became so deeply involved was that it was almost like two visions of the world were fighting each other.
MS. TIPPETT: Also ahead in our conversation, the birth of her son, Adam.
Many times we can’t fit all of my conversation into the radio broadcast. Here’s your chance to hear what was cut. Go to our Web site, speakingoffaith.org, and hear my complete, unedited conversation with Mariane Pearl. Also, listen to our program at your convenience. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter and subscribe to our podcast containing free downloadable audio and bonus material. Discover more at speakingoffaith.org. I’m Krista Tippett. Stay with us. Speaking of Faith comes to you from American Public Media.
MS. TIPPETT: Welcome back to Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. I’m Krista Tippett. Today, “A Spirit of Defiance.” My intimate 2004 conversation with author and journalist Mariane Pearl. Her story is dramatized in a new movie starring Angelina Jolie. The kidnapping and murder of Mariane Pearl’s husband, Daniel Pearl, in 2002 in Karachi is a source of continued international speculation. Pakistani authorities convicted four men for the crime. One, Omar Sheikh, was given the death penalty, which he has appealed. In March of this year, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda’s third in command who is now in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, confessed to Daniel Pearl’s murder. Mariane Pearl is a French journalist of Cuban and Dutch extraction, and a practicing Buddhist.
Terrorists beheaded her husband and sent a videotape of that act around the world. But Pearl says they didn’t win. In her memoir, she devotes great detail to the courage of the Pakistani security officers who fought to find her husband and save his life. She later told President George W. Bush that these men have barely functioning transportation and communications. Yet, they are on the front lines of the war on terrorism.
MS. TIPPETT: I found this such an important part of your story. There’s captain, this Pakistani…
MS. PEARL: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: Was he a police officer?
MS. PEARL: He’s a, he’s an anti-terrorist…
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
MS. PEARL: …person. So he’s from the police, some special unit. But he’s from the police corps, yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: And you sort of refer to him with great respect and affection as “Captain.”
MS. PEARL: Yes, I respect him a lot, yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: And he’s really another face of that part of the world and this struggle that we’re engaged in together.
MS. PEARL: Yeah. See, he puts a human face to what I was telling you earlier, which is…
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. PEARL: It’s not about Islam, it’s not about Muslim, it’s not about even Pakistani, you know? This is not it, like, you know, people claim those elements or features. It’s just a hijacking. And if you see the people, the Muslim people, how, first of all, they’ve been suffering from terrorism in that part of the world is the Shi’a-Sunni killings. But also you see how — like can you imagine — I don’t know which, which is your religion, but if someone claims to be of your religion to kill someone, it’s horrible. They’re taking your beliefs and they’re making them, you know, something that destroys. It’s about hatred. It’s very difficult to deal with. And that’s something that Captain had, so — that’s why I knew he was going to fight so hard against those people because he was personally attacked as a Muslim.
MS. TIPPETT: Describe him — for someone who hasn’t read the book, describe who he was and what role he played in your experience.
MS. PEARL: He’s a man who had been in the army for a long time. That’s why I nicknamed him Captain, even though it sounds like a lower grade than he was. But then he started fighting terrorists. And he had been involved in the Shi’a killings in, in Pakistan. And, and that’s a horrible story because even in the time I was there 11 doctors were killed. They were killing doctors, Shi’a doctors. So 11 doctors, that’s a lot of people, and just targeted killing. So he had been dealing with that.
MS. TIPPETT: He’d been working on that, those cases?
MS. PEARL: Yes, he’d been working on those cases, so he had to know a lot of broken families and people that died for nothing. I mean, killing a doctor, I mean, how, you know, more ruthless can you be? That’s just because they’re curing other people, you know, other Shi’a, whatever. But he’s also — he’s a man, he’s a Muslim and he’s a practicing Muslim and one of the most noble men I’ve ever met in my life. To me, he has all the beauty of Islam in him in what he brings to the people. I’ve seen, you know, people like him in other countries, in other parts of the world.
MS. TIPPETT: What, what do you think of when you say that one, that phrase, the beauty of Islam?
MS. PEARL: It’s just that he’s a man who has very high principles, and those principles are brought to him by his religion. And he lives up to them, and that’s what matters to him. So that makes beautiful people, because it’s not only something out of yourself or, you know, just like the, the system in which you have been brought or whatever. It’s something you have chosen for your own life. So when, when the time came, for instance, for Captain to decide whether he really should risk his life to save Danny, that’s what, you know, went into his mind. He’s like, ‘As a Muslim, I have to do that.’ You know, ‘This man is innocent, I have to save him.’
MS. TIPPETT: I wonder if you could take us inside that house in Pakistan as you’ve learned that Danny had died. Tell me what happened and where this wonderful spiritual balance that you have. Was that with you in that moment?
MS. PEARL: Well, I think, and I said earlier, what the real benefit of having practiced and chanted at that moment, I think was that I was so clear on what was going on. This is a time where I didn’t think about myself at all. For the first time, I thought, ‘OK, the reality is, like, one of us made it, and the other one didn’t.’ So that’s — I had to confront that, but otherwise I was so clear on who killed Danny and why they killed Danny, and what I had to do to oppose that. That’s what saved my life, I think. It was a time where if I was going to live on because at some point, you know, we’re going to forget or get over it, I don’t think I would have done anything like that.
MS. TIPPETT: Was it your friend and protector, Captain, who gave you the news when they finally learned…
MS. PEARL: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: And I, I know it was very striking how broken-hearted he was and all the people, all the police officers.
MS. PEARL: Yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. PEARL: Yeah, it was a very strange thing to see all these tough guys, because they are very tough guys, and obviously they’re fighting tough guys, too, so they are very trained and very, you know, emotionally and physically and — but they were all crying because they had involved themselves so much, and because Danny was dead and because they like me, and they were, felt real kinship, I think, with me and with Adam. And I think they did that because they thought I was very courageous, and that gave them a lot of hope, I think. So that’s, that was my role in this house, and, yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: To give everyone else hope?
MS. PEARL: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. It would have been different if I had been, you know, it may be difficult to convey, but that’s what Buddhism brought me at that moment. I mean, I could face what happened, and if I have to have someone who were, who was more — had more, less defenses, it would have been a completely different story. We led a war. It was a war, but that was possible because of me and — it’s not really me, but it was faith at that moment. And Buddhism, I think, one of the big aspects of Buddhism is wisdom, is insight. That’s what it brings you. So I really needed that at the time.
MS. TIPPETT: Journalist Mariane Pearl. Here’s a reading from her memoir.
READER #1: “On our last night I invite over all the men who helped me look for Danny. Randall snags beer and bad wine for the non-Muslims and the non-pregnant from the U.S. consulate commissary.
“… We gather in a circle, and for a while we sit in silence.
“… Finally, I find my voice. ‘You are the bravest men I have ever met. You went straight to hell, where darkness is the deepest, because you hate injustice, and racism, and tyranny. You did it for Danny and for me and for our child. But you also did it on behalf of the rest of the world. You are on the front lines of the fight against terrorism, and still, nobody knows you and how brave you are. Nobody sees how your willingness to fight the darkest threat for humanity actually makes each one of you shine as an individual.”
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media, today in conversation with journalist Mariane Pearl.
The security officials who supported her during the ordeal of her husband’s kidnapping in Pakistan were joined by friends and family from several countries. For five weeks before Daniel Pearl’s body was discovered, they formed a community in the house where she was staying, watching, searching, and praying around the clock. Looking back, Mariane Pearl sees in that mix of humanity an alternative to the terrorists’ vision of the world.
MS. PEARL: The interesting part was that we ended up being two Jewish people, one Buddhist, two Catholic, and two Muslims. So that’s where we were. So I think the reason why people became so deeply involved was that it was almost like two visions of the world were fighting each other. And in one hand, there were the people who held Danny captive and had some fascism, you know, as a vision for the future, and we were the world. And, so it was almost two ideologies fighting each other. And I think everybody just threw themselves in this battle because of its almost symbolic value. We could not let those guys win. That cannot be the future of the world. And everybody, I think, at some point was ready to die for that.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, I’m sure someone would hear the description you just gave of these two worlds, the terrorists who were holding your husband and who killed him, and then this world of people fighting that. And they would say that they won, that the bad guys won. But that’s not, that’s not what comes through your book. I mean, how do you explain that way you came out of this?
MS. PEARL: For me they clearly haven’t won as I’m still standing, because to take somebody’s life is nothing, you know? If you have seven, eight people in a room and the person has shackle and you kill him, you know, then that’s not a victory. And there is something bigger than that, and the spirit is what makes us human. And that’s the only way you can challenge those people because, physically, I could never be as ruthless as they are, and I’m not interested in being as ruthless as they are. So that’s not even something I’m considering. But you cannot get hold of a strong spirit, and I think that’s why Danny opposed them. That’s why I oppose them, and that’s why hopefully our son will oppose them. And that’s something, whatever you do, you can imprison someone, you can kill that person, if they resist you mentally, you — that’s it. You haven’t claimed anything. And I think they know that.
MS. TIPPETT: You mentioned your son just now, and we haven’t even talked about the fact that when you were going through this you were pregnant. And I have to say, for me, reading the book, it seemed like such a miraculous and necessary part of this story — that you had a part of Danny inside you, right, that you then brought into the world after he died.
MS. PEARL: Mm-hmm. I received some letters saying that he was the Messiah or, you know, the son of Jesus. He’s not. He’s a, he’s a child, and I think he really is the best of us. I’m more and more confident about this fact. And he’s, he represents victory, I think, also, that’s concrete element because, you know, he could have died pretty easily just because of the stress and because of what we went through. And bringing him into the world in good health was one of my concrete, when — it’s a manifestation as a result of my determination not to let those people win. But if I was going to bring him into the world, I was going to bring him happiness. I was not going to bring a kid to which I had no hope to offer. So that was very clear to me. So it meant that I have to win my fight.
MS. TIPPETT: Could you tell this story that you tell in the book about just how you spent the couple of days before you went into labor?
MS. PEARL: Well, it was just a very difficult time because we had found Danny’s body in Pakistan and a lot of details about what happened to him, and it was very graphic, and it was very horrible, very ruthless. And I was finding that out. And I found things out just by chance, in a way, because I was trying not to read e-mails and not to, I mean, trying to concentrate on the birth. But I did find some e-mails and, and read about it.
So I realized the violence is something that terrorists use as a tool. Violence is made to terrify you. You know, it’s a very concrete cold-minded thing. So the more violent it can be, the more they have power over you because you can’t beat them. So I knew that violence was meant for us to be paralyzed. I was worried because I had never had a child and I knew that birth is something that kind of overwhelms you and all kinds of feelings can appear or things like that. So I knew that the violence, you know, that’s when I had to confront the violence before I gave birth, because if I didn’t do that then it would have some power over me. It might be too much or it might be paralyzing me or taking strength away from me.
So I did that. And I isolated myself, and I thought about everything that I had to think about, and, you know, I’m not going to say more than what I said in the book because part of it…
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. PEARL: …is very personal and belongs to me, but…
MS. TIPPETT: You really thought about what you knew concretely about what had happened?
MS. PEARL: Yeah. I confronted the violence, you know? And I thought about that, and I thought about, you know, everything that I needed to think about. And I did it, but I did it, again, in a spirit of defiance, like it was something that was the ultimate thing they could make me collapse with, you know, the amount of violence that Danny was confronted with. One thing that really helped me was that he died pretty fast, and he doesn’t know what happened afterwards. So that’s something that helps. And I was so close to him that somehow for me it was like, you know, once we’re dead, we’re dead, and, you know, the rest is for us to be traumatized. It’s done for us. So I needed to do that, and I did it. I isolated myself for two days, and I did that.
MS. TIPPETT: And then you went into labor.
MS. PEARL: Yeah. But at the end of that, those two days, I, you know, I knew it was going to be OK, and I was going to be fine.
MS. TIPPETT: And do you still feel that way now? Was it the cathartic experience that you wanted it to be? Did you really get that out?
MS. PEARL: Yes and no. I mean, sometimes it comes back to you, and that’s something to deal with. But I was not trying to get over it, because there was no way to get over it. I was trying to not let them win, you know? And letting them win was — would be anything from having a very difficult labor to Adam not making it. So I was, I was fighting. I was not trying to heal. And I think I’m still in that same mood.
MS. TIPPETT: Journalist Mariane Pearl. Her son was born nearly four months after his father’s death, but early in the pregnancy, Daniel Pearl had already chosen the baby’s name, Adam. He would be, Pearl said, a universal baby.
MS. PEARL: Adam is — in his veins, he has blood from Iraq and from Poland, from Israel, from Holland, from Cuba. That’s our four origins. And then, you know, his father’s American, and I’m French. And he was conceived in Bombay. And so the whole world is in this little kid, little child. And, you know — and it was wishful thinking that, hopefully, that would be the people it the 21st century that, you know, they can live with all this cultures and origins. It would sit inside them and just be beautiful.
MS. TIPPETT: It seems like he’s, he is a physical embodiment of that, that parallel world you described in your house in Pakistan…
MS. PEARL: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: …all those people countering…
MS. PEARL: Right.
MS. TIPPETT: …that world of terrorism.
MS. PEARL: Right. Exactly.
MS. TIPPETT: Tell me about Adam. What’s he like?
MS. PEARL: He’s very — he’s, he’s adorable. I’m really not objective, but…
MS. TIPPETT: No, he looks adorable. I saw his picture.
MS. PEARL: He’s very, he’s very nice. He’s a very caring and loving and funny little child. He’s a good traveler, obviously. And he’s, he’s very joyful. He’s a very joyful kid.
MS. TIPPETT: Hmm. I know you worried so much, which any — I mean, mothers worry, pregnant women worry about everything, and then you were going through this huge trauma of how this would all be affecting him, what you were going through. I mean, do you still think about that as you watch him grow?
MS. PEARL: People were more worried than I was. I think a lot of people around me were completely so scared that he would be everything. And I wasn’t scared because to me, it felt like we’re either going to make it or not. But just during this whole time, we were — it felt to me like we were one entity. So I was not making any separation between me and Adam at that time, because it was just such a life-and-death situation. So that’s something very difficult to communicate, but I did — he was always, for me, like as I wrote in the book, I trusted him, and I don’t know how you can trust a fetus, you know? But I did. I really did. I felt like, you know, ‘OK, I don’t have to worry about him.’ Or if I had, then it’s about all of us. It’s about the three of us. So to me, he was just part of us, and he was exactly in the same fate. He was more actually a reassuring presence than he was a person I was worried about.
People panicked around me, that’s for sure. They really wanted, like, a doctor to come. And I knew that, you know, it was, it was deeper than that. We — it was a deeper battle than, you know, than regular worries that people have. Same thing when, when I gave birth and people told me about the baby blues, you know, you know? ‘Sure. You know, I have the baby blues, whatever.’ You know, it’s, it was much deeper than that. So, the only thing for me is, you know, I’m going to have to tell him the story, so I’m going to have to, to find the words.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. PEARL: And, and I will. So, when you think of him growing as an individual, as a third person, then, you know, you have to just see how we’re going to deal with the situation. But it’s his fate; it’s his story, too. And I don’t know, I think he’s going to have a strong sense of his father.
MS. TIPPETT: You published your memoir really pretty quickly after the events, and I wonder if just at this remove of months, is there anything as you’ve continued to live with this and make sense of it that you think you might have written differently or included?
MS. PEARL: Not at all. I have absolutely no regret. There are things I haven’t written about and I could write about, but the purpose of this book was to, to just give my experience, tell the story from my point of view. And I did exactly that. And I just went back step by step to everything that we went through and, and with no — I didn’t step back. I didn’t interview anybody. I just told my experience. And I needed to do that for Adam, just that he knows the truth. What I’m going to tell him 10 years from now will have 10 years of, you know, distance and, and our lives will be different. I needed him to know exactly what happened, and that’s exactly what I wrote, not a word more than that — or less.
MS. TIPPETT: Mariane Pearl speaking of her memoir, A Mighty Heart: The Inside Story of the Al Qaeda Kidnapping of Danny Pearl. The book included excerpts from dozens of letters she and her son received from around the world. “After this excruciating ordeal,” she wrote, “there was nothing I needed more than to be reassured about human nature.” Here are readings from some of those letters.
READER #2: “Though you don’t know us, we are deeply grieved by your loss and feel as if we have lost someone from our own family. Take courage, for something good, however small, will always come out of such a tragedy, or so I believe.
With deep regret for your loss and prayers for Danny,
Zarina Mehta, Bombay, India.”
READER #3: “Dear Mrs. Pearl,
The enclosed money order was purchased with donations made by friends, family and customers of Deegan’s Liquor Store in Woodhaven, New York. We were touched by you and your husband’s story, and we hope this relatively small contribution can help out with some baby expenses.
Elizabeth Deegan, Woodhaven, New York.”
READER #2: “Dear Mrs. Pearl and family,
I would like to offer my condolences on the untimely death of Mr. Pearl. May he rest in peace. As a Pakistani, I am ashamed of being one today. His unborn son will come into this world hating us, but is he not justified to hate us? I have no words to say how sorry I am for what happened to Danny. My heart goes out for your family. Danny died for a great cause, and he is a martyr. I had hoped for him all along and now console myself knowing he is happy up there with his creator and looking down and smiling and longing to see his beautiful unborn son. He will be your guardian angel. People like Danny make this world worth living in. May he rest in peace, and God give you the strength you need.
Sultan, Sara, Ryaan, and Raniya.”
MS. TIPPETT: I asked Mariane Pearl what such letters meant to her.
MS. PEARL: Well, one of them is, is a lady — an older lady from Syracuse, New York, who sent me a $10 check, and I’ve kept that check, actually. I have to confess I never cashed it because she’s — for me, she represents the number of people who, who just expressed everything they could to, to help and an amazing empathy. So from that kind of people to a man that is on a death row, for instance, in Pakistan for blasphemy, you know? And he is going to die, and still he thinks that it’s important that he communicate, you know, his solidarity to us. And he’s worried that we have the wrong impression of Islam. And to me, now it feels like a lot of those letters were written with, like, real soul. There was no personal interest there. There was just a real solidarity.
And to me, they’re very important, those letters, because I think, you know, we were talking about Adam, and I think, you know, he’s going to have to confront like a story of absolute darkness, because that’s exactly what those guys are. But on the other hand, you know, you can only oppose light to darkness, and that light is those letters. I mean, those letters, that’s what they represent for me because to that, he can only, you know, light, and, and the only light we have is the light of our humanism, right? And that’s what they express. Whoever they come from, you know, they can, you know — some people are very known; some people are not well known.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. There are several presidents in there, but there are also just average people.
MS. PEARL: Yeah, exactly. It’s not like — there’s less chance, maybe, that a president will be sincere, you know? And I published those I thought were sincere. But, you know, it comes down to — because it’s about life and death and the death of an innocent man to humanism. You know, there’s something common to all of us we can all express, and they have those people. And for Adam, they are, I think, going to be the balance that will make the world a possible place to live.
MS. TIPPETT: Mariane Pearl lives in Paris. She currently writes the “Global Diary” column for Glamour magazine, profiling women around the world. The film adaptation of her book, A Mighty Heart: The Inside Story of the Al Qaeda Kidnapping of Danny Pearl, opens nationwide this month.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about today’s program. Contact us at speakingoffaith.org. Our companion site includes audio of my complete, unedited conversation with Mariane Pearl. And sign up for our e-mail newsletter and our podcast, which includes mp3s of current and past programs. Now, look for SOF Extras, too. Listen to Speaking of Faith in a way that best fits your life. Discover more at speakingoffaith.org.
The senior producer of Speaking of Faith is Mitch Hanley with producers Colleen Scheck and Jody Abramson and associate producer Jessica Nordell. Our online editor is Trent Gilliss. Bill Buzenberg is our consulting editor. Kate Moos is the managing producer of Speaking of Faith. And I’m Krista Tippett.