If Daniel Pearl could come back from the dead, would he be the same person? Would he be the universalist he was, or feel betrayed by the universe like a Holocaust survivor who witnessed the abyss? After all, Satan himself would laugh when we say that the hairless Anne Frank with a number on her arm still believed that killers, capos and collaborators were ìgood at heart.î
One year after Pearl, The Wall Street Journal reporter, was decapitated by Islamic terrorists in Pakistan, his father and Jews are taking a second look at his murder. Heís seen as a martyr to universalists and journalists. Was he a Jewish martyr, too, if not first and foremost?
His last words before they slit his throat, on a video released by his killers, were ìI am a Jew and my father is a Jew and my mother is a Jew.î If you didnít see the video or didnít read the right paper, chances are you donít know that.
Samuel Freedman, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, and among those who planned the Feb. 22 memorial for Pearl at Manhattanís Bínai Jeshurun, says the media played ìinadequate attention to the fact that he was Jewish and the overtly anti-Semitic aspect of his execution.î
Most papers didnít pay any attention. It was one thing to downplay his Jewishness during captivity, but why after his death? Articles or editorials in the largest American newspapers, including Pearlís own Wall Street Journal, managed to avoid ìJewî altogether.
Pearlís wife, Mariane, was somewhat responsible. She told ABC News that ìtruth,î just truth, was her husbandís ìreligion.î When she went on Larry King, he showed videos of Pearl visiting Soviet refuseniks and discussing Passover in China, but Mariane didnít bite.
Not long after Pearlís murder, Mariane, a Christian who converted to Buddhism, had their baby boy ó Adam, a little Buddhist.
And yet, Pearlís haunting last words, ìI am a Jew,î are the key to the case. Either it was coerced, which means his Jewishness was the reason for his death and his last six weeks were a private Treblinka, or those words were not coerced and his captivity left him with only one conclusion: ìI am a Jew,î and in the end thatís all that mattered.
What happens in life is you develop a history. Anne Frank in the camps was not Anne in the attic or Anne in first grade. Now Yehuda (Judea) Pearl, Danielís father, has a history, a son killed by Islamic fascists. He admits he finds Marianeís hesitation about Dannyís Jewishness ìstrange,î and it is strange for him to say a most awkward parody of his sonís last words, ìI am a Jew and my grandson is a Buddhist.î
The grandfather, 65, is feeling his universalism challenged. ìFor me,î he says, ìthe baby is Jewish.î He hopes Adam will have Dannyís curiosity to discover distant cultures ó like Jews and Israel, where the Pearls are from before having Danny in America in 1963.
Those words, ìI am a Jew,î were said of Dannyís own free will, says Yehuda. He wonders now if all the universalism missed the story. Pearl uses the word ìyahrtzeitî when speaking to reporters. He explains to The Jewish Week by phone from his home in California, where he teaches computer science at UCLA, that he said Kaddish on the yahrtzeit and ìhalachically, the yahrtzeit is the day the person was discovered, not when he dies.î He says he uses the English date, Feb. 21, rather than Adar 9 because that is what people remember.
ìI want it known that anti-Semitism played a major role in his death,î Yehuda Pearl says. ìThatís whatís compelling me, to add that component to the saga.î
Yehuda Pearl once was an optimist, but 700 dead Israelis and a dead son later, heís beginning to slip. There are too many in the world that have legitimized anti-Semitism and a fundamentalist Arab ìculture of deceit, of wishful thinking, of fantasies,î he says. There is ìan Orientalism that blames the West for all the problems of the East. Itís a culture of accusation instead of responsibility. Israel is their scapegoat, the source of all agony, the source of humiliation.î
And yet, Pearl still canít quite let go of the universalism. He asked that liberal Muslims be invited to the yahrtzeit service at BJ. He says his son is ìexactly what the Jewish community needs. Instead of the image of a war monger, we need the image of a peace champion.î
Jews, Pearl says, ought to ìform an allianceî with liberal Christians and Muslims ìagainst fundamentalist Islam, and its ideological supporters,î journalists and academics ìwho have made it their life to peddle anti-American, anti-Jewish hate.î
Novelist Thane Rosenbaum, who spoke at the BJ memorial, sat next to Pearl at the service but flinched when the father in his speech invoked Anne Frank and the old universalism. Rosenbaumís first thought was that Yehuda Pearl was a latter-day Otto Frank, the father who ìwhitewashedî the Jewish message of his daughterís story.
Pearlís insistence on an interfaith memorial, with imams and ministers participating, made others at the memorial wonder: Would the families of Auschwitz have felt incomplete if they didnít have Christian clergy at their 1946 yahrtzeit?
Rosenbaum was afraid the Jewish angle was still too muted. ìThere is a Jewish particularity to this, with a heinous, grotesque message ó a special animus is reserved for Jews,î he said.
Freedman said universalism is a part of us, ìbut tribalism is part of us as well, and that doesnít have to be xenophobic or exclusionary. It means we have a collective identity and a cognizance of who we are, and a realistic acknowledgement of why he was killed.î
Mariane Pearl, who lives in Manhattan, chose not to attend and avoided attempts at contact from the organizers. She knew about the BJ service, Yehuda Pearl said, but ìItís too sad for her.î Freedman noted that she made herself available elsewhere, and to many in the media, but not to the shul.
ìWhat Iíd like to know,î Rosenbaum said after the event, ìis who Danny Pearl was over the last six weeks of his life.î He was a musician, the life of the party, delighted by the world, but what if he lived?
Rosenbaum recalled what one Belgian writer said: ìOne whoís been tortured remains tortured.î
Danny would have had ìa revelation, a more prophetic voice,î said Rosenbaum, ìa voice that had new information about humanity and its ugly reality.î
Rosenbaum muses that in the beginning, Daniel Pearl may have thought or said to his captors, ìI may be Jewish but I am one of you. I have lived among Muslims. I have dined with you. I have taken artifacts from your world and decorated my office with it. I married a non-Jewish woman. Iíve done everything to see the world through a [non-tribal] lens. Iím the guy you want.î
But his killers, imagined Rosenbaum, would have replied, ìOh, you are the guy we want, all right. Youíre Jewish. Youíre perfect.î
As Freedman said to the father, ìWeíre here to help you claim the body.î n