I’ve been hearing a lot about Bernard Henri Levy’s book, "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" but I hadn’t heard what Daniel Pearl’s father thought of it.
So I phoned him.
I knew Judea Pearl would have an opinion, and would not shrink from expressing it. After suffering shock and grief that no parent can imagine, he and Daniel’s mother, Ruth, found the strength to turn grief to good works, to make Daniel’s legacy of tolerance and understanding manifest in a world increasingly hostile to both.
Among those good works is The Daniel Pearl Foundation (danielpearl.org), which hosts a series of world music concerts as a way to use music as a bridge to cultural understanding. The foundation’s second global concert will take place on Oct. 10, which would have been Daniel Pearl’s 40th birthday (see page 41).
Levy’s book, released recently in English, is an investigation into the kidnapping and murder in Pakistan of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Pearl was investigating the terror links of the British shoe bomber Richard Reid’s links to Pakistani intelligence services and groups like Al Qaeda. His contact, a British-born and educated double agent named Omar Saeed Sheikh, lured him to a house in Karachi where Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered on Jan. 31, 2002. He was 38.
How could Levy, a jet-setting French philosopher, accurately resurrect this nice, talented Jewish kid from Encino? What could Bernard Henri Levy understand of such a life?
That the book uses fiction to fill in for scenes that Levy couldn’t have ascertained on his own also struck me as a cheat. Isn’t the truth, especially in this instance, compelling enough?
When I finally got hold of the English translation, I chastised myself.
Levy the journalist has done the hard, scary legwork. He spent one year traveling the path of Daniel Pearl and his killers from Los Angeles to Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Dubai and Britain. What he uncovers is a Pakistan that is "drugged on fanaticism, doped on violence," a cesspool of anti-Semitism so absolute that it has become a kind of religion unto itself. (Levy calls it "neo-anti-Judaism, and tracks it from Europe to Asia and the Middle East.)
Though his evidence thins out by the book’s end, Levy posits the theory that Daniel Pearl was murdered not only for being Jewish and American, but also because he was in the process of uncovering the links between terror groups like Al Qaeda and Islamists in ISI, Pakistan’s secret service agency.
"I am convinced that his was a journalist’s death — dead not only because of what he was, but because of what he was looking for, and perhaps finding, and planning to write about."
This is not a book about Muslims-as-terrorists, but a book about some Muslims hijacking their religion for despicable motives and — given Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities — toward potentially cataclysmic consequences.
Judea Pearl, a scientist, dissects some of the book’s conclusions with as much precision as Levy constructs them. It doesn’t make sense, he told me, that Daniel was killed for what he knew. If that were the case, the murder would have been done quickly and secretly.
"The cameras were there from day one," Judea Pearl said. "If they wanted just to kill him the easiest way would have been to kill him quietly and not make a spectacle of it."
Nor does Judea Pearl agree that the murder was done as a warning to journalists. On the videotape, notes Judea, his son never once mentioned the word "journalist." That leaves Judea Pearl with one reason why: "They wanted to score points against America and against Judaism."
Levy made good on his promise of allowing Judea and Ruth to review the galleys and make any changes. They made none.
"It was in French," Judea said, laughing at the absurdity, "and we don’t speak French." They did object to Levy’s assertion in the first edition that Daniel had not anticipated abduction as a danger to journalist’s abroad — he had written about it for a Wall Street Journal training manual.
Judea Pearl’s biggest qualms have to do — understandably — with the book’s least logical passages. Where Levy departs from journalism and tries to imagine what Daniel was thinking on the day of his murder, Pearl is convinced the writer errs.
"It’s hard for me to read it," said Judea Pearl. "I read it once."
Still, he disagrees with Levy’s flight of fancy that somehow Daniel knew he was going to be killed.
"It’s all totally wrong," he said.
The Daniel he saw on the videotape is ironic, tongue-in-cheek, and fairly certain he must engage in one round of facile propaganda before being set free. In the book, Judea Pearl tells this to Levy, who seems to agree.
"He changed his mind," Judea Pearl said, "but he didn’t change the book."
But those passages don’t mar what Judea says is an important and well-written work. A best-seller in France, it has laid bare the issues of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. It is also a fitting tribute to Daniel himself.
I agree. Levy’s reflection gives Daniel’s death meaning, "because," Levy writes, "of what Pearl represented when he was alive and what he must continue to represent dead.
"There is the diehard humanist who, in spite of everything he sees and has seen in his life, continues to want to believe that man is not a predator to other men, but a brother, a kindred spirit…
"There’s that face — there aren’t many — in which our era can see itself without shame."
This Yom Kippur, when we are instructed to look deep within ourselves, I can only hope we all may find in our reflection at least a glimmer of the face of Daniel Pearl.