January 16, 2019

Sense From Senselessness

What follows is an edited version of a speech that Judea Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, delivered upon accepting an award on his son’s behalf from the Los Angeles Press Club on June 22, 2002.

It is a great honor for me and Ruth to accept this award on behalf of our son, Danny.

I would like to share with you a few thoughts on how we can make sense of the tragedy that befell Danny, and whether anything good can possibly come out of it. I have been asking myself these questions a million times in the past few months and, frankly, the answers are not easy.

To be honest — the terrorists who killed Danny got everything they wanted. They embarrassed [Pakistan President Gen. Pervez] Musharraf, gained publicity, recruited more terrorists, inflicted pain and humiliation on the West and scared foreign journalists. They even managed to lure a greedy American weekly into publicizing their gruesome victory in vivid colors. So, on the surface, they seem to have won on all fronts — and this thought caused me great pain.

Fortunately, among the many letters that we have received, there were several that lifted my spirit and gave me a glimpse at what good may possibly come out of it. I would like to share them with you.

The first letter comes from a 23-year-old medical student in Torino, Italy. She tells me that she has written to the mayor of Torino and, to her surprise, the mayor’s office agreed that they should build a memorial for Danny in Torino. "Torino?" I asked. "Danny never set foot in Torino." Yes, she replied, but we are going to host the Winter Olympics four years from now, and who can better personify the spirit of humanity and international comradeship than Daniel Pearl?

It then dawned on me that they are not doing this for me, or for Danny — they are doing it for the people of Torino who evidently had difficulty finding a symbol for that abstract concept called "humanity," and needed to give the spirit of humanity a face and a body and a smile. And I understood then that, if Danny’s death can give humanity, or whatever is left of her, the banner that she needs to defend herself, then something good may come out of it.

The second letter was from a Jewish congregation in East Brunswick, N.J., asking my permission to name their religious school after Danny. "Religious school?" I asked. "Danny barely survived one year of Sunday school!"

But the rabbi insisted: "We want our children to have a model of what it means to be Jewish, and every mother that I speak to wants her son to be like Danny Pearl."

Again, I realized that he is not saying that to flatter me, but to serve the needs of those good mothers in East Brunswick. I realized then, that to fight anti-Semitism, Jewishness, too, is in need of a banner with a human face on it. And if, by pointing to Danny’s picture, the children of East Brunswick could lift their heads up high and say: "He is one of us, this is who we are," and if being "who we are" entails the pursuit of truth and friendship, then something good will come out of it.

The third letter, believe it or not, came from Alex [Block], informing me of the L.A. Press Club’s decision to establish this award in Danny’s memory. I immediately concluded that journalism too, especially the elusive notion of courage in journalism, needs a banner and a human role model. This was further reinforced by a letter from a Minneapolis lady who writes: "Hi there, my name is Jennifer, and I am going to become a journalist. For a very long time I was confused as to what I wanted to do with my life. When Daniel’s story began unfolding, I realized what passion and courage journalists like him have. I carry a picture of Daniel in my wallet to remind me of why I finally chose to become a journalist."

My goodness! I thought, if the picture of Danny can inspire young talents like Jennifer to become journalists and help reduce ignorance and hatred in this world, then something good already came out of it.

It is in this spirit that the Daniel Pearl Foundation was created. It is based on the simple premise that humanity is fighting a battle of survival, and that troops do not rally behind abstract concepts — they rally behind banners with real faces. I think of the foundation as an enterprise that creates partnerships for good causes, and lends Danny’s banner to help humanity win her battle of survival.

Your presence here, tonight, makes you a partner in this enterprise, and I feel confident that, with partners like you, I would be able to tell my grandson, Adam, some day: "You see, Junior. Your father’s banner helped us win that battle."