Tuesday, February 3, 2009

But I find it hard to look him straight in the eyes and say: You did not die in vain.

This week marks the seventh anniversary of the murder of our son, former Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. My wife Ruth and I wonder: Would Danny have believed that today's world emerged after his tragedy?


Jimmy Carter.

The answer does not come easily. Danny was an optimist, a true believer in the goodness of mankind. Yet he was also a realist, and would not let idealism bend the harshness of facts.

Neither he, nor the millions who were shocked by his murder, could have possibly predicted that seven years later his abductor, Omar Saeed Sheikh, according to several South Asian reports, would be planning terror acts from the safety of a Pakistani jail. Or that his murderer, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now in Guantanamo, would proudly boast of his murder in a military tribunal in March 2007 to the cheers of sympathetic jihadi supporters. Or that this ideology of barbarism would be celebrated in European and American universities, fueling rally after rally for Hamas, Hezbollah and other heroes of "the resistance." Or that another kidnapped young man, Israeli Gilad Shalit, would spend his 950th day of captivity with no Red Cross visitation while world leaders seriously debate whether his kidnappers deserve international recognition.

No. Those around the world who mourned for Danny in 2002 genuinely hoped that Danny's murder would be a turning point in the history of man's inhumanity to man, and that the targeting of innocents to transmit political messages would quickly become, like slavery and human sacrifice, an embarrassing relic of a bygone era.

But somehow, barbarism, often cloaked in the language of "resistance," has gained acceptance in the most elite circles of our society. The words "war on terror" cannot be uttered today without fear of offense. Civilized society, so it seems, is so numbed by violence that it has lost its gift to be disgusted by evil.

I believe it all started with well-meaning analysts, who in their zeal to find creative solutions to terror decided that terror is not a real enemy, but a tactic. Thus the basic engine that propels acts of terrorism -- the ideological license to elevate one's grievances above the norms of civilized society -- was wished away in favor of seemingly more manageable "tactical" considerations.

This mentality of surrender then worked its way through politicians like the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. In July 2005 he told Sky News that suicide bombing is almost man's second nature. "In an unfair balance, that's what people use," explained Mr. Livingstone.

But the clearest endorsement of terror as a legitimate instrument of political bargaining came from former President Jimmy Carter. In his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," Mr. Carter appeals to the sponsors of suicide bombing. "It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Road-map for Peace are accepted by Israel." Acts of terror, according to Mr. Carter, are no longer taboo, but effective tools for terrorists to address perceived injustices.

Mr. Carter's logic has become the dominant paradigm in rationalizing terror. When asked what Israel should do to stop Hamas's rockets aimed at innocent civilians, the Syrian first lady, Asma Al-Assad, did not hesitate for a moment in her response: "They should end the occupation." In other words, terror must earn a dividend before it is stopped.

The media have played a major role in handing terrorism this victory of acceptability. Qatari-based Al Jazeera television, for example, is still providing Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi hours of free air time each week to spew his hateful interpretation of the Koran, authorize suicide bombing, and call for jihad against Jews and Americans.

Then came the August 2008 birthday of Samir Kuntar, the unrepentant killer who, in 1979, smashed the head of a four-year-old Israeli girl with his rifle after killing her father before her eyes. Al Jazeera elevated Kuntar to heroic heights with orchestras, fireworks and sword dances, presenting him to 50 million viewers as Arab society's role model. No mainstream Western media outlet dared to expose Al Jazeera efforts to warp its young viewers into the likes of Kuntar. Al Jazeera's management continues to receive royal treatment in all major press clubs.

Some American pundits and TV anchors didn't seem much different from Al Jazeera in their analysis of the recent war in Gaza. Bill Moyers was quick to lend Hamas legitimacy as a "resistance" movement, together with honorary membership in PBS's imaginary "cycle of violence." In his Jan. 9 TV show, Mr. Moyers explained to his viewers that "each [side] greases the cycle of violence, as one man's terrorism becomes another's resistance to oppression." He then stated -- without blushing -- that for readers of the Hebrew Bible "God-soaked violence became genetically coded." The "cycle of violence" platitude allows analysts to empower terror with the guise of reciprocity, and, amazingly, indict terror's victims for violence as immutable as DNA.

When we ask ourselves what it is about the American psyche that enables genocidal organizations like Hamas -- the charter of which would offend every neuron in our brains -- to become tolerated in public discourse, we should take a hard look at our universities and the way they are currently being manipulated by terrorist sympathizers.

At my own university, UCLA, a symposium last week on human rights turned into a Hamas recruitment rally by a clever academic gimmick. The director of the Center for Near East Studies carefully selected only Israel bashers for the panel, each of whom concluded that the Jewish state is the greatest criminal in human history.

The primary purpose of the event was evident the morning after, when unsuspecting, uninvolved students read an article in the campus newspaper titled, "Scholars say: Israel is in violation of human rights in Gaza," to which the good name of the University of California was attached. This is where Hamas scored its main triumph -- another inch of academic respectability, another inroad into Western minds.

Danny's picture is hanging just in front of me, his warm smile as reassuring as ever. But I find it hard to look him straight in the eyes and say: You did not die in vain.

Mr. Pearl, a professor of computer science at UCLA, is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, founded in memory of his son to promote cross-cultural understanding.


  1. Just goes to show how much a computer science professor knows about the situation in Gaza. The inability to untangle Hamas terrorists from Palestinians is just plain ignorant. Mr Pearl should reflect on the thousands of innocent Palestinians killed by Israelis in the past couple months and reassess his definition of terror.

  2. I thought about replying to "e" to show how naive, ignorant, and, frankly, hateful e's comment is. And then I read it again and concluded it speaks for itself. Wow. Just disgusting.

  3. 1. Most people who die, die "in vain," in the sense that their deaths serve no high purpose.
    2. Terror is a tactic. It has been used by state actors, but is more commonly a tool of non-state actors: the Irgun, the Tamil Tigers, the IRA, the Quebecois mailbox bombers, the Unabomber, and so on.
    3. When states employ terror (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Gulag, the Turkish genocide in Armenia) it is usually not called terrorism. In fact, I have never heard even the Rwandan genocide described as "terrorism."
    4. Acts of terror have been committed by a huge number of states, or their armies, against civilian populations. The U.S. has certainly not been innocent here: the Philippine insurrection in 1901 comes to mind, along with the systematic eradication of the aboriginal population (not as bad as Australia's, but full of unprovoked violence against civilians); and our VietNam experience, in particular the practices of the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta.
    5. Killing civilians is indefensible, and, in war, unavoidable. But sometimes it is done deliberately, to "terrorize" a population and compel the enemy to quit: We did it in WWII, in both Japan and Germany with devastating effectiveness. When evaluating situations such as this, one should remember that all sides have an obligation to protect civilians; there is some evidence that Israel's opponents not only ignore this obligation, but actually invite strikes against civilians as a strategic measure. Whether Israel should take the bait is a fascinating question. E's reference to the "inability to untangle ..." inadvertantly (because she is speaking figuratively) raises this issue; who "tangled" the Hamas terrorists and the Palestinians in the first place?
    6. We should contemplate what advice we ought to give a peace-loving resident of Gaza: what should he do? What can he do?
    7. I don't find e's comment hateful or disgusting. I'm surprised that anyone would, and I don't think that ad hominem arguments do much to clarify any point, or advance a discussion. And, of course, Pericles did, in fact, reply to e; just without substance. Apparently he does not really believe that it speaks for itself, but requires interpretation, of a sort.
    8. It is certainly true that some people celebrate specific actors and acts of terrorism in ways that make one shudder: what kind of people are these? And contemplating that question should lead us to realize that not everyone in the world is as "enlightened" as we, and we would do well to remember that when we think of intervening in the affairs of those who do not necessarily share our values or world-view.

  4. Thank you Tony. As usual, you put it far better than I and taught me something in the process. I admit to being somewhat inflammatory, but it is just this type of one-sided article that infuriates me.

    I have been quite interested of late in this conflict, its implications and people's often irrational reactions to any defense of the Palestinian position. Case in point: Pericles' response. Furthermore, it is clear that trying to converse with Pericles on this subject is not possible. Like the reaction to Carter's book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, people cannot begin to consider Israel being involved in any wrongdoing. I find the immaturity and reactivity of Pericles' comments illuminating and telling in a manner he most likely did not intend.

    I recommend a few articles on how Pericles' skewed perspective may have come into being:



    For a recent US poll which shows the impact of the media bias:


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