Commentary Magazine


Contentions

“I Am Jewish” — Remembering Daniel Pearl

Ten years ago this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. Nine days later he was murdered–beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Before being killed, he was forced to make a statement on a video that the terrorists subsequently distributed to the press. Though he was forced to make criticisms of the United States, he died expressing pride in his identity. “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish,” he said.

Pearl’s abduction and murder was a heinous crime that came to symbolize the barbarity at the heart of the Islamist movement. But Pearl’s final words, though spoken under duress and with the shadow of death hanging over him, are also a symbol of the spirit of a people that hate cannot extinguish.

Ten years after Pearl’s death, there are many in this country who believe the “war on terror” is something for the history books, put on a shelf and forgotten. Al-Qaeda has received severe blows. Mohammad was subsequently arrested and after much legal wrangling, will eventually face trial before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay for his role in Pearl’s death as well as the 9/11 attacks. But the terrorists are still out there and, with their allies the Taliban still holding their own in Afghanistan, hold out hope for a revival of their cause.

Even more to the point, Islamists who sympathize with Pearl’s killers and share much of their ideology–such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Palestinian group Hamas–are on the upswing. The Brotherhood controls Egypt’s new parliament with other Islamists while Hamas appears poised to expand its sway over Palestinian society from Gaza to the West Bank via a unity pact with Fatah.

The anniversary of Pearl’s abduction should remind us that those who spread hatred of the West and of the Jews are generally not satisfied with merely talking about killing Jews. These groups pose a direct threat to world peace, and the United States must not be gulled into seeing them as people with whom we can do business. For them, Daniel Pearl’s admission of his Jewish identity and his ties with the people and the land of Israel justified his death. For us, they are an expression of pride.

Daniel Pearl was an open, inquisitive and honest journalist who bore no grudges against those of other nationalities and faiths. For this as well as for his American and Jewish identities, those for whom such qualities are anathema marked him for death. But though this anniversary is a sad one, his last words must also serve as a reassurance the Islamists who murdered him will not prevail. Though an Islamist winter has followed the Arab spring, the words “I am Jewish” resonate today as the cry of a Jewish people who will not perish. May Pearl’s memory be for a blessing.