Michel Gurfinkiel

Michel Gurfinkiel

Michel Gurfinkiel

Terror/ The life and death and eternal life of Daniel Pearl

Two books about the murdered American journalist.The murder of Daniel Pearl took place two years ago, just after the Americans had taken over Afghanistan. Everything was ghastly about it. The way Pearl – a rather young and rather  promising reporter for the Wall Street Journal – was abducted, secluded, tortured, forced to confess his sins (being an American Jewish journalist) beheaded and cut into pieces ; the fact that both his confession and his beheading were videotaped ;  the brazen self-righteousness of the murderers ;  and perhaps more importantly, the location : off all places, Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, America’s oldest strategic friend in South Asia. Parvez Musharaff, Pakistan’s president, was seen as a reliable ally. Without his support, it would have been indeed quite difficult, if not impossible, for the US forces to topple the Taliban regime in Kaboul. He was a dictator too, or to put it mildly, a military ruler, unrestrained by ordinary constitutional or legal niceties, and certainly not by habeas corpus or that sort of things. And the Pakistani secret service, ISI, was ultimately answering to him alone. Yet, he had not been able to rescue Pearl or to prevent  his assassination. All he could achieve was to arrest and try some of the murderers at a much later date. Which is better than nothing, but still less, much less, than would be expected.

Two books have been recently published about Pearl’s murder. They are different in outlook, in style and in content. And they are, both of them, unusually riveting. The first one, Who killed Daniel Pearl, by the French writer Bernard-Henri Levy  (BHL, as he is known in his country), deals about the case itself. The other one, A Mighty Heart, is by Mariane Pearl, Daniel’s widow and the mother of his posthumous son Adam. It is a reflection about love, fate, death – and life.

I played a minor role in the completion of Levy’s book. Judaea Pearl, Daniel’s father, called me one day at my Paris home, to enquire about the writer, who had asked for an encounter. Was he, as Judaea Pearl put it, " a serious person " ? I understood his reservations. On the one hand, Levy is the closest thing to a neoconservative  thinker you have  in France. He achieved fame some twenty  five years with an essay on God’s Testament : the ethics of monotheism. He then authored what,  I believe, is an even more interesting book, L’Ideologie française (The French Ideology), an  attack on French flirtation with totalitarianism. He writes splendid pro-West columns for Le Point. On the other hand, Levy seems to believe, as a latter day Hemingway  and Malraux,  that a Great Writer must be a political or revolutionary hero as well,  and a socialite, and even a sex-symbol. He has a narcissic flair for scenic battlegrounds and romantic causes (like Muslim Bosnia in the 1990’s). And he married Arielle Dombasle, an  actress who, at times, undresses well. Quite naturally, Judaea Pearl, who had just read a report on the couple in Vanity Fair, was a bit apprehensive, and wondered what kind of book Levy would write about his son. My advice was to trust him after all. 

As it comes out, the  book Levy wrote starts as a first-person account of his journey into Pakistan, in order to investigate on Pearl’s murder. So far for narcissism. There is probably no other way to convey a true feeling of what the country looks and smells like. " Arrival in Karachi. The first thing that hits you, even at the airport, is the complete absence of foreigners ". And the second thing is the absence of women : " A world entirely devoid of women ". And the third thing is the withering of nature itself, of grass, trees and flowers. Like most third world countries, Pakistan is basically a greyish highway that runs from South to North and ramify into more lateral highways, East and West, with dilapidated all concrete neighborhoods in between them. But somehow it goes further there. Somehow, nature is not allowed to creep back, except  for privileged residential areas. The Land of the Pure purifies itself from life itself. Regular Karachi neighborhoods, not slums, are made, Levy says,  of " vacant  lots and half finished houses whose lower floors are squatted " and " the eucalyptus tree that never quite finish dying of thirst ". As for the visible humans, males all of them, they watch the lonely foreigner with tense, hostile eyes, and even watch each the other in the same harsh manner. The traditional garb of Islam prevails on one side of the street,  uniforms and helmets do on the other side. But something holistic must be going on. Both sides must agree, in the end of the day, to this eery process of overpurification which, really, is what Pakistan is and stands for.

The second half of the book is less personal, more documented. In one word,  Levy believes that whole parts Pakistan’s Establishment were involved in Pearl’s assassination. The New York Review of Books, Noam Chomsky’s den, dismissed his arguments. I, however,  tend to take them as valuable.

Mariane Pearl’s book, as I remarked earlier, is very different. Still, some will say there is something in common with BHL’s. Mariane is a film director. Has she resisted the temptation to turn her personal tragedy into a book – or a film script ? Well, the answer is the book itself. Of course, it is well written.  But there is no prohibition under law against good writing, even on personal matters. The book is poignant, just as a Greek tragedy, or a Biblical narrative,  can be. Because the case is poignant.

Here is Danny Pearl, a very nice Jewish boy from California (quite Jewish indeed, if I may judge by what I heard from his father). In Paris, of all places, he meets Mariane, an assertive young professional with mixed roots (Cuban, etc.). They get married. They draw a contract marriage – in the Jewish or Maranno tradition – where they promise each to the other love and a sense of humor. Mariane gets pregnant. They decide the boy will be named Adam, " Man " in Hebrew,  as a testimony to the various bloods that mixed into him.

Danny is assigned to Pakistan, a seemingly safe, American controled,  place. He is abducted. Mariane and her in laws struggle as every  abducted’s relative do. They meet with people who spent seven years in Islamist dungeons and finally survived. " What is Danny thinking about now ? ", they ask. " Survival ", they are told, " only survival ". They hope he will survive, too. Finally, they learn he has been butchered. On her way to Pakistan, Mariane, pregnant as she is, learns even  that the father of her child was not just beheaded but sawed into ten parts. Yet  she doesn’t collapse. " They call it his remains ", she says. " What really remains of my husband is in my belly ".  Or maybe somewhere else as well.  The baby is born. His name is Adam D. Pearl. Right after delivery, he almost died :some kind of heart failure. Mariane prayed. She asked her martyred husband to do something about his son. The baby was  saved.

>>Bernard-Henri Levy. " Who killed Daniel Pearl ? ". 454 pages, Melville House Publishing. Hoboken, 2003.

>>Mariane Pearl. " A Mighty Heart ". 277 pages. Scribner. New York, 2003.

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