What's so special about Daniel Pearl?
5/29/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
Danny Pearl's execution is a recruitment video for savages. According to CBS News, the film is being distributed out of Saudi Arabia, our strategic partner for peace and the war on terrorism. The footage is titled "The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl." It must trip off the tongue better in Arabic.
Apparently the footage is very popular with Saudi college kids, high-school students and other folks whose idea of downloading porn from the Internet involves getting the latest pictures of Americans and Jews being carved up like animals. So much for the idea that education is the solution to all social problems.
Dan Rather introduced the footage by saying, "Enemies of this country are spreading on the Internet a gruesome piece of propaganda: It is videotape of the execution of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl."
Within a week of the broadcast, Rather told a BBC interviewer that he was worried that patriotism might "run amok . trample the very values that the country seeks to defend." He compared the climate in the United States to the practice in South Africa where black radicals would strap burning tires called "necklaces" around the necks of anybody who cooperated with the white government.
"And, in some ways," he said, "the fear is that you will be necklaced here (in the United States), you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck." Rather said it is "this fear that keeps journalists," including himself, "from asking the toughest of the tough questions."
In that spirit I'd like to ask one question that might be too tough for him: What's so special about Danny Pearl?
Does his heinous murder deserve so much attention because he was an American civilian? No, over 3,000 American civilians were murdered on Sept. 11, and it's very difficult to see footage of that anymore. Most news networks have never broadcast a single image of Americans leaping to their deaths from the World Trade Center.
American have been getting killed and butchered in the war on terrorism since there was a "war on terrorism." Tourists were killed in Cairo by fanatics, six people were murdered in the first World Trade Center attack, a prison guard was stabbed in the eye by al-Qaida member Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. Do you know any of their names? How many of their husbands or wives have you seen on "Larry King Live"?
Is it because Danny Pearl was Jewish? Hardly. Jews - many of them American citizens - are slaughtered almost every day, and we don't spend much time dwelling on the details or wringing our hands about whether the press should show the gruesome details. The nightly news doesn't show the maimed children or the decapitated old men piled on the streets of Israel.
So was it because Danny Pearl had a family? Lots of people have families. Because he was murdered in cold blood? Of course not. Murdering in cold blood is the norm for Islamic radicals, not the exception. Because there was a gruesome video? Unlikely, since there is no shortage of horrific images in network archives that we will never see.
No, it seems the only thing that makes Daniel Pearl's death unique is that he was a journalist.
Dan Rather explained his network's rationale on Don Imus' radio show. "We did not run the Daniel Pearl assassination video. What we ran was a story about some very cynical, hateful people who want to destroy America and Americans, using that video as part of their recruiting campaign."
But as Ralph Peters, a retired military officer, recently noted in the New York Post, American military personnel have been getting killed by Islamic fanatics for decades. Recall Lt. Col. William Higgins. Recall the men killed in action or beaten while wounded in Somalia. Recall the men killed in the Khobar Towers, the East Africa embassies, the U.S.S. Cole.
Images of these things have been used in recruitment videos by "enemies of this country" for, literally, decades. The image of an American soldier being dragged, naked, through the streets of Mogadishu is a particular popular scene in the Arab world, appearing often on "mainstream" TV in the Middle East. The footage of the Pentagon in flames is also very popular in the world of international Islamic Terror TV - this despite the fact there are still plenty of American news executives who are deeply conflicted about whether the Pentagon was a "legitimate" target or not.
What's new about the Pearl video is that it's got a reporter in it, not that murder and savagery are being used to recruit our enemies. But to the bad guys, there's no moral difference in legitimacy between an American soldier and an American journalist.
None of this should subtract one iota from the barbarity of Daniel Pearl's murder. But it would be nice if our leading journalists could, from time to time, recognize that the people who are "merely" killing our soldiers and our non-journalist civilians are still, in the words of Dan Rather, "hateful people who want to destroy America and Americans."