Daniel Pearl never wanted to be the story. Like all authentic journalists, he wanted to observe, to analyze and to tell the story to others. Nevertheless, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamist terrorists in Karachi, and who would have celebrated his 43rd birthday this week, has become the symbol of what can happen when journalism meets jihad. HBO tells the story in a new documentary film, "The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl."
The film tries to draw parallels between the reporter and Omar Sheikh, the jihadi who conspired in his murder, abundantly detailing the humanity and character of Daniel Pearl. But only scanty information is available about Omar Sheikh, how he was transformed from a man into a hating machine. This is instructive, too, contrasting the open society of America against the closed-minded culture of hate, fostered by Islamic fascists wherever they are.
The film documents how the Islamists, miserable in their distorted faith, live off a culture of despair born of manufactured misery. Omar Sheikh was privileged. He was born and grew up with middle-class parents in London, attended the London School of Economics where he studied applied mathematics and economics, and played a good game of chess.
"He was not an illiterate jihadi whose mind had been captured by the mullahs; he was a very bright, Oxford-material boy, overturning the notion that education is the solution to terrorism," says Ahmed A. Jamal, one of the two directors of the documentary. "In his case, he was a formidable terrorist precisely because he was so well-educated." Indeed, he had the wealth to support his alienation, the reasoning power to rationalize his resentments and the mind to accentuate the negative with cunning, converting his abilities into a perverse nihilism.
He called himself Bashir, lured Danny Pearl into a fictional friendship, and disarmed the reporter with personal questions about his pregnant wife and her health. He duped him into thinking that he would introduce him to Sheikh Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, the Muslim religious leader who Mr. Pearl believed controlled the financing for al Qaeda. Instead, he led the reporter to his kidnappers.
Omar Sheikh the jihadi had been radicalized by the war in Bosnia, where he went to help Muslims (who were being helped by the Jews and Christians of the West). Later, Omar attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan and set his vicious energies to work kidnapping Westerners in India, sweet-talking his victims with practiced lies.