Why Good Hearts Must Go Public
The New York Times · April 22, 2002
By Mariane Pearl
PARIS — I first learned about Pakistan's silent majority at a time when most of the world found itself stunned and speechless at the killing of thousands on Sept. 11.
My husband, Danny, and I had arrived in Pakistan just after the attacks. Pakistan was part of his beat as South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. We had no apprehensions about being in a Muslim country. We had both traveled throughout the Muslim world. Danny had just spent five years covering the Middle East. As a girl, I had spent my holidays with a friend in Algeria, and Islam, the second-largest religion in France, was very much a part of my childhood at home in Paris.
Danny and I both wished we had been visiting Pakistan in a quieter time. But there we were. At our first meeting we heard from a group of women who advised the city of Karachi. They expressed anger at Western reporters for blaming the attacks on Muslim fundamentalists and Osama bin Laden without proof. They asked us to think carefully about our responsibilities as Westerners and as journalists. They said they were lovers of peace and were deeply offended by what they perceived as the West's attack on Islam.
Next we traveled to Islamabad. At the Marriott hotel, you could find every news outlet, from CNN to Serbian radio. The journalists were there to cover a war they could not, as yet, actually see. They speculated on the possibility of a coup. Members of fundamentalist Muslim groups demonstrated before the Marriott to display their anger. You could take a close shot of the protesters as they shouted against America and tell the public back home that Pakistan was on the verge of a civil war. Or you could hunt for another opinion, that of the moderates who were said to be the democratic majority.
Danny and I were told that most people did not share the opinions of fundamentalists. But this reassuring voice of the moderate majority was nowhere to be seen or heard.
Danny and I kept talking with all sorts of people in Pakistan. These conversations were honest and sincere; our interlocutors talked about what they really felt. Some blamed their country's troubles on corruption and previous regimes. Others blamed India or the West, and sometimes both. All expressed shame and anger at how terrorists and their supporters had stolen Islam for their own purposes by promoting hatred and violence. I, too, felt this sorrow for Islam, though as a non- Muslim, and so did Danny.
During the months that Danny and I spent in Pakistan, from Peshawar to Islamabad and then Karachi, I became convinced that all of us have to take responsibility for what is happening in the world if we want to eradicate the causes of terrorism, fascism and similar ideologies. Something new has to happen, and everyday people have to be part of the process. Both Danny and I knew better than to believe what the fundamentalists were telling us about jihad. Jihad is the name of a process that can be undertaken successfully only by a courageous person. A jihadi fights with himself or herself in what I, as a Buddhist, think of as a personal revolution. It doesn't involve demonstrating in front of TV cameras or murdering innocent people. It is a slow and difficult process in which one seeks to overcome fears, prejudices and limitations to defend justice and do something that we call epanouir in French -- allowing our personalities to expand and blossom so that we can fully contribute to society at large.
I came to believe that only through such struggle -- a true jihad -- could Pakistan address the core issues that the fundamentalists use to manipulate people and exploit ignorance. Education, freedom of expression and the alleviation of poverty could no longer be considered a government responsibility alone. Citizens had to find ways to claim and defend their own rights. It was for the people of Pakistan to decide where their country stands in the global arena, and it was for the people of Pakistan to shake off submissiveness and restore their country's dignity.
Then Danny was kidnapped.
Neighbors shut their windows and front doors to me during this crisis. I cannot really say of what they were afraid. Was it the police? Gossip? Was it some earlier trauma? Was it Pakistan's intelligence agencies? The terrorists? Themselves? I prayed that the majority would not remain silent or paralyzed by fears. I prayed that people would come out and defend their faith and country -- and defend their own dignity by voicing their rejection of criminals determined to destroy the future of Pakistan and the hope of its citizens to live in peace. My prayers were realized in part. During this ordeal, I was surrounded by individual Pakistanis and Muslims as courageous and beautiful as those terrorists appeared ugly and without souls. I can never be grateful enough for their graciousness, a ray of hope in the midst of darkness. In the five weeks when I waited in Karachi for Danny to come back to me and our unborn son, the Pakistani police reported at least 11 killings of Shiite Muslims in Karachi alone. Those slain were mostly doctors and professionals. Sectarian terrorists were pursuing their work of destruction. They were planting even deeper the seeds of fear in the hearts of people, making the silence of the majority even more painful to hear. Such fear and terror can destroy a society. When I finally had to acknowledge Danny's bloody murder, I decided not to leave Pakistan right away. I wanted to show defiance against fear. In those days, absorbing the murder of my husband, I received the most heartfelt letters of support from all over the world. And finally I heard from the majority in Pakistan as it abandoned silence.
Pakistani people wrote to me about their feelings. "May God give you strength. Danny's murderers are not Muslim and should be brought to justice." They shared their shame with me: "I am really saddened by the news and astonished that a Pakistani brother can do this." There were beautiful letters printed in Karachi's English-language weekly, The Friday Times. "Danny Pearl is not just a dead American journalist," a writer stated. "His suffering in our midst has made him a martyr to the Pakistani people. He died because Pakistan's enemies could not bear to see the country retake the course of tolerance and moderation that its founding father envisaged." Then I heard about a Web site in which Pakistanis bravely signed their names to a letter of condolence. They wrote: "We unequivocally condemn the perpetrators of this enormity: they are a plague to Pakistan, and the majority of her citizens would prefer to see their kind destroyed." At last count, the signatories numbered 3,767.
Pakistani letter writers had left aside prejudices and appreciated my husband as an individual. One writer commented, "Your husband had a great smile -- a happy mixture of Pope Paul and Dean Martin."
Most captured the sentiments of a writer who called Danny's murder "a crime against the people of Pakistan." These voices give me the strength to believe that the hope of a modern, strong Pakistan still lives and that the people of Pakistan will help me see that justice is done. I'm told there is a hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, that tells Muslims that if they see an evil they should act to remove the evil. If they cannot do that, they should speak against the evil. If not that, then they must condemn the evil in their hearts.
The strongest expression, however, is to act against evil. In memory of Danny and for the future of our son, who is almost here, I also want to ask the people of Pakistan to act upon the sentiments they have expressed and build a memorial for Danny in Karachi. I will bring our son to this memorial and tell him this is the land where his father died, but that the people here stood by us so that his death would not be in vain.