Judea Pearl Reflects on Death of Murdered Son Six years after journalist Daniel Pearl was killed by terrorists while working in Pakistan, his father, Judea Pearl, reflects on what the world learned from the tragic death. His article, "The Daniel Pearl Standard," appeared Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18544223/18544213" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Judea Pearl Reflects on Death of Murdered Son

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18544223/18544213" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Six years ago this week, The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was beheaded by Islamic extremists while he was reporting in Karachi, Pakistan. In the years since his death, the media environment in which he wrote has changed drastically.

In an op-ed published in today's Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl's father, Judea Pearl, reflected on the media's part in his son's murder and proposed that we hold journalism to a higher standard to what he called the Daniel Pearl standard.

If you want to talk with Judea Pearl about the meaning of his son's death and the media's part in it, our phone number is 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and the president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which he founded to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism and music. He joins us today by phone.

And Judea Pearl, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, and thank you for speaking with us on what must be a painful anniversary.

Professor JUDEA PEARL (Computer Science and Statistics, UCLA; President, Daniel Pearl Foundation): Hello, Neal. It's great to be on your show.

CONAN: Now, one of the things that you talked about in your op-ed in The Wall Street Journal was the moment at which you realized that the media did have a role in your son's death, and it was the moment when a Pakistani official came to, well, express her condolences for his death.

Prof. PEARL: That's correct. That was a few weeks after the tragedy, and we had a visit here in our home when we started talking about the various conditions leading to this tragedy. And I mentioned the anti-Semitic element. She said, what do you expect from this people. They are exposed day and night to television images showing Israeli soldiers targeting and killing Palestinian children. What do you expect from this people who never saw a Jew in their life?

I couldn't quite understand at the time what she was heading to. And later, a year later more, I was told by a friend that images of Muhammad al-Durrah where it used as a background in Danny's murder video. And if you recall Muhammad al-Durrah is the Palestinian 12-year-old boy who allegedly was killed by Israeli bullets in Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip in 2001.

And the - that made me feel eerie because at that time, questions were raised about the authenticity of that particular movie - a video clip of al-Durrah. And today, it's close to certainty that the whole scene was faked by the cameraman - Palestinian cameraman who worked for France 2. And the France 2 is given this video, distributed free of charge to anybody who felt the need to ratchet up anger and violence for whatever reasons.

CONAN: It's a powerful…

Prof. PEARL: And apparently that was - has reached the killers of Danny.

CONAN: It's a powerful video for those who remember seeing it. The boy seeming to flinched away from the gunfire burying his face in his neighbor's shoulder to try to get away from the gunfire, and then, well, losing his life.

And as you say, revenge becomes a motive if that's one of the things that was played in the background of your son's execution.

Prof. PEARL: Of course. Actually, it wasn't the neighbor, it was his father.

CONAN: His father, yes.

Prof. PEARL: Yes, and I've seen portions of the film. You know, it's currently under court consideration in France in a libel suit. And the - apparently, the boy lifts his arm after he's supposed to be dead. And the - I've seen scenes where Palestinians - I see ambulance workers brings injured people in one side of the ambulance and take them out dancing on the other side.

So this culture(ph) is known to be deceitful. And France, too, should have exercised more care before distributing it as news and inciting so much hatred and so much willing for revenge.

CONAN: Another thing that's changed in the media landscape since - in the six years since your son died was the growth of independent news channels in the Arab world, places like Al Jazeera.

Prof. PEARL: That's correct. Yes, Al Jazeera, for instance - I would like to talk about the Daniel Pearl standard for responsible journalism.

CONAN: I was going to get to that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …in just a moment.

Prof. PEARL: (Unintelligible). It connects to Al Jazeera. And the way it's connect is when I met - one of Al Jazeera managers and we started talking about biased reporting. And I asked him a very simple question. When was the last time that you have ran - you have a picture of a child, Israeli child, singing a song, climbing a tree, or a grandmother, or any empathy-evoking scene from the other side? The other in this case meant Israeli. And he said, you're right. You're right, we have problem with Israel.

Now, it so happens that I watch Israeli television at least three times a week. And I can tell you about the life of a Palestinian family - the hardship, the sufferings, and the children. And I see human stories three times a week on Israeli television. And it came to my mind that this is asymmetrical situation. That we - that many conflicts, if not can resolved, they could be tamed if both the media plays a more constructive role and show the human side behind the news. And that they haven't. Al Jazeera is one of the greatest violator by their own admission.

CONAN: So you ask us as consumers to just choose any newspaper or television channel and ask yourself, when was the last time it ran a picture of a child, a grandmother, or any empathy-evoking scene from the other side of a conflict?

Prof. PEARL: Correct.

CONAN: And that would be the Daniel Pearl standard.

Prof. PEARL: Daniel Pearl standard, it's so easy to measure. There are no spin around it.

CONAN: And as you look back, one of the things that you also addressed in your article in the Wall Street Journal today is that Daniel Pearl, you son, has been singled out for so much attention, given the fact that so many other victims have regrettably died in the past six years, and, indeed, so many more reporters.

Prof. PEARL: Correct. I think he became an icon for the nobleness of the journalistic profession. And he reminds us of the devotion to truth and objectivity of so many courageous and committed journalists who are currently roaming the world with a laptop and a camera so that you and I will view reality from a deeper level of understanding. That's one of the ideas, ideals, for which he became an icon. And I think, therefore, it is befitting - besetting that his legacy will be connected with this standard of the profession.

CONAN: Our guest is Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered six years ago this week.

Again, if you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

And let's go to Sam. And Sam's calling us from Chicago.

SAM (Caller): Yes. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes, Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

SAM: Hi. I appreciate you taking my call. I just wanted to extend a reason why some of - some Muslims might commit such crimes, such as the one committed against the - your guest's son.

As a Palestinian Muslim myself, I was actually just reminded right now when I heard the speaker, the guest, you know, completely, you know, denounce the truth and the validity of the events of the son of Muhammad, Jamal al-Durrah. You know, the Palestinians, especially, you know, they're living in a society where there is just, you know, barely any kind of dignity, and coupled with the fact that, you know, the Palestinians are made out to be the enemy and the terrorist. Whereas, you know, it is basically the Jews and the Israelis that came in and took over the land. You know, that fact and all these other facts and truths, they're just completely overlooked. And it commits - it creates a life of, you know, uncertainty and a life that, you know, no one really recognizes the plight that the Palestinians are undergoing; what some of the Muslims are undergoing.

And I just (unintelligible) is a sense of helplessness. You know, that the whole world has been blind-eyed to the truth and the facts that, basically, the Jewish propaganda, though, you know, emitting here, in the U.S., and then abroad, you know, it's always the Palestinians that are the perpetrators of crime. And that the Jews are the ones that are responding.

But, you know, everyone fails to look at history and realize that, you know, it was the Jews that invaded Palestine back in 1948. And I just wanted to explain that the helplessness and the fact that the truth never seems to come out are the major reasons why, you know - and I'm not condoning these actions. But why some Muslims just, you know, feel so much despair that they commit crimes that are completely against Islam and just basically humanity.

And that's all I want to say.

CONAN: All right, Sam. Judea Pearl, did you want to respond to that?

Prof. PEARL: Yes, Neal, I want to respond to it on two levels. First, in terms of history. I was born in Israel. I was born in Tel-Aviv. My grandfather came to Israel in 1924, and I don't believe my grandfather invaded. He bought the piece of land (unintelligible) cash to establish a new life for him and for his family with the idea that he is coming home. He's coming home again after 2,000 years of forced Diaspora.

So this is the image, this is the understanding of the Israelis. And I wish that (unintelligible) on the other dimension you're talking about forgetting about history, talking about today. My friends in Israel understand the suffering of the Palestinian people. As I told you, three times a week I watch individual stories on Israeli television.

I remember my teacher screaming at us, today they are your enemies, but tomorrow they are your neighbors. I don't want you ever to speak like that to an Arab, and so forth.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Prof. PEARL: So my friends in Israel have one perception in mind. The occupation, the suffering can all end tomorrow if there's only one ingredient from the other side, and this is recognition that this is a conflict between equally legitimate national movement.

If I can hear it from the caller, Mr. Sam, if he agrees today that this is a symmetrical conflict between two equally legitimate national movement, that is equally indigenous people, in which, if this is - if this idea is accepted in Palestinian society, we are going to have peace tomorrow.

CONAN: Sam, are you still with us?

SAM: Yes, I'm here.

CONAN: And how would you respond to that?

SAM: Well, you know, it's easy for, I guess, you know, the Israelis to, basically, say, you know, like, you know, just to arm yourselves and completely…

CONAN: That's not what he said. Do you accept that this is a struggle between two equally legitimate interests?

SAM: Two - of course. I mean, the Jews existed alongside the Palestinians, you know, for lots of years. It's only one, you know, the - basically, a state was created on top of an existing state, which is when the problem occurred. They're both legitimate and honestly, you know, I would recommend, not a two-state solution because that's not how history was. I would recommend a one-state solution, you know, where Palestinians and Jews live together side by side, you know, and govern themselves together. That's never going to be a possibility.

CONAN: Well, we're not going to resolve that here today, Sam. But thank you very much for the call.

SAM: All right. Thanks for your time, and I'm sorry about your son, you know, I totally disagree with what happened, and, you know, I hope that your heart has healed.

CONAN: Okay. Thank you again.

We're talking with Judea Pearl. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we have time for one more call.

Ben is with us. Ben calling from New Haven, Connecticut.

BEN (Caller): Yes, hi. Shalom, Mr. Pearl.

Prof. PEARL: Shalom.

BEN: I would just like to say that I agree with you that on the Israeli media there is far more balanced in reporting. You have people like Gideon Levy - and forgive some of my pronunciations - Amira Hass who, you know, daily write about the struggles of the Palestinian people, and no, you don't find, you know, pleasant stories about Israelis in Arab media. But I think that, you know, considering the considerable disparities between the two sides, this is fairly understandable. I mean, right now what's occurring in Gaza, you know, is a war of attrition. The people there are suffering collectivized punishment, which is completely illegal under the Geneva Conventions, and you know, many people in America just don't realize this. And it's not - you know, it's not - and it's not just the…

Prof. PEARL: Why do you say they don't realize it? We see it on television, so they do realize it.

CONAN: Judea Pearl, thank you so much for your time today. We thank you. Our sympathies are with you this week.

(Soundbite of music)

Prof. PEARL: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Judea Pearl, the father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, a professor of computer sciences at UCLA. You can find a link to his Wall Street Journal op-ed on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR news. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.