Daniel Pearl’s Story Still In Captivity
07/27/07
Associate Editor
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There’s a sure-fire line in every Holocaust movie, almost a laugh-line for audiences by now, that cues the viewer to know that the character — usually a fussy intellectual — is not only a fool but someone who will definitely be killed by the end of the first reel. The line? “But this is the country of Beethoven, Goethe and Schiller!”Sure, pal. Now do the movie’s hero a favor and get out of the way.“We’ve seen that argument,” says novelist Thane Rosenbaum. “‘I am German. I am German like you. I love Germany like you.’ Funny, the ‘I am like you’ thing never seems to work. The Jew-hater of the world is not impressed by the idea that the Jew he is about to murder Values To Heal America has the same taste as he does.”And yet, arguably the two most iconic Jewish victims of the last 70 years, Anne Frank and Daniel Pearl, have been promoted to the general public not as Jews but as universalists, “I am like you,” even though they were killed because they were not. The current movie, ostensibly about Pearl, “A Mighty Heart,” is more “about you,” his wife Mariane, a universalist and a non-Jew.Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French-Jewish author of “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” wrote: “There is this gentle Islam, which, in spite of everything, until the last minute, Daniel Pearl wanted to believe, as I want to believe.” About now, someone ought to be telling us that there is an Arab equivalent to Goethe and Schiller, except nobody’s laughing.Paul Simon sings, “Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts,” and these days the helpless, universalist Jewish victim is on top of the pops. A few decades ago, Jewish heroes such as Chana Senesh or Joseph Trumpeldor died in action, rushing into the fight on behalf of the Jewish people. These days, Jewish heroes are complete innocents, dying not in battle or in defense of others but in unanticipated captivity, in unanticipated terror. Our heroes are not the ones who surprise the enemy but the ones who are surprised. The only Jewish soldiers most Jews can name are kidnapped. Heroism, once leading to victory, is now given to victims. Winners write history but even losers can pin medals on the dead.Pearl is the perhaps the most famous hero in this latest war against the Jews. What might have he been thinking, seven days into chains and anti-Semitic torture that would surely have made Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo seem as benign as, well, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo? If Pearl had been treated as well as prisoners in Guantanamo he’d be alive now. But you wouldn’t know it from “A Mighty Heart.” The movie was directed by Michael Winterbottom, who previously directed “On the Road to Guantanamo,” a highly negative look, and he peppers the Pearl film with images and analogies to the American military prison.In fact, the only torture scene in “Mighty Heart” is of a suspect in the Pearl case being tortured during an interrogation rather than Pearl’s certain torture in his interrogation.In an online chat (June 15) on The Washington Post Web site, Winterbottom explained the legitimacy of the Pearl-Guantanamo juxtaposition: “I think, actually, both stories are very similar. Both are stories about people who are victims of increasing violence on both sides. There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this.”To the director, then, this was not a Jewish story. Winterbottom explains, “to be honest, [we] were telling Mariane’s story, not Danny’s.” As Daniel’s orphaned son might say, “My mother is Buddhist. I am a Buddhist.”Meanwhile at Guantanamo, one of its prisoners, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, formerly a top al-Qaeda leader and considered one of the masterminds of 9/11, said in a statement released by the Pentagon, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head.”There were no such pictures in the movie. American moviegoers are thought to be too squeamish for what Islamic murders look like, although moviegoers have had no trouble lining up for gore ever since movies were invented—from “Schindler’s List” to the beach landing in “Saving Private Ryan,” from the Pearl-like throat-slitting in the Kansas farmhouse in “Capote,” to the slo-mo pumping of dozens of bullets into the bloodied Bonnie and Clyde. Somehow, only when a Muslim is doing the killing is the audience thought to be unable to bear it.Winterbottom is not averse to shock. In a previous film, he directed his actors to engage in actual unsimulated sex on-screen. It would not have been a leap for this director to depict what Rosenbaum calls “the terrorist porn” video of what actually happened to Pearl, a video labeled by terrorists, “The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl.”Winterbottom adds, “Danny’s parents watched [the film in preview]. Everyone has been very supportive of the project.”Not everyone. Pearl’s father, Judea, who for five years has tried to serve his son’s memory by acting as an apostle of universalism and tolerance, recently wrote in The New Republic (July 3) that the movie extends “the logic of tolerance a step too far.... I am concerned that aspects of his movie will play into the hands of professional obscurers of moral clarity.”Pearl continues, “There can be no comparison between those who take pride in the killing of an unarmed journalist and those” trying to stop such attacks. “There was a time when drawing moral symmetries between two sides of every conflict was a mark of original thinking. Today, with Western intellectuals overextending two-sidedness to reckless absurdities, it reflects nothing but lazy conformity.”Pearl writes, “My son Danny... was tolerant but not mindlessly so.”Asra Nomani, a Wall Street Journal colleague of Daniel Pearl, and in whose Karachi home Daniel and Mariane were staying at the time of his abduction, wrote in The Washington Post (June 24), that as she watched the film, “My heart sank... Danny had a cameo in his own murder.”Nomani was aware that the movie’s PR machine seemed intent on “shallower goals,” the idea that Daniel and Mariane were “ordinary heroes.”“I do believe that Danny’s last moments, as he declared his Jewishness for his kidnappers’ video camera, showed his strength of character.”But Nomani points out that just as the Bush administration tried to elevate the story of Jessica Lynch, ambushed and wounded in Iraq, to one of heroism far beyond the reality of Lynch’s story, the manipulation and inflation of heroism is not done by the military alone. Look around and you’ll see, she writes, “how cheap and manufactured our quest for heroism has become.”

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10/13/2009 - 09:40

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