Lessons of Pearl's Last Words

The great Viennese psychotherapist Viktor Frankl wrote, “Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” This quotation, found in Frankl’s seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a reminder that even in the darkness of great evil the light of human dignity shines.

Murdered journalist Daniel Pearl’s reported last words, “I am a Jew, and my mother was a Jew,” are reminiscent of the conviction shown by the Holocaust victims Frankl recounts entering the gas chambers. Like many of the millions of innocent people who have died for their religion or their nationality in the past, Daniel Pearl’s death was an affirmation of his life.

The chilling brutality of this murder juxtaposed with Daniel Pearl’s last words illustrate three very important points. First, they show the honor and dignity of this great reporter; second, they represent a stark and awful demonstration of how evil the radical fanaticism of our enemy is; and finally they are an alarming indication of the intensity of the widespread anti-Semitism in much of the Muslim world.

Daniel Pearl was an enormously respected reporter who is being widely hailed as soft-spoken but deeply honest and willing to press anyone for the truth, regardless of their power or title. His last words were an affirmation that he was too dignified to abandon the truth of his own existence in the face of his captors’ pressure. Although the circumstances of Pearl’s last words are unclear, it might be possible that his captors wanted the video to emphasize Pearl’s Judaism in order to capture the imaginations of anti-Semitic Muslim militants, one must think Pearl was proud to say who he was as he faced death.

Pearl’s murder is symbolic of the evil that we face. Their ideology mixes together anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and an obscene disregard for the value of human life. They cruelly murdered Pearl because he was an American and a Jew. This ideology is found within the al Qaeda organization but is also espoused widely throughout the Muslim world. Preachers of and believers in this ideology are found in the madrassas of Pakistan, the dense jungles of Basilan, the slums of London and Paris, the capitals of Damascus and Teheran and the villages of the West Bank. The results of this ideology at work can be found in oppressive regimes, murdered tourists, fallen towers and blood-splattered pizza parlors.

Pearl’s murder is also a reminder of the intensity of many Muslims’ anti-Semitism. Muslim extremists will no doubt be the largest group of anti-Semites during the twenty-first century. The evidence is in the firebombed synagogues and Jewish elementary schools in France and the racist sermons of imams in Britain as well as in the vicious words of the Arab world’s regimes. It is also in conference rooms in Durban, South Africa, where the farcically-named World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was turned into an anti-Semitic gadfest by Muslim countries last fall.

Let us keep in mind what Pearl’s last words say about his personal integrity, but let us keep the other two lessons in mind as well. A sad pattern emerges in history when evil, and particularly anti-Semitism, is not fought in its nascent stages. Thank God we have a president who is willing to fight—because we absolutely must.