Pearl: 'They Took His Life But Not His Spirit'

By Jen ThomasiBerkshires Staff
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Mariane Pearl during a Q & A session with MCLA students on Wednesday afternoon.

NORTH ADAMS - It would be easy for Mariane Pearl to react to the senseless murder of her husband - journalist Daniel Pearl - by becoming consumed with feelings of hatred, fear and vengeance. Instead, the columnist and author believes spreading hope is the key to keeping his spirit alive.

In a lecture to more than 550 students and community leaders at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Wednesday night, Pearl chronicled the death of her husband and how it transformed her life. The speech, titled "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl" (also the name of her bestselling 2003 book), not only detailed the type of man her husband was but also how others could use his death to find inspiration.

"Beyond the lives that were at stake, it was also the outcome. And because the outcome was so dire, I wanted people to understand that I knew then that I would do anything and everything possible because in that situation, you just think you can't let these people win. It's just too horrible," said Pearl, 40, in her speech to an overcrowded Church Street Center.

Pearl recalled the journey she and her husband took from the Parisian party where they first met (where Danny was accompanied by a "tall, blonde, blue-eyed lingerie designer") to the frenzied moment after she learned her husband had been murdered - and grasped a soldier's gun in her hands.

Interspersed with anecdotes about the kind of "cute, handsome, smart" man Daniel Pearl was, the talk was less a heart-wrenching recollection of devastating events and more a discussion about the true importance of wisdom, ethics and personal values.

"Knowledge by itself is not enough. The truth is we need to couple it with wisdom. Sometimes knowledge without wisdom is worthless and it can also be dangerous," Pearl said. "Knowledge is there for you to bring up, to bring forth your own wisdom, your own strength, your own values."

<L2>Pearl went on to describe how her own personal wisdom carried her through the tragedy that left her a widow while five-months pregnant with their son, Adam. Her ethics, she said, are what keeps her committed to pursuing hope.

"I really learned that those hardships are not what defines my life. It's my reactions and the values I've adopted and that's thanks to bringing forth wisdom," Pearl said.

Daniel Pearl, 38, was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, in January 2002 by Islamic militants while following a story on "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. He was held captive for nine days and was beheaded. His killing was videotaped and released to both Pakistani officials and the FBI, before it was leaked onto several Web sites.

At the time of his death, Pearl was the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal and was stationed in Mumbai, India. He had previously worked at both the North Adams Transcript and The Berkshire Eagle.

During the lecture, Pearl said the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the possibility of war in the Middle East had brought the couple to Pakistan, and sickness had forced Mariane to stay home when she would normally have accompanied him to the interview.

"We had a system where we would check with each other every 20 minutes when we weren't together. So I called him after 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes. And after an hour, I basically had the instinct that things were really bad and not only that, I had the feeling that it was related to al-Qaida."

After her husband was kidnapped, Pearl immediately began working to identify his captors and return him home. Calling the terrorist network "a cancer," Pearl said she created a team of diverse people, who would not usually work together, to help her locate an almost untraceable enemy.

"I know what it feels like when you've created all those values, used your knowledge and used your wisdom and then you're confronted with a true life-or-death situation. To me, I knew who I was confronting and what their intention was. I already, at that moment, decided that whatever was going to happen to us, whether we were going to make it or not, and truly I did not think of us as being separated, the one thing they're never going to get is us," she said.

After Pearl learned her husband had been killed, her first reaction was to run outside and grab a gun from one of the officers stationed outside her home.

"I was holding this gun. It was a strange feeling to hold this gun and to think it's not so hard to kill someone, especially if they've hurt you. And I was thinking about courage and the biggest act of courage, to me, was putting down that gun," she said. "It wasn't act of forgiveness or acceptance or revenge. I only knew that it was the only act of revenge that was possible."

"They can take his life but not his spirit," she continued.

Pearl said she knew that the only way to combat the terrorists was with hope.

"When I put the gun down, I knew that my responsibility was bringing awareness to people but not as the voice of fear," she said.

Ironically, Pearl said Daniel had refused to go to Afghanistan to report because he felt reporters' safety was not valued while they were serving in violent and war-torn countries and had even written a memo to the Journal requesting the staff be trained.

"The Journal never responded to it," Pearl said.

Not knowing how to spread her message of hope and courage, Pearl began writing "A Mighty Heart," not knowing if anyone would read it.

"I had to willingly walk into Hell to tell that story," she said.

The book has been translated into 18 languages and was adapted into a film in 2007 with the same name starring Angelina Jolie. Her second book, "In Search of Hope," is a collection of hopeful stories about extraordinary women heroes from around the globe, gathered from her Glamour column "Global Diary."

"I wanted to find extraordinary examples of human resilience and I think that is truly the answer to terrorism because it is the exact opposite," Pearl said. "Everything I've done for the last six years truly is an emanation of that decision that I made [to speak out] and that decision that I made is an emanation of having the courage to follow ethics from the beginning."

Pearl appeared at MCLA as part of the Hardman Lecture Series, sponsored by the Hardman Family Endowment. Calling the city one of her favorite places to visit with Danny, Pearl said she was excited to return to the place her husband got his start.

"In my travels, people talk to me about Americans and I think, 'I wish they knew the people in North Adams, then they wouldn't be so scared of Americans anymore,'" she said.
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