WASHINGTON - Daniel Pearl's 8-year-old son Adam, who was born after his father's murder, was among the six family members of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter present when U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act at the White House. Also present was Daniel's father, Judea Pearl.
How do you - as Daniel's father - explain to your grandson what happened?
It's hard, but we are doing our best not to traumatize him. He knows that his dad was killed by bad people, he doesn't understand the background and occasionally he asks questions. Yesterday we went to the Lincoln Memorial, and there was a woman in the crowd who asked, "Are you Judea Pearl?" I said, "Yes. I am." She said, "I remember your son." And Adam asked, "How come people know you?" And I told him, "They were very upset by the death of your father." He asked why. And I tried to explain him that his father was something unique because usually they don't touch journalists. And here they did it, and it upsets many, many people. He understands it, and ultimately he will get the information. But I hope by that time, he will be strong enough and mature enough....
The law is supposed to give the State Department the ability to work more energetically to protect journalists and promote freedom of the press. Do you believe this will improve the situation?
I wasn't really involved in it. It was the initiative of Congressman Adam Schiff, whom we met in Pasadena a few years ago. At the beginning of this year, he contacted us and asked if we agree to this initiative. He is in the caucus for freedom of the press and thought it would be good to tie it to the name of Daniel Pearl to get wider support in Congress, and he was successful. He passed it through the House, then it went to the Senate - we didn't push for it, and recently we got a phone call that the president is going to sign it, we had three or four hours to decide if we are going to go or not. And we decided, correctly, I think, that we should all be there. Whether it will work depends on how vigorously the State Department pursues it. But even if they don't, and it stays on the books, it will still have a positive effect on journalists, who will feel that someone is paying attention.
There has been a great deal of controversy recently over the question of where the trial should be held of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is suspected of planning the September 11 bombings and also admitted murdering your son.
I think it should be held behind closed doors. That's based upon a very simple realization there is nothing more enticing for would-be terrorists than the idea they will get a stage in a New York court. It's more enticing, I believe, than 72 virgins. -
What do you think about the recent calls to deny terrorist suspects Miranda rights, even if they are American citizens?
Throughout history society has found new legal instruments to deal with new threats. Terrorism is a new threat; it needs to be dealt with newly invented legal instruments. And it's a job of the attorney general to invent new legal regimes to deal with that problem. Terrorists should not be tried as soldiers nor as criminals. There should be a new category to deal with this particular threat. That's my opinion. The international community has this mandate. If the United Nations cannot decide on the definition of a terrorist, it doesn't mean that each country should be likewise inhibited. [He did like borrowing from analogies related to the Geneva Conventions.] This phenomenon didn't exist on such a scale back then, and it exists now.
You participate in a dialogue for Muslim-Jewish understanding in America with Dr. Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington, D.C, and you probably know how sensitive this community is to discrimination. Aren't you afraid such laws might be abused when you have trials behind closed doors?
It could be, but we must devise ways to eliminate or reduce this likelihood. However, we did have special treatment of pirates in the 1840s - they invented a new instrument - a pirate caught on his ship wasn't dealt with in his country of origin. He was tried in the country that owned the ship, and within 12 years, they got rid of piracy. It was a new legal trick and it worked, and we should deal in a new way with the terrorism problem. It deserves its own legal framework.
Have you been following events in Israel regarding freedom of the press and freedom of movement?
I just saw on "London and Kirschenbaum" that they refused to let Noam Chomsky enter Israel. It was ridiculous. It was very strange to me, I don't know who gave this order. Maybe it was a statement by Shas, so people know they are still in the coalition. Yesterday I visited Newseum [the D.C. museum of journalism], and they proudly told me that Israel moved from a yellow color to a blue color. Which means that in 2009 there were no complaints of persecuting journalists in the West Bank, so I was happy to see Israel is back in the blue.
The foundation you established in you son's name has a program for journalists from Muslim countries. How does it work?
It's a scholarship or fellowship for mid-career journalists from Muslim-dominated countries to come to the U.S. and work for six months at a major newspaper and go back to their countries and tell the readers what they have learned about the U.S. and the Jewish community in the U.S. They also work at least one week at a Jewish publication.
Won't it put them at risk in some countries? Can they actually apply it at home?
The whole point is that those who are ready to take this fellowship are already willing to make a statement. And there are other people who need encouragement, and these are the people whom we are sponsoring. Our feedback is terrific. We had people who went back to Yemen and demanded freedom of speech. And conducted seminars on how to report news objectively. Now we have about 14 journalists who keep in touch and tell us about their continuing efforts. They get the idea that freedom of the press is a norm in certain societies and got to see how it operates and they understand the situation in their country, and that one day they should be entitled to it.
Have any Palestinian journalists participated yet?
Not yet. It's open, it's been advertised there, I think, but they have to apply for it. Some people take it as an important item on their resume, and some people ask us not to put it there, so we don't bring them. It's something you have to be proud of.
Recently we've seen experiments with computers writing news articles. What is going to happen to this field?
I certainly don't think [the newspaper industry] is dying as some suggest. It might be transformed into different electronic forms. But people like to read materials written by human beings, not computers. I like to read specific people, and I think it's universal. So I don't join in this line of speculation.
We've been seeing a great deal of anti-Israel foment by critics on California campuses. As a lecturer at UCLA, how much does this disturb you?
The first assessment is what's going on - there is no doubt that it's a nationally orchestrated movement. In the beginning the aim was divestment but they learned very quickly that no one will go on with divestment, and they say now the aim is putting Israel on the defensive. So now it's the control of the student government and resolutions. The idea is to have resolutions that condemn the occupation and to put Israel on the defensive. And it gives them a possibility to jump to the next step - continuing to treat pro-Israel voices as unwelcome on campus, something out of the norm, to establish the norm of being anti-Israel and verbally harass pro-Israel voices on campus. It's well-funded and well-orchestrated. Behind it is the coalition of several anti-Israel organizations, Students for Justice in Palestine, which is trying to get together with the Jewish Voice for Peace [a grassroots Bay area organization].
How involved are you in this?
I didn't get an e-mail to support divestment - I think people know it would be a waste of an e-mail. I do get an e-mail once in a while asking me to express my opinion against it, but unfortunately, I didn't get such a message from Hillel. It didn't come from a major Jewish organization, which saddens me. It means we are not prepared to counteract in a timely matter. Only small organizations, individuals, take on the burden of countering it.
Many campuses still operate under the illusion that they have a way to pacify anti-Israel sentiments locally, and they will make friends locally and stand in the way of an international opposition movement. It's an illusion, which I don't think is going to work, because students stay here only four years, and these anti-Israeli organizations are stable and training new cadres every year and send them to the campuses.
They act quickly and uniformly all over the campuses. And Hillel thinks it can act locally, so they don't have a national program to train people, send them to campuses and teach them how to respond. There is Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, but they are faculty members, and there is a huge gap between faculty and students. Students go first to Hillel to seek contacts. I am very worried because this is the future of Israel. Israel relies on the support of the U.S., and the future support in the U.S. relies on what is going on now in campuses, and now it's not in the right direction.
There are students from Korea, for example, who might be having their first exposure to the Middle East and all the information they get is from these shouting voices of protest. There are also history professors who teach from anti-Israel books. At UCLA we have two history professors who are vehemently anti-Israel, anti-Zionists. And they teach huge classes every year. And these are students who put on their resume "I took a class in Middle East history" and they get jobs at the State Department and other organizations that will determine the future American attitude toward Israel.
To me, it's very worrying. There is no counter voice. An Israel studies program has been established, but this is unbalanced in the sense that it's under the Israeli studies program, and anti-Israel teaching is under the auspices of the history department. To hear the voice for coexistence you have to take a class in the Israel studies program, while if you are interested in a general Middle East program, you get the anti-Israel voices.
It's unfair and asymmetric. We should fight but we don't have an organization to fight. As we know, two Jews - three opinions. So we have two Jewish organizations and five opinions on how to deal with it. We do not have the leadership that will put all our resources to countering this horrible threat to the future.
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