Following the September 11th atrocity, the media became the nations voice. It became a voice of anger, in many instances, that lashed out against Muslims, South Asians, Arabs and Islam. During the post 911 media eruption, many important lines were blurred. Among them is the line between journalism and intelligence gathering. An example of this might be found in the media’s acceptance of pundits like Steven Emerson, who have become regular commentators on popular news programs since the tragedy, as both journalist and terrorism experts. These pundits often suggest that they have access to sensitive and classified information, or that they sit in on national security briefings and the like. They also often imply that they have connections within the CIA and the FBI. This is done perhaps to enhance the credibility of the reports and commentary offered by these pundits, even though law enforcement, as well as other agencies of the government deny many of their claims, and have even disagreed with information that such pundits have presented in the past.
Yet, this blurring of the line between professional journalists and intelligence gatherers, although it did not begin with 911, may have played a part in the Pearl tragedy. Since Pearl worked for the Wall Street Journal, a primary publisher of Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipe’s articles that routinely vilify and condemn both Islam and Muslims, it may be the case that his association with this newspaper, and the reputation it has garnered as the voice of Zionism in the United States, contributed to the perception that indeed Pearl was a spy and that he was spying, not for the United States, but for Zionists in the United States, who use the information they gather to support articles, reports and documentaries that sometimes unfairly demonize, and inaccurately portray Muslims and Islam. Muslim writers, or anyone who disagrees with or challenges the accuracy of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam reports blame this same newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, for seldom allowing any Muslim refutation, or equal access to its pages. The same is true in respect to its reporting concerning the on-going conflict in Palestine, a subject that conjures intense, and often-hateful emotions in parties on both sides. In this way, the Wall Street Journal has positioned itself in the hearts of many Muslims, both in and outside the United States, as their enemy.
Perhaps Daneil Pearl saw himself as a patriot, serving his country, seeking the truth, while reporting from an area of the world that perhaps he didn’t know is a minefield of suspicion, and paranoia, well known for its anti-Zionist sentiment. Only someone innocent, and completely oblivious of these facts would think that it was wise, or safe to go to Pakistan pursuing a story on al-Qadea.
Ironically, the same issues that may have led up to Pearl’s death are also possibly the reasons that some Muslims have found it difficult to respond to the news of Daniel Pearl’s death more appropriately. It was very disappointing to read the responses of Muslim leaders to Pearl’s death. One was quoted saying that “Islam grants immunity to journalists since the flow of information in times of conflict is important to both sides.” Another reportedly said something akin to, “Islam does not permit the killing of journalists.” In either case, the appall that should have been expressed at the news of such an occurrence was absent in the article carrying these remarks, and published by the Washington Times. Whereas Muslims! might accept that one approach to the situation might be to analyze it from an Islamic legal perspective, many, and perhaps a majority, would have responded more humanely and looked to their leaders to express their sadness at the loss of any human life, and particularly when the suspects claim to have carried out their crime in the name of Islam, and due to a person’s religious affiliation, race, nationality, political view, or their place of employment.
The lesson of the tragedy might be that we have gone too far in our hatred, our fear and suspicion of one another, Muslims and non-Muslims. Is it possible that God is using Mr. Pearl’s death to show us how far into the depths of darkness our bitter racial, religious, and political rhetoric can take us, and how it hurts the innocent, as well as those guilty of crimes? To those who would tender the opinion that perhaps Mr. Pearl was indeed a spy, let it suffice to say, that even if one has proof that someone is a spy, or suspects that someone is a spy, the easy way to avoid the possibility of accruing a major sin against your soul, and being held accountable for the pain that a victims family, colleagues and friends, as well as their community, and nation might suffer as a result of his death, is to tell him nothing, and send him home, protected by your faith in God from his own folly. Allah says in the Qur’an: ” Judge thou between men in truth and justice, nor follow thou the lusts of thy heart, for they will mislead thee from the path of Allah, and for those who wander astray from the path of Allah is a penalty grievous, for that they forget the Day of Account.” Surah 38, “Sad,” verse 26.
The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.