Ron Rosenbaum

Did Misery Kill Danny Pearl?

Last week I saw a screening of A Mighty Heart the film about the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl and the efforts of his wife Mariane Pearl to cope with the investigation. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. There is much to admire in the movie, not least the performance of Angelina Jolie, however much I’ve criticized her publicity hype. There is much that is missed, including Danny Pearl himself who becomes a fleeting barely glimpsed presence.

What’s most impressive is the film’s portrait of the enormity of Karachi a city so large and so filled with those off the grid its magnitude can’t be counted. (I just read a figure of 14 million).

My problem with the film is that the film-maker and the screenwriter seem to have taken the “we are the world ” tone of Mariane Pearl’s book A Mighty Heart. Most troubling is the brief exchange in which they frame the implicit cause of Daniel Pearl’s death.

Toward the end of the film the Mariane Pearl character is heard saying that if we can overcome misery bad things like the killing of Daniel Pearl won’t happen again.

There are two assumptions here: that misery was the motive of the people who killed Daniel Pearl. And that ending misery–however noble a goal–is going to end religious fanaticism, which is really what killed Daniel Pearl.

In fact the man who organized the kidnap and murder of Pearl was a well educated, relatively well-off British Muslim of Pakistani origin. He had escaped the misery of his native land but he hadn’t escaped the murderousness in the strain of his religion he embraced. So too with many of the 9/11 perpetrators and other of the most fanatic and murderous terrorists. It was not misery but religious hatred that motivated them.

By devoting the movie to the search for Danny Pearl the film gives us mainly good people in a bad situation. The camera avoids like the plague the room in which Daniel Pearl was confined before he was beheaded and cut into ten pieces for that hideous snuff video.

I don’t believe one has an obligation to present the video to a movie audience, or to watch it oneself. But to avoid looking closely at the butchers who made it is a kind of denial of the ugly truth of Danny Pearl’s death.