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Ray
04 Oct 03,, 09:23
Daniel Pearl's life and death told with facts and fiction
Los Angeles Times Aug 30, 2003
When French writer Bernard-Henri Levy saw the gruesome video of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's murder last year, he was struck by the suspicion that it didn't tell the whole story. To pursue his hunch, he undertook a risky yearlong, around-the-world investigation that took him to London, Dubai, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Pearl's parents' home in Encino, even to the room in Karachi, Pakistan, where Pearl was killed.
He retraced Pearl's steps and attempted to re-create the twisted rise of one of his killers, the British-born "perfect Englishman" turned extremist Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh.
Levy's 500-page book "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" -- to be released in the U.S. on Tuesday -- is based on the theory that Pearl was killed not only for being an American and a Jew, but because he was a journalist on the brink of exposing a big story. The author believes that Pearl's killers were not random fundamentalist madmen but officials of the Pakistani secret service with ties to Al Qaeda, an explosive notion that would indicate that a country with which the U.S. has diplomatic ties might, in fact, be a danger.
The book was No. 1 on the French bestseller list when it was published here in April. It was the book people were reading on the Metro and the hot topic at Parisian dinner parties: Those who had read it had opinions; those who hadn't made apologies or judged it based on the reputation of its author.
BHL, as his compatriots call him, has written 30 books and is a high-profile essayist, novelist, cultural commentator, journalist and Middle East expert. He is also a diplomat whose most recent assignment was as a special envoy appointed by President Jacques Chirac last year for a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan.
Levy, 54, began his career covering the war between Pakistan and India over Bangladesh for the underground newspaper Combat, founded by Albert Camus during the Nazi occupation of France. He rose to fame as a result of his 1977 book "Barbarism With a Human Face," which attacked French intellectuals still loyal to Marxism. He is now a tele-philosopher in a country where philosophers still have a place in the national debate. He is also a pro-Israeli, Jewish atheist and an outspoken advocate for what he calls "anti anti- Americanism."
That his embarrassment of riches includes dashing looks, wealth and glamorous actress-singer Arielle Dombasle as a wife makes him, depending on whom you talk to, a national hero or a shamelessly self- promoting celebrity.
'Investigative novel'
A butler answers the door to Levy's sumptuous apartment on the Boulevard St.-Germain and leads a guest to wait in a cathedral- ceilinged salon filled with faded velvet antique furniture, porcelain egg collections, stuffed cockatiels and elaborate gilded and crystal-hung wall sconces.
Levy sashays in a few minutes late for his 11:30 a.m. rendezvous, tall, elegant and slim-hipped in a dark suit and one of the signature white unbuttoned shirts that has long been his much- maligned uniform. His famous hair, which has also earned its fair share of ink, is swirled about his handsome face.
"Sorry I'm late," he says, taking off his dark glasses and leading the way to his spacious study. He is in Paris for the day from his house in St. Paul de Vence in the south of France where he prefers to spend his time these days. He's late, he says, because he was meeting with movie producer Mike Medavoy, who is interested in the rights to his book.
"Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" is what Levy calls an "investigative novel," meaning that his book is based in fact but embellished with the imagination of the writer -- it reads something like a thriller. Levy wrote as his investigation unfolded in longhand, on the road and at home during a year of constant motion.
He says he used "known facts" whenever possible to reconstruct the crime. And, he writes, "when the tracks were missing, when the witnesses fled, or when there was no actual information because I was dealing with his inner existence or scenes in which he was the sole actor," he filled in the story himself.
"Never give in to the imagination when reality is there and direct investigation should be able to find it," he writes. "But give it a role when reality eludes you and circumstances are such that you are compelled to speculation."
This is a method, he points out, that writers such as Norman Mailer and Truman Capote have used.
"Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" can veer extravagantly from sober description to melodramatic rhetoric, and in translation can read like an even stronger version of itself, like an unpasteurized cheese on an American dinner table. Publishers Weekly, the industry's news magazine, gave the book a starred review and called it a gripping read, but noted that Levy's conclusions are "far from an open-and-shut case."
The book raises questions and tests possible theories that tell us as much about the mind of the writer as of his subject. He hypothetically re-creates the murder scene in novelistic detail, and includes asides about the suppleness of Pearl's wife's neck and the thoughts Pearl might have had as a boy. He is fond of one-sentence paragraphs.
Like this.
What will Americans think of his style? "It interests me to find out," he says, sipping smoky Lapsang souchong -- the house drink -- that a quiet woman has brought in.
Using novelistic conventions to round out the story, he says, provides "a supplemental truth, not a superior one. The novel doesn't replace the investigation, it serves it by allowing me to go further."
Levy's American publisher, Dennis Loy Johnson of the upstart Hoboken, N.J.-based Melville House Books, said by telephone that he was a little apprehensive about selling the ideas of a Frenchman in an era when French-bashing has become fashionable.
"I hope it won't be a problem," Levy says. "I like America so much. I don't believe in the depth of this Franco-American disaccord. I've been to New York several times recently and I have yet to meet a Francophobe."
But at least one American isn't so sure about the larger theory of Levy's book: Daniel Pearl's father, Judea.
"The book makes some good points," Pearl said in a telephone interview, "but his major conclusion is wrong -- the idea that Danny was killed because he knew too much. It doesn't gel with the facts."
For one thing, Pearl said, it was never mentioned on the video that his son was a journalist. "My theory is that the motive was propaganda, to score a point against the United States and appeal to anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiment. To get back at America's heart. He was not killed for knowing too much."
Did he find it curious that a French journalist, not an American, had taken on the assignment? "That was a puzzle," said Pearl, who expects to release his own book, "I Am Jewish: Reflections Inspired by the Words of Daniel Pearl," (Jewish Light), in January. "I'm full of admiration for him for taking a year from his career -- or building his career, maybe," he said with a wry laugh, "but of taking the risk."
Levy insists that above all, his book is a tribute to Daniel Pearl, whom he paints in an unabashedly heroic light. In one passage, Levy imagines what might have gone through Pearl's mind during his capture: "A hundred times over the past eight days he has told them that if there were but one American and one Jew left in the world to extend a hand to Muslims in general, and those of Pakistan in particular, to reject the absurd theme of the clash of civilizations, and to believe in peace with Islam, he would be that man. Daniel Pearl, Jew, liberal, hostile -- as his entire career has demonstrated -- to everything stupid and arrogant about America, friend of the neglected, of the downtrodden, of the disinherited."
"I didn't treat him like a universal hero, but like an American hero," Levy says of Pearl, whom he has called a "posthumous friend."
"Obviously, I feel solidarity with him. But I'm not stupidly pro- American. I have disagreements, notably on Iraq, and I am one of the people very shocked today by the lies of the government. But in France I'm considered pro-American -- and I'm attacked because of that."
Levy does not have the cynical air of a war reporter, he says, because he isn't one. Being a journalist is something he does when he feels like it, and he knows he can always come home to Paris, or St. Paul de Vence, or the palace in Marrakesh that he and Dombasle bought from the actor Alain Delon. But Levy tends to downplay the risks he encountered as a Jew asking pointed questions in the Middle East.
"I think that for me to write, I need to be engaged, to be active," Levy says. "When you engage yourself, it's important to know what you're talking about. And to know that, you have to go and see.... One is afraid on the plane -- 'What's going to happen? Into which hell will I fall?' But life soon organizes itself. I've lived with my fear for a long time. I know how to control it.
"I have the luck to do what I want, the luck that my books sell, and I think I have the obligation to take advantage of that luck," he continues. "I decided from the beginning really to go in search of things that other people aren't covering, and now I have the luck to be able to attract attention to things that nobody else is paying attention to, to talk about things people don't want to hear."
His version of the Daniel Pearl murder is a story that Americans might not want to hear, challenging as it does President Bush's war on Iraq as "historical miscalculation" and suggesting that those elusive weapons of mass destruction are hiding elsewhere. And it will be interesting to see how American readers will react to Levy's attempt to demystify Pearl's killer, to humanize one figurehead of the "evil" that has become the rhetoric of war.
" 'Evil' is a word used by Hegel and Sartre and Bush," Levy says. "I'm not going to renounce this old philosophical word because of George W. Bush. But I don't use it in the same manner. When I talk about evil, for me it's not an exterior evil, it's an evil that is a mirror of ourselves. I don't divide the world up into good and evil."
This might make it hard for Hollywood, with its black-and-white ideas about who the good guys are, to make a faithful film adaptation of Levy's book.
"It's a compelling story," Medavoy said in a phone interview, pointing out that he and Levy had yet to shake hands on the deal. "It's a difficult story to tell for Americans -- you're dealing with a guy who's dead." Transferring the book, much of which takes place in the mind of the narrator, to the screen is another challenge.
"I want to make sure that I know how to make this movie," Medavoy said, "and not embarrass him or myself."
Levy suffered one big cinematic embarrassment -- when his 1997 film "Le Jour et la Nuit," starring his wife and Delon was universally panned. He responded by writing a book about it.
"I don't have a big interest in my books becoming films," Levy says. "But it's true that I would like there to be a film on Daniel Pearl, whether it's my book or not. For the memory of this boy."
He looks sad when he says this. Levy continues to collect every scrap of information written about Pearl, and he stays in contact with Pearl's parents and his widow, Mariane, who also is publishing a book about her husband, "A Mighty Heart" (Scribner), at the end of the month. His book is done, Levy says, and by the end of his investigation he was having a hard time keeping his cover in Karachi. It's time for another reporter to follow up. Why not an American reporter?
"Yes, why not?" he asks, rhetorically.
Levy is already at work on another book, a philosophy text. But it does not seem a stretch to say that he is haunted by Pearl. "I can say simply that this character has stayed with me more than I thought was possible," he says. "I'm not complaining."

Julie
05 Oct 03,, 02:38
Everyone knew before Pearl ventured into troubled waters that Pakistan's Secret Service was connected to Al Qaeda. It was reported in Dawn. Pearl was viciously murdered, but had crossed way past the line as a mere Journalist. Pearl found who and what he was looking for, and brought out the worst in them.

Praxus
05 Oct 03,, 02:52
I saw that Death Video, it was really nasty.

Ray
05 Oct 03,, 03:53
Julie,

I reckon Ma'am that 'investigative journalism' means crossing the line. His biggest disadvantage was that he was a Jew. And that does not really endear them to a Muslim and that too rabid Muslims like the ISI.

Ironduke
06 Oct 03,, 03:19
Originally posted by Praxus
I saw that Death Video, it was really nasty.
Yep, me too. On TV they said his throat was slit, really they cut his whole head off. It was truly disgusting.

Ryan
13 Oct 03,, 09:21
I was freaked out when I saw that video. Who ever decapitated Pearl was truly depraved. I just hope that Pearl's family never sees that video, because I know how easy it is to find it on the internet.

Julie
14 Oct 03,, 02:19
Well, Ray, I feel the values of Journalism should be redefined. Journalists seem to have no boundaries these days, and when they enter at their own risk, they should not cry foul when they have gone too far.

Pearl was comparable to a cat walking into a bulldog's pen because he wanted to know what was in his bowl. Curiosity got the best of him, as so does many Journalists.

I am in no way defending the extremists, but Pearl knew there was an on-going war on terrorism, and he did not properly qualify to be investigating the shoe bomber.

Jay
14 Oct 03,, 02:58
Apparently, WSJ didnt have too many connections in the Al-Queda circle like Al-Jazeera. We wouldnt trust a Al-Jazeera correspondent, wud we??
Thats why Daniel Pearl was intrested in getting out the truth.

I think he didnt know how much support these guys had in the govt circles as well as in local population in Pakistan. Also he miscalculated that his american citizenship would act as a shield in Pakistan.

So its a series of un-fortunate errors that led to the killing of Pearl.

Ray
14 Oct 03,, 18:10
Julie,

Maybe journalist are going too far. That's our perception. Surprising journalists don't think so.

In the same vein, the Clinton story should not have come out. It embarrassed the US and demeaned the American govt before the world and all gleefully thought if the President is such a bloke, then even common citizens should be, especially since Harold Robbins has done no good to disprove the idea.

Now, if Clinton was the Mafia, then it would have been kaput for all those who leaked out the story and all those who investigated him later. That would surely not be correct or acceptable. Or would it?

Acutally, what you say has much sense. Look at Princess Diana and her death. But who will regulate the media? Further, it cannot be the US since they claim to be the champion of Truth and Freedom.

Lokk at Guantanamo Bay. The BBC brought out a programme on it and the detainees as also on the Bagram Air Base Camp. To those who saw it, it was gross violation of human rights and legal recourse. What is the truth? Some will agree with the BBC and some wont. Since we are not on the spot, I think it is very difficult for us to lay the line what is correct and what is not for journalists. Al Jazeera was hated by the US during the Iraq war, but they were giving the otehr side of the story. So were they wrong?

Supposing the Americans capture Saddam. Will they slaughter him inhumanly as what was done to Pearl? And then display the video and no one be allowed to investigate? I wonder.

The US soldiers are dying daily in Iraq. Why report it? Let them die. No; that cannot happen for we are human beings and not from the animal world. The world must know whats up. Some make a career of taking risks to report what they perceive is the truth. But should they be decapacitated so inhumanly? How would you feel if you have a near and dear or even who is a soldier in Iraq and he suffers the same type of death as Pearl because Saddam's sons were killed and the Saddam men did not appreciate this fact?

I really don't know. But this I know, kill if you must. but don't be an animal.

ChrisF202
14 Oct 03,, 21:45
wow wow, hold on a second here; whered all you guys see that video?

Julie
15 Oct 03,, 06:34
Chris, I seen the video posted at PDF a long while back.

Julie
15 Oct 03,, 06:48
Ray, the Clinton issue regarding his unfaithfulness to his wife, as well as his untruthfulness to the American people was unnecessarily aired on national television. Those explicit and detailed hearings should have been kept behind closed doors, as I was enraged when I came home from work to be asked by my 12-year old son what oral sex was. It was a democratic political move, and I was astonished as to how that was handled.

Recently, there was a security leak revealing the name of a CIA agent, of which an investigation is currently on-going. Not only should the source of the leak be held criminally responsible, but the Journalist who reported and aired this information puttting this agent in danger, should be held responsible as well.

Journalists do not only seek the truth, but they seek the dirty truth, because that's what sells...that's what makes money. And Journalists do this without an ounce of respect for any other human being.

So what if Diana was put in danger in the pursuit of her private life. So what if Pearl was decapitated seeking the ugly truths in Pakistan?

There will always be errors and miscalculations in the pursuit of negative, and disgusting truths. Do two wrongs make a right? No.

Ray
15 Oct 03,, 08:26
Julie,

I too disliked what they did to Clinton. It is private life. If it does not compromise national security, then I think there was no need for the song and a dance the media and the TV did. My heart bled for Clinton when he was speaking live on TV. Imagine a President being tried like a common criminal! {However, my friends and relatives in the US inform me that the middle class in the US are not footloose [a la Harold Robbins] and instead are very conservative about all this free sex pizzazz}.

On the other hand as far the the media is concerned, I was astonished to see the levels and limits Americans value their right to Freedom of Speech and that ALL were equal before law! It convinced me that US indeed was the real melting pot and really democratic and they had the right to hector others. However, the clamp down during the Iraq War and Fox News dampened my enthusiasm and I realised that there is a thing called feet of clay.

I really don't understand the media, its Freedom and its clamping down to suit the moment. But the question is can we control the media? If not, what is your solution?

Whatever be the case, one cannot decapacitate a person because one finds him abhorring. If that is OK, then why this hoop la over the cutting the hands of a thief? Or stoning one to death for adultery? After all, such awful punishment will be real deterrents if you look at the same clinically.

Ray
15 Oct 03,, 08:36
Julie,

As far as the analogy of the cat entering a bull dog's pen and getting mauled with Daniel Pearl's case, I reckon, in the animal world that is fine because the animals do not have the superior brains as human's have. We live under societal rules, while the animals have total different rules of engagement I presume. Therefore, comparisons with the animal world may not really be appropriate.

Julie
16 Oct 03,, 04:19
Ray,

Can we control the media? Not in my opinion since the media's freedoms have no boundaries, nor do they have to reveal their sources. What is the point in obtaining sources, when they do not have to be revealed when challenged? The media can harass, publicize, and air anything from any perspective, without consequence.

I feel there should be lines drawn as to when and where the media can not enter. Camping out on someone's front lawn until their interviewee emerges is invasion of privacy and harassment, pure and simple. Publicizing a CIA operative's identity is endangerment to the life of a human being. Investigation of the shoe bomber by a Journalist is definitely obstruction of justice.

Touche on the animal comparison. That was rather extreme of me to compare animal instincts to human instincts. But I feel the result of the Pearl issue was animalistic in nature.

Ray
16 Oct 03,, 05:42
Julie,

I have addressed the international media including TV. I share your views. They are incredible pains. But, what can one do. Its a no win situation. They ask question and then they twist the facts. They are awful.

Julie
17 Oct 03,, 04:08
Ditto. We have both addressed many issues here to the point of straying off the topic of the thread. But, it was very interesting.

Ray
17 Oct 03,, 04:22
Ditto and thanks.