First and foremost, let us say a prayer for the soul of this man. Husband, soon to be father, son and (if you will allow me) fellow American, journalist and human being, Daniel Pearl it now appears has met a tragic and brutal end. And for that I am enraged. I am angry that he was kidnapped and murdered (we do yet know the exact location) and saddened that it was in or near Karachi, the city of my birth. And like other instances I am doing the only thing that one can at a time like this. I am hitting the keyboard.
There is nothing much that I could do except keep hoping that Mr. Pearl would be found alive during these past few weeks. It was a hope that kept gnawing at the center of my Pakistani-American identity while knowing full well that he was in grave danger. And along with this diminishing hope was the anger that never really left, only to be enhanced by the news of his death. America has lost a popular son whose smiling face has been with us in the news ever since he was taken away from the civilized world by a variety of scum who know that such a cold- blooded murder is not going to benefit anyone looking for solutions. The world has less sympathy for even legitimate causes with each such occurrence. Any rational person knows that.
Since Danny was killed in Pakistan, it is probably no secret from the American reader here that for me, this murder has really hit home. It has brought back into my life once again a very profound sadness, to the point where I feel like apologizing to my friends. Fellow Americans who I now share a life with, a life that has already been traumatized by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
I have seen, grieved and shown my renewed admiration for America during this time of crisis and have not withheld any criticism of what I perceived as wrong. Some Americans have been skeptical of my views on the origins of lawlessness and violence in the region where I was born.
But let me explain to them one thing loud and clear. Pakistani and Muslim Americans do not have sympathy for anyone who is willing to blow up our fellow Americans including our own children as they did on Sept. 11. If terrorists feel like getting blown up they can either face America’s wrath or make it their own private journey.
Ironically, it was only last week that I saw Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s humanitarian masterpiece Kandahar (aka Safar-e-Gandehar). A movie which makes the usual consumption of popcorn and soda seem both wasteful distasteful while it is being viewed. The main character Nafas (brilliantly played by Niloufer Pazira) experiences the trial and tribulations of the fallout of conflict. The message one gets in the movie is that if the rest of humanity ignores and allows inhumanity to prevail in any part of the world (in this case Afghanistan), what kind of future is in store for us? Afghans were once used as cannon fodder and the Pakistanis as doormats in America’s fight to save the free world and then quickly abandoned. The legless runners in Kandahar are very tragic yet comical reminder of a heartless march by history. And such a history (although to a much more limited extent) has visited my once very livable and lovable city of birth, Karachi. Danny Pearl has become the latest American victim in an environment that has already claimed many Pakistani lives.
Nostalgically and from this most recent tragedy I can reflect on another time when it was difficult to convince Pakistanis to leave Pakistan. Yes, jobs were always scarce in a poor country and people temporarily went overseas to send money to their families. But it was a far cry from the desperate people fleeing violence who currently tax the immigration and asylum laws of many countries including, the U.S. And I for one can sympathize with them, having personally stared at the barrel of an AK47 assault rifle aimed at my face in 1989, while going out to purchase tandoori bread in Karachi.
People of Pakistani origin overseas often feel quite helpless. On the one hand they have sympathy for the Kashmiris and Palestinians and on the other there are now a lawless bunch of well-armed people in Pakistan, some with claims of divine support. This is a fallout from the crazy days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when an unpopular military dictatorship in Pakistan was propped up by the U.S. to fight against Communism. Unfortunately nobody planned on the proper closure of such a mission.
Pakistani civil society now needs time and effort to recover from the Afghan war and the best people to take on that job are its military. President George Bush’s newfound good friend (whom he mentioned in his State of the Union Address), President/General Pervez Musharraf certainly has majority support to do just that. And I for one wish that he would take the path of democracy and get help from former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to reclaim the Pakistan that I grew up in.
Danny Pearl will be missed by many people especially his family and friends. He should never have been there, doing what he was doing. But sometimes journalists do place themselves at high risk. He was not dealing with people of religion. He was dealing with some very dangerous criminals who have used the masquerade of religion for too long. Danny’s death is one more reason for humanity to stand together now and take this unholy problem by the horns.
Ras H. Siddiqui is a Pakistani-American writer and journalist in California.