“History would be a wonderful thing, if only it were true.”—Lev Tolstoy
In this issue of Maisonneuve, we bring you an exclusive excerpt from a profoundly sad, searching book about the murder—and murderers—of Daniel Pearl. There is much more to this tale than what this excerpt shows. We chose to focus on the victim himself, Daniel Pearl, to show in the simplest manner possible the human cost of inhuman politics.
As a child, for a few years, I attended a very fine English private school. I remember a boy named Saddam, whose parents came from Pakistan. He was the smartest, most athletic, most honourable, best-looking boy in the grade. Everybody looked up to him; everybody wanted to be him.
Omar Sheikh, the mujahid behind Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder, was just such a model product of fine English schools. He did not grow up poor, crazed and hopeless. No, the terrorists of today are a hell of a lot like the intellectual, well-bred Marxists and Fascists of the past century. Sheikh was radicalized barely ten years ago by the Bosnian war, while a student at the London School of Economics.
I wonder what became of Saddam. Could we still be friends?
I have this gut feeling that we’ve got things terribly, terribly wrong. The West has miscalculated the world’s chemistry. That would be bad enough, but it’s worse. Nothing significant is being done about it.
The attack on Iraq no doubt was an attempt to “do something,” but then blind swings in the dark do not exactly inspire confidence. As a colleague who used to work in the US Justice Department says, “No one’s minding the store.” I don’t believe the CIA, White House or anyone else (with the exception of a few well-trained academics) has any sense of how to answer the profound chaos the world is throwing up today. No meaningful diagnosis of the world’s present array of illnesses is being presented and acted upon.
The reason for this has more to do with entrenched perceptions of the world than attempts that missed their mark. It’s like an episode of Star Trek: the Muslim and former Christian civilizations are in separate rooms on the holodeck, each warily circling a computer-generated image of the other. They’ve never met in person, and their opponent’s answers and interests are entirely predetermined. How they will ever leave their private worlds of fantastic aggression and redemption is beyond me.
Meaning is a hungry machine that can drive itself—it doesn’t need us. Russell Smith’s commentary (page 10) suggests we may have replaced the truth about female authorship with a convenient fiction. This creation of history has just begun for Dr. Henry Morgentaler, Canada’s abortion-rights crusader (page 17). Journalists know a story’s parameters remain loose until the angle is found; then the story begins to tell itself. After a while, what holds our attention may not, in fact, be the story at all, but the inexorable playing out of something we have set in motion and are now following without reason to its conclusion. Why is Alex Shoumatoff’s essay on alcoholism and the monkey farms of St. Kitts (page 30) so good? Because it escapes the gravity of a predetermined story.
We must regularly reformulate our grander visions of the world. There is news in this issue of Maisonneuve—if you look carefully and don’t expect a simple answer.