Even now, 18 years after his assassination at the hands of terrorists in Pakistan, there is no better symbol of the ideological intersection between Islamism, anti-Semitism and hatred of the United States than Daniel Pearl.
Pearl, an American Jewish journalist who ran the Wall Street Journal bureau in Islamabad at the time of his death, was kidnapped and killed in January 2002. He was kidnapped in the city of Karachi, where he had traveled – only four months after 11 September 2001, atrocities committed by Al-Qaeda in the United States – to examine a story about Islamic activities in Pakistan.
At that time, there was no greater story to be worked on by foreign correspondents, and Pearl who was very talented certainly did not intend to become the story itself. This fate was forced upon him by his captors, a crew of various Pakistani Islamists whose rank included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
About a month after Pearl disappeared in Karachi, a video was sent to the US Consulate there. The footage shows Pearl delivered a written speech in which she was forced to denounce the United States and Israel. His last words were, “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” He was later beheaded.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who proudly claimed to have committed these savage killings, is still being held in Guantanamo Bay. Mohammed then boasted about Pearl’s murder on several occasions, and in March 2007, he described his actions to the US military court in the following way: “I cut off with my right hand blessed by the head of American Jews, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan , “He said. “For those who want to confirm, there are photos of me on the internet holding his head.”
Mohammed is not alone. One of his accomplices is Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death by a court in Pakistan on three separate charges related to the arrangements for Pearl’s abduction and murder. But the death sentence was never carried out. Last week, an appeals court in Karachi overturned Sheikh’s sentence for murder and terrorism. The third conviction, kidnapping for ransom, was revealed to be a simple abduction, and Sheikh’s sentence was reduced to seven years.
The Karachi state prosecutor said he would appeal the shocking decision of the Supreme Court in Pakistan and would also try to keep the Sheikh behind bars until the appeal was heard. The trial process has not yet ended, but no one has denied the severity of this blow to combat Islamic violence and the ideology that drove it.
Nearly two decades after 9/11, jihadis remain a powerful force in Pakistan, as the decision in the Pearl case shows. During an anxious debate among foreign policy circles about the future of Afghanistan after the Trump administration’s recent peace agreement with the Taliban, we now face a different possibility that one of Pearl’s killers, along with a group of men described by the 9/11 commission as ” mastermind “of the massacre, will walk towards freedom.
Sheikh, in fact, is one of the earliest examples we have of a European-born Muslim who was involved in terrorist activities in the Islamic world. As a British citizen, he grew up in a London home from prosperous immigrant parents. Somewhat frightening, like Pearl, Sheikh attended the London School of Economics, although his deeper relationship with Islamic groups meant that he left without graduation, finally appearing in India in 1994, where he served a five-year prison sentence for kidnapping Western tourists .
His example has since been followed by hundreds of other angry young European Muslims, who have also traveled to the Middle East and South Asia to join terrorist groups such as ISIS. If his liberation advances, the Sheikh will become a rare thing – jihad that reaches legendary status not through martyrdom, but by crouching and defeating the system that imprisons him. That is not an outcome desired by any Western government.
In the coming months, there will be a lot of talk about how the pandemic has replaced terrorism as the No. threat. 1 to global security, somewhat ironically, given that ISIS has embraced the COVID-19 virus as a soldier of God. The decision to release Pearl’s killer reminds us why it is a dangerous mistake to look at history as a series of independent episodes. Because threats never really disappear; rather, they adapt, and often regain strength lost when they do it. The cost of giving away Sheikh a moral victory may not be seen today, but will it happen five years from now?
The vigilance demanded by terrorism applies equally to another aspect of Pearl’s ordeal: anti-Semitism. After 9/11, there were many voices, especially on the left of Europe, who argued that Al-Qaeda’s actions were a response to the “occupation” of Palestinian territory by Israel. A closely related argument states that Islamists do not oppose Judaism as a religion, but on Zionism as a colonial movement and the state of Israel as a colonial entity.
Pearl’s gruesome murder – and the pride of tormenting his legacy that marked his last words – pushed the stakes through that argument. Yes, his killers saw him as a representative of a declining Western culture, and as a citizen of the Great Satan, and as a journalist for an imperialist organ. But above all, they saw him as a Jew.
That is no coincidence: Islamist ideologists describe the alleged power of Jews in the same way as European right-wing, with almost mystical animosity that is equal to accompaniment. The war that the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden fought against America and his allies was praised by him as a struggle against “the Jews and the Crusaders.” Commuters from the Sheikh’s death sentence sounded a warning that this struggle was not over.
Ben Cohen is a journalist and writer living in New York City who writes weekly columns on Jewish and international affairs for JNS. Read more about the Cohen column, visit cjn.org/cohen.