Michael Shurkin
Radical Evil: Bernard-Henri LÚvy on the Murder of Daniel Pearl, p. 2

Can we reclaim the term "evildoer" from W. and his religious friends? If we accept Arendt's non-definition, and accept that evil may be a surface quality rather than a deep ontological/moral reality, then evil does exist. Just type "Daniel Pearl video" into Google, click any number of links, and watch. What you'll see on many sites is something beyond criminal, beyond comprehension, and utterly terrifying: an anti-Semitic diatribe spoken by Pearl's murderers, a speech worthy of the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher, a forced confession by Pearl (of the sin of being Jewish), and then Pearl's beheading. (Editors' note: Zeek has decided not to display images of the beheading here; they are easily accessible elsewhere on the web.) The medium (digital video) may be new, as are the references (Palestine, Guantanamo, September 11), but there is nothing new or modern about the hatred and nihilism on display.

Hannah Arendt is not around to explore the meaning of Pearl's murder. Instead we have Bernard-Henri LÚvy's recent Qui a tuÚ Daniel Pearl? (Who killed Daniel Pearl?), which is an Eichmann in Jerusalem for our times. LÚvy, often referred to as BHL, is arguably the most pretentious man in France today, which is really saying something, and his book suffers from the astonishing narcissism that has marked his entire career. However, in the past decade BHL has risen above the clichÚs and posturing of France's intellectual classes and boldly gone out on a succession of limbs, each one more contrary to French consensus than the last. He was a major advocate for military intervention in Yugoslavia, for example, and he maintained his position even after the United States intervened.

BHL's new book is the fruit of a yearlong investigation that he conducted in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, England, and the United States immediately after hearing of Pearl's death. His mission was to understand: to find out who killed Pearl, and why, and to figure out what it all meant in the context of September 11 and the slow-cooking "Clash of Civilizations" that, as a committed liberal and a humanist, BHL wishes very badly to avert. What he learned, however, was not encouraging, and rather than get to the bottom of his murder, he fell into an apparently bottomless pit of evil where, just as one has achieved some understanding, "a trap opens up beneath one's feet," and the descent begins again.

LÚvy constructed his book around the strange dyad of Daniel Pearl and his assassin, Sheikh Omar, whom he usually refers to simply as Omar. On one side, Pearl represented all that LÚvy usually celebrates: he was a progressive, non-observant and intermarried Jew, one who was nonetheless immensely proud of his heritage and would never hesitate to identify himself as a Jew no matter where he found himself. He was, moreover, a proud American who loved his country while remaining critical of it and its actions. He was similarly enamoured with Israel, from which his family had immigrated, though he was no Likudnik. Above all, he was a cosmopolitan humanist, a progressive liberal who was open to the world, optimistic about human nature, and apparently convinced of his ability to make friends with the entire planet. The Byronesque BHL, a highly assimilated though proud Jew who had been born in Algeria but was now a globe-trotting French citizen (married to a French movie star) clearly identified with Pearl and expressed a warm, posthumous love for the man.

On the other side is Omar, who, from a certain point of view should have turned out a lot like Daniel. Indeed, whereas the enigma of Eichmann was his extraordinary normality, Omar's mystery lies in the paradoxes of his personality: he is not at all the uneducated fundamentalist one might expect. Born in London to a family of Pakistani immigrants, he is a British citizen raised and educated in England. Like Daniel, he is by all accounts highly intelligent and charming. Like Daniel, who had studied at Stanford, Omar received one of the finest educations his Western, liberal country offered (at London School of Economics). His family, like Pearl's, was an example of the success that immigrants could now achieve in Britain. Yet whereas Daniel left Stanford to become a star reporter and worldly humanist, Omar ended up cutting off Daniel's head. LÚvy was desperate to understand why.

In the process LÚvy made a series of ominous discoveries. The first set of discoveries is essentially political. Omar, although ostensibly dedicated to the cause of "occupied" Kashmir, was also linked to Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. He was also closely connected to Pakistan's notorious intelligence service, the ISI. LÚvy is convinced that Omar was an ISI agent, and he determined that for all intents and purposes the ISI, the Taliban, Al Qaida, and Kashmiri terrorist groups are close collaborators, making both the Pakistani state and Islamicist terrorists responsible for killing Daniel Pearl.

But the second set of discoveries regarded the depth of hatred current in Pakistan today: hatred against foreigners, hatred against Westerners, hatred against Americans, and hatred against Jews. This last element LÚvy found particularly shocking. At nearly every turn he ran into an intense and grotesque anti-Semitism that is all the more bizarre when one considers how little contact Pakistanis have had with Jews or with European anti-Semitism. LÚvy, who is normally very open about his own religious background, was terrified that he might be found out, and he was profoundly grateful that no one he met knew enough for his name to give him away.


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Images (from top): BHL, Daniel Pearl, Sheikh Omar

Zeek
Zeek
August 2003


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From previous issues: Reinventing the Wheel Michael Shurkin
A review of Douglas Rushkoff's Nothing Sacred

The Sacred and the Profane Douglas Rushkoff and Jay Michaelson