The Common Good
May-June 2002

Why Daniel Pearl Died

by Molly Marsh | May-June 2002

Pursuing truth is always a risky venture.

The tributes are worldwide and legion; by all accounts Daniel Pearl was a funny, intelligent, and compassionate guy, possessed of a fair mind. His 12-year career with The Wall Street Journal took him to ports throughout the world. He also occasionally played fiddle with the Big Hillbilly Bluegrass Band at a bar in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Those who use pens to record facts and observations, question policies, and expose wrongs help us make sense of the world. They create a set of words in which truth, or at least one sliver of it, can exist. Pearl—because of his chosen profession—likely thought he could add to our understanding of global events by sitting down at a Karachi restaurant with the sheik of an Islamic extremist group.

Of course, risks are part of a journalist's job, and—as in other front-line work—some journalists have paid the highest price. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Pearl's death brings to 52 the number of journalists killed on assignment this year. He also joins an immensely larger list of those whose faith is a factor in their deaths. Pearl may have been in Karachi as a journalist, but to his kidnappers the fact that he was Jewish was reason for his brutal murder.

Pearl's killing is a reminder that pursuing truth doesn't guarantee your safety in this world. But it also shows that it is a good—and essential—calling to ask questions, and to keep asking them.

Molly Marsh is assistant editor of Sojourners.

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