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‘I was not born the day Daniel died’ Mariane Pearl on the kidnapping and murder of her husband

Wed, Jan 30, 2013

Having faced one of the most unimaginable challenges in her life, Mariane Pearl has come to symbolize hope and courage for humankind across the world. Her life was thrust into the limelight from behind the keys of her computer when her husband, Daniel Pearl and father-to-be of their unborn child, was kidnapped and killed by a Pakistan militant Islamic fundamentalist group in 2002.

At the time of Daniel Pearl’s murder he was a journalist and the chief of the bureau of the Wall Street Journal in Pakistan. Daniel and Mariane were quite an unbeatable couple; both were experienced journalists and were committed to their jobs. Since the incident, Mariane has taken what they shared together and put it towards fighting for humanity in a world she describes as becoming more bereft of any kind of consideration for the value of life.

She published A Mighty Heart in 2003, a memoir and detailed look into the investigation of her husband’s kidnapping. When the idea to make it into a film came about, she asked Angelina Jolie to play her character. She recently published her second book In Search of Hope, is a regular contributor to the New York Times, Glamour and the Sunday Times and is currently working on several new journalistic projects.

Mariane Pearl spoke to INSP at the Thomson Reuters Foundation Trust Women Conference in London earlier this month.

You have become an international role model – how have you taken this on in your life?

“I think like a lot of people who have gone through difficulties, you embrace whatever is your life. You know, I was not born the day my husband died. I think my previous experiences – I lost my father very early – and I think having quality values as a person early on in life, [so] I’m very thankful for that. I think when you when go through difficulties the thing that you really need to have is a solid set of values to walk on as your firm ground. If you have that, then you view your experiences as part of the human condition and create values out of it the best you can, and that is what I did.”

Producer Brad Pitt (R) and actress Angelina Jolie (2nd
R) arrive with Mariane Pearl (2nd L) and her son Adam (bottom) for a gala screening of British director Michael Winterbottom’s (L) film A Mighty Heart at the 60th Cannes Film Festival. Photo: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

How have your experiences changed the way you approach and write stories?

“To tell you the truth, I am finding something very creepy in journalism today. I feel it’s just worsening. You know, as we go into the different crises, there is a certain loss of values. I am working more and more with journalists in the developing world. I’m thankful for that. I want to work with journalists who know why they are journalists and know what they are fighting for because I feel that fascination and hunger for misery, for other people’s misery; the fascination for violence and graphic description of violence: it’s really creepy and we are not addressing it the way we should. I think there is something not right about that and I wonder where it’s going to go.

And as the budgets are being cut, we are not having balance. We are going to have things that are only dedicated to showing how horrible things can be. I went to the World Press Photo Exhibition and I was shocked. The World Press Photo was just a display of extreme violence so what are we saying there? It’s a reflection – the World Press Photography is supposed to reflect a year of life. How come no one is saying what is wrong with that? It’s a perversion.

I never entered journalism because I am fascinated by violence or war or conflict. The only interest I have ever had in journalism is my interest in human beings. You know I have always found human beings fascinating, as I have always found the world. I have been mesmerized by the complexity of the world so I entered journalism and I found that the profession is making it more and more simplistic, so I thought that doesn’t work and I decided that I would do it. I mean, I have very tough standards for myself. I am not going to get into the whole exhibitionist thing, I’m going to do what I feel is right. I just think journalism is a super important part of our society. I have already lost a lot to journalism and given a lot to journalism.”

Do you think journalism is moving away from concentrating on human welfare or are journalists moving towards it?

“The impression is that journalists themselves have got to move away from the industry. There is a divorce here between the business of journalism and the journalist. I think there are tons of individuals that are really committed. There is no lack of people with individual values, but they can’t find a home in the newspapers or the industry as it is today, so I think the industry is suffering. With things like social media we are going to have to find new models on which to express our relationships with the world and our work. We haven’t found it yet but I think that there is a divorce there and there is no home.

I’m nostalgic of something that I have not even known. I would have loved to have a home, a journalism home with a tough editor that everybody loves, that will push me and we will fight. I would have loved that. I see that in movies and I’m like ‘Oh my God’ I would have loved that. But I think it was for the generation before me. But I don’t think that is going to be the model anymore. I think we are going to have to find other ways and move on, but the transition is difficult.”

Adam Pearl (L), son of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, reacts with his mother Mariane Pearl after U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Free- dom of Press Act in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 17, 2010. Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

Since your last book A Mighty Heart you’ve written a book about people who have inspired you – what is it about and why do they inspire you?

“I have become very interested in women so I decided to write a book about women. When I started traveling I saw how much women carry the burden of the world in a quiet unrecognized way and how, as a result, they were incredible agents of change: how much they knew; how much wisdom they had, how much courage, how much empathy. Women, I thought, were a sure way to invest my energy because I have seen it, it has nothing to do with which continent, which culture; it is the same incredible effort being repeated over and over again. I thought that this was something which would help the efforts of women worldwide.”

Can you tell me a bit more about the media work you wish to see in places like Africa?

“Finally, we are out of the era where you send correspondents to go and spend two days in Africa and cover Africa. Now we are going to have generations emerge from Africa, from Asia, and people are finally going to have their own voice, so I’m part of that movement to help. I’m so happy to be a part of that with Thomson Reuters [Mariane is involved in leading African training programs through the Thomson Reuters Foundation]. It is the first time in history that it’s really going to happen.”

Written by Samba Yonga,
International Network of Street Papers


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