A Mighty Evening with “A Mighty Heart”

By Zachary Edelman

The eighth annual Forum Film Festival put on by the Forum on Law, Culture, and Society at Fordham Law School wrapped up its six nights of provocative films on October 23 with the screening of “A Mighty Heart”, the emotional and tragic story of journalist Daniel Pearl. I had high expectations for the film festival and post-screening discussion, and it did not disappoint.

For those of you who don’t know the story: In January 2002 Mr. Pearl, the Wall Street Journal South Asia Bureau Chief at the time, arrived in Karachi, Pakistan with his wife to research terrorism in the post 9/11 world. She was pregnant with their first child, and it was an exciting time for this intelligent, worldly, happy, and beautiful couple. Pakistani militants abducted him on January 23, 2002 while he was on his way to what he thought was a meeting with spiritual leader Sheikh Gilani. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the same monster of a man who is believed to have been the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, beheaded Mr. Pearl nine days later. The brutal slaying was videotaped and made public.

“A Mighty Heart,” based on the book by the same name, is Marianne Pearl’s account of her husband’s kidnapping and eventual murder. There is a beautiful scene in the film in which Mrs. Pearl, sensitively played by Angelina Jolie, describes her husband’s last moments alive and begins screaming, as if picturing, and reacting to, the grisly assassination. But the camera transitions to the hospital where you realize you are hearing a woman in the throes of labor, as she brings a new life into the world, their son, Adam Daniel Pearl.

Fordham Law School and the Director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society Thane Rosenbaum led the post-screening discussion. He was joined onstage by Wall Street Journal foreign-affairs columnist and 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens and former Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of the American Political Science Association’s 1994 Gabriel A. Almond Award-winner and international bestseller “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust,” and the recently published “The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism”.

A conversation about the motive behind Mr. Pearl’s murder and the role his religion played began the discussion. Mr. Goldhagen said he was not surprised that Mr. Pearl was targeted; the region virulently anti-Semitic, and Mr. Pearl was openly Jewish. Today, said Mr. Goldhagen, there is more public hatred against westerners in general and Jewish people in particular, than there was during the Nazi regime.

Mr. Stephens recalled the kidnappings of Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor in 2006, and of David Rohde of the New York Times in 2008. Neither Ms. Carroll nor Mr. Rohde is Jewish; both survived their kidnappings. According to Mr. Stephens, kidnapping someone who is American and Jewish is a “double fudge sundae” to Islamic extremists. Sort of a two-for-the-price-of-one bonus.

The discussion transitioned to our law enforcement model in the United States. According to Mr. Stephens we have become a civilization of incompetence, blundering around, not even able to , agree on the most humane way to kill someone. Mr. Stephens believes that we “lack the ability to kill,” and are unable to face cold, hard facts: the murderers of Mr. Pearl are “the epitome of barbarism,” and must be treated as such.

One could argue that with ten drone strikes in Pakistan just this past year, this administration is fully cognizant of who are enemies are, and is responding accordingly. However, as Mr. Stephens noted, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured by the United States in 2003 is still awaiting trial. In the meantime, your tax dollars are going towards keeping him alive at Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

The discussion ended on a topic I found particularly intriguing. During the Q & A, a man in the audience rose and shared the debate he had with himself about whether, as a moral citizen of the world, he should look evil in the face and watch the video of Mr. Pearl’s murder. In the end he did, he said, but regrets it, and feels that watching the video was exactly what the terrorists wanted the world to do. He asked whether or not the moderator and panelists had watched it, and why.

Professor Rosenbaum responded that yes, he had watched the video when it was released. For him it was never a question of not watching it, he said, and it had affected him profoundly. Mr. Stephens answered that he hadn’t watched the video, and won’t. He explained that while the images of some terrorist acts, like 9/11, cannot be avoided, while others, like the horrible murder of Mr. Pearl, can.  Mr. Stephens said that whenever possible, he chooses to avoid being terrified and watching prepared terroristic spectacles. His answer struck a chord with me. I won’t be watching the video of Mr. Pearl’s death, either.

Even amongst all the media coverage of two wars and many kidnappings of journalists since 9/11, Mr. Pearl’s story stands apart as something profoundly disturbing, painful, and cruel. And thanks to a fine script, tremendous performances, and the riveting storyline “A Mighty Heart” makes sure that future generations will never forget the story of Daniel Pearl, American, Jew, journalist, and loving husband — murdered by barbarians.


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