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A Strong Spirit

An Interview with Mariane Pearl

Mariane Pearl's husband Danny was a Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and killed by extremists in Karachi, Pakistan, early in 2002 when she was pregnant with their first child. She describes her life and her struggles to promote peace and dialogue since that time. Mariane, also a journalist, is a member of the SGI. Her book A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl is published by Scribner.

[Kiyotaka Shishido]

SGI Quarterly: Can you share with us how you have dealt with your anger, sadness, and shock?

Mariane Pearl: It's an ongoing battle. It really is the knowledge that if I was going to be bitter, if I was going to be overwhelmed with anger, then there is some claim that those who killed Danny would have on me. And that is something I could not let them have. For me, living as a bitter person because of that, living as an angry person, is for me like living half-dead. So the challenge that I made the moment I learned of Danny's death was if I was going to live, I had to be alive, I had to trust, to love, to give and live as a whole person.

One incentive for doing that is Danny. I strongly believe that because he did the same thing, I was able to do it, too. He didn't give his captors anything. Whatever the physical aspect, the violence, you cannot get hold of a strong spirit. Danny, until the very end, was completely whole. He didn't give them anything. I had no doubt about it, and because I knew that I could not do less. He opposed them in the face of death, and I oppose them in the face of life. I knew that was going to be the most difficult thing to do, but I had to do that most difficult thing. So really it is not forgiveness. It is a defiance through my winning. I have no desire or incentive to forgive those people. I am his resolve, and our son Adam is his resolve. Symbolically, I was the first target after Danny. That's why I had to stand up.

The minute I found out about Danny's death, that moment, I had this deep understanding inside, and that is a benefit of my Buddhist practice. I knew exactly what my response should be. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that that is what Danny did. It was so clear. It was also the hardest moment of my life, because at that moment, to say "If I live, I want to be happy again," was almost unnatural, very daring. But I knew that was the answer.

I was all by myself in the same way that Danny was by himself--we were really close at that moment, we were living exactly the same thing. When he died, I knew we could not make our victory real if both of us were dead.

I was the only one who could stand up the next day and say, "That's what we're going to do." Not because I wanted to go on, but because I understood exactly what I had to do.

SGIQ: I am struck by the title of your book, A Mighty Heart. . . .

MP: Danny was a very warm, smart, very loving person. At the same time, he was a very ordinary person. I don't want Adam to think his father was a hero. He was able to stand up against those people when he understood he was going to die because the ground on which he walked was so solid. His ground was his ethics, his journalism, who he was as a person. At the moment of facing death, he didn't abandon any of that. When I knew about his death, I didn't refute any of it, either. That will be transmitted to Adam. I still believe in a world where people should work together, I still believe in altruism, in tolerance, in justice, all those elements that were the basis of our lives. All of those were so strong, so solid in us. I think that's why, at the moment of dying, he could say, I'm proud of who I am, as a journalist, as an American, a Jew, a man.

I know that at no point Danny begged, and I know that through, for instance, the photographs of him. In one there is a gun pointed at him and he has a smile on his face--how much stronger can you be than that? In another one he had shackles, but he's doing V for victory, and in the other he gives the finger. Every way possible he communicates his spirit. I think that's what I call a mighty heart, someone who holds onto their belief until the end.

[Kiyotaka Shishido]

The people around us then became like that, too. There were Jewish people, there were Buddhist people, there were Muslims, there were Hindus, and there were Christians. Everybody at some point said, wow, we are the world--while the people who hold Danny have the opposite vision like the fascists had. It was like two visions of the world were confronting each other. My friend Captain, for example, he was a practicing Muslim--but we had the same goal. That was what mattered. We were all together to save an innocent man. It was like two opposite visions of the future that were fighting so hard. It is definitely a spiritual and mental battle, there is no question about that. Like if you retaliate physically--it would be so easy to kill any of those guys who hurt Danny--it wouldn't take me one minute.

But it is more difficult to do what I am doing. If I kill that guy, I'm not winning, I'm just keeping the vicious cycle going, because his son is going to hate me and maybe kill me, and my son, and it is going to go on like this. You can't fight them on their ground because it doesn't make any sense. It is a mental and spiritual battle.

That's how they recruit them, that's how in terrorist camps they are trained to lose their empathy--you can kill someone because you have convinced yourself that this guy is the enemy. You lose completely your empathy. That's what happens. So the only way to retaliate is to have more empathy and decide to save more people. That's the real battle. If you fight with weapons, they are always going to be more ruthless than you.

SGIQ: So how can we fight terrorism?

MP: Hope and compassion are the only real tools against terrorism. The more people have hope, the more people have empathy, the more people have determination. . . .

There is the law enforcement part and the political part, and I really hope that the UN will play its role. But ultimately we as ordinary people have to confront the terrorists and deny them their goals. I have seen the thousands of young men whose frustration makes them easy targets for recruiters. You know they go to mosques and recruit people, and they tell them that the Americans are the enemy, you should not hesitate to kill a Jew, and how it is holy to kill an American. It's all psychological. So you can only oppose with mental resistance. If it's revenge, they already won. If your mental resistance is based on revenge, that's it--they have claimed some human part of you. In that case we'd be like animals ourselves.

Being human is having this kind of spirit that you can't get hold of. Only because Danny was human was he able to show humanity to those people. It's only by cultivating our humanity that we can do that. There's all the reasons in the world to be fearful, to be depressed, but I have to tell people something they don't want to hear--it is about individual responsibility. Journalists are going to have to be more compassionate, you're going to have to reach out to Muslims, go where you are told not to go. They want to stop people traveling because that's how you build bridges between people. No, you have to go and travel. You should be careful, but if you stop reaching out to others, you are doing what the terrorists are seeking, they want a clash of civilizations. They want to stop dialogue. It's an act of resistance.

SGIQ: At first you said you thought SGI President Ikeda was naive and idealistic in promoting dialogue . . .

MP: Now I've had to have the courage to admit myself that it is the only powerful weapon we have. When you say that to people, they think it's such a lame thing--what can dialogue do against violence? But it's real and it's true. That's why I found sometimes my message is so difficult to get through. People want to fight, bomb and retaliate because it feels better. To go and fight, they think that's fine. You tell them no, when they want a clash; go instead, reach out--it works. How can I hate Pakistanis--one of my best friends, Captain, is a Muslim and a Pakistani. This man has been giving his life to try to save Danny, and then to bring justice to Adam and me. So it's a difficult message to convey because it does start with yourself, and sometimes I say to people, yes, you, in your kids' school, in your community--start a dialogue with the Muslims there--there's always something you can do.

[Kiyotaka Shishido]

That's a difficult thing to admit. Not only are they attacking me, but I have to reach out to them. That's what being human is about--it's about resistance and a higher spirituality--there are two forces, one wants to bring you to your lowest common denominator which is this jungle thing, you hate me, I hate you, and the other wants to bring you to the more elevated answer.

It's such a fight for peace. It's a battle, it's nothing soft. It's a very demanding struggle because you're always going to come to a point where you're confronted with loneliness. It's about two possible futures for humanity fighting each other.

Once you understand that notion, maybe you start being able to empower yourself. Once you start that going, even if it's dialogue, power will come to you as you do it. It has to start from you first. But it's unbelievable the number of people who don't want to see me strong. They want to see a weeping widow, because it doesn't destroy their understanding of how things should be.

SGIQ: You want each person to stand up.

MP: It's a difficult message. You tell them that you can't make real changes if you don't start from yourself. The only thing I can do to provide hope is to say look, I did it, and I did it in the worst circumstances and that's the only way. I tell them, if I was counting on any government to get me out of this situation, what would I do, where would I be now? Where would I find any hope? If I was counting on politics, or economics even, any other set of values, I could not be here.

SGIQ: So what is needed?

MP: There is a need for more in-depth journalism, more lateral journalism. To help people understand the situation in depth. You're dealing with people who psychologically know us much better than we know them. This can't be left in the hands of law enforcement or politicians. Only human beings can bridge these divides--only real human contact can do that.

They want to destroy hope, therefore I shall preserve it by any possible means.
They want to kill trust. Thus I will reach out to others, Africans, Asians, Arabs, Americans and Jews alike.
They want to imprison people in labels and stereotypes. I will strive to maintain a dialogue, always focusing on the individuals rather than the symbol.
They want to kill joy in me, thus I will laugh again.
They want to paralyze me, therefore I will take action. They want to silence me--therefore I will speak out.
From a speech given by Mariane Pearl in Sydney, Australia in March 2004.

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