From The Dallas Morning News
December 1, 2002
Danny Pearl's Legacy Is a World of Music
By Rena Pederson
Sometimes, the postscript is the real message.
At the beginning of this year, the name of Danny Pearl
became synonymous with tragedy. The Wall Street Journal
reporter was held hostage by terrorists in Pakistan
and brutally murdered. His interrogation and grisly
decapitation in January were videotaped and shown around
the world. It was a hard image to forget.
But wait. Something wonderful has started happening
in many corners of the world since then.
Danny Pearl's life is being celebrated in spontaneous
concerts from India to Boston. The music has been surfacing
with the same kind of quirky joy that he was known
for. You see, Danny Pearl was a talented musician as
well as a journalist. He became an accomplished fiddler
and mandolin player even while graduating Phi Beta
Kappa from Stanford University. He played with bands
with names like "Clarence" and "Ottoman
Empire" and loved music as much as journalism.
He often treated his newspaper colleagues to impromptu
concerts. He gave violin lessons to needy children.
Once Danny Pearl even composed a song for a pregnant
friend who was struggling to deliver an overdue baby.
To coax the baby out, he went to the hospital and sang
softly, "The World Is Not Such a Bad Place."
Now, other musicians are returning that spirit. They
are celebrating Danny Pearl's gentle life in song,
so he won't be remembered just by his death. On Oct.
10, on what would have been Mr. Pearl's 39th birthday,
100 tribute concerts were held in 17 countries -- including
a performance by an Arab-Jewish youth orchestra in
Tel Aviv and a Pakistani fusion band in San Francisco.
Even in Karachi, where the journalist was murdered,
several musicians sent word that, while it was too
dangerous to perform publicly, they would play a private
And just a few weeks ago, a grass-roots concert of
acoustic music was held in Boston to benefit the new
Daniel Pearl Foundation. It was a night of goose-bump
moments -- one of the bands lifted the violin track
off one of Danny Pearl's recordings and played live
music along with it. "It was like he was there,
like he really was there," said his sister Tamara
Many families might become bitter after losing a loved
one in a hateful murder. The Pearls are determined
to transform Danny Pearl's death into a positive legacy.
The foundation they have created in his honor (Danielpearl.org)
is trying to bridge divisions between Western and Islamic
cultures. The honorary board includes CNN journalist
Christiane Amanpour, former President Bill Clinton,
violinist Itzhak Perlman, Nightline host Ted Koppel
and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.
The idea is that every year a concert will be held
on the anniversary of Mr. Pearl's birthday, and the
proceeds will finance scholarships for young journalists.
Students from the Middle East will work at The Wall
Street Journal, and journalists from Stanford University
will get to study in the Middle East, retracing Mr.
Pearl's career path both ways. In addition, there will
be an essay project on tolerance for students around
the world to reduce religious, ethnic and cultural
There have been a host of events honoring Danny Pearl
since his death, and, to its credit, his family has
elevated those moments into messages for tolerance.
When the Lovejoy Award for courage in journalism was
presented at Colby College last month, Tamara Pearl,
who is 41 and bears a strong resemblance to her brother,
accepted with grace and sisterly affection. She spoke
of her brother's jaunty, happy-go-lucky way of walking
-- which his family called "the Danny walk" --
and expressed hope that the foundation can encourage
others to walk through life with the same optimism
Afterward, she said efforts are under way to extend
her brother's love of music as well -- a friend who
is a violin maker has created a violin with Danny Pearl's
name on it, and every summer the violin will be used
by an inner-city student at music camp.
It is a heartening example -- like the Biehl Foundation
created in 1993 by the parents of Amy Biehl. She was
the Fulbright scholar who was stoned to death in South
Africa, where she was helping people make the transition
from apartheid to democracy. Among other projects,
that foundation has started a bread-making venture
that employs two of the young men who helped murder
Those postscripts remind us that, in the long run,
the best antidote for hate isn't more hate but reconciliation
on a person-to-person basis. And that music sometimes
can provide a great bridge.
P.S.: Remember that song "The World Is Not Such
a Bad Place"? The foundation is having it recorded
by musicians from around the world as a peace anthem
-- and will use the proceeds to send youngsters from
Israel and Palestinian territories, as well as Pakistan
and India, to Seeds of Peace camp to discover what
they have in common.
Rena Pederson is editor at large at The Dallas
back to top