The opening and closing of Christopher Hitchens’s Lecture in honor of Daniel Pearl, given at UCLA in 2010:
“If I lived in an uncivilized society, today could have been for me a kind of Martyr’s day. I was just taken, by some very courteous and gallant young cadets, to see the veteran’s memorial on the other side of this campus, where is commemorated Second Lieutenant Mark Daily. A young man who gave his life in Kurdistan a few years ago for the liberation of Iraq, and wrote very movingly to me about it and his service. A man I was hoping to meet, and whose family I am very pleased now to count — as I now can with great pride claim the Pearls — if not family, then very close friends. And I thought to myself: after I go to this memorial, I have to go speak for Daniel.
But just as it marks the scattering of his ashes, there will be, today, no ululations, no wailings, no shooting in the air, no tossing of the coffin on the shoulders of mob, no hoarse, brutal cries for revenge and suicide and murder. No. We won’t have that.
Instead, we’ll have honest, decent, modest, brave people trying to deal with their grief, and trying to apply reason to the crises that lead to their deprivation. And I think that marks, if you like, part of the boundary between civilization and barbarism that this lecture is designed to patrol — and I would say enforce.
At the scattering of Mark’s ashes, on a beautiful coastal spot in Oregon, I quoted from the last scene of MacBeth. And I think I can do it again — I had difficulty doing it that time.
Where, as you’ll recall, the tyrant is gone, the tyranny and the usurpation is over. But Old Siward, he doesn’t know it yet, but he’s lost his son. And I believe it’s MacDuff who has to say to him the following — and I’ll address it to the Pearl’s if I may:
Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt.
He only lived but till he was a man,
The which no sooner had his prowess confirmed
In the unshrinking station where he stood,
But like a man he died.
And that’s hard enough to get through. But it’s Shakespeare, so it isn’t ’til the next beat or so that you get it all, as MacDuff adds:
Your cause of grief
Must not be measured by his worth
For then it hath no end
That’s the best tribute I can offer you, and I’m very acutely aware of my own debt to a finer register of emotion.
Now one more thing: I was late in discovering my Jewish heritage, and I once wrote that anyone who wanted to defame the Jewish people would, if they were doing so, be defaming my wife, my mother, my mother- and father-in-law, and my daughters, and so I didn’t think I really had to say anything for myself.
But I did add that in whatever tone of voice the question was put to me — whether it was friendly or hostile — Was I Jewish? I would always answer Yes. Denial in my family would end with me.
But, of course, there was the most acute possible test of that question faced by the young Daniel Pearl, in the most appalling circumstances, and again I pause to remember how proudly, and how bravely, and how nobly he refused any sort of refuge in denial.
Again, setting a standard of a Shakespearean kind that’s very hard for me to approach without a feeling of a want of proportion…
And I’ll close by saying this: Because anti-Semitism is the godfather of racism and the gateway to tyranny and fascism and war, it is to be regarded not as the enemy of the Jewish people alone, but as the common enemy of humanity, and of civilization, and has to be fought against very tenaciously for that reason. Most especially in its current, most virulent form of Islamic Jihad.
Daniel Pearl’s revolting murderer was educated at the London School of Economics. Our Christmas bomber over Detroit was from a neighboring London college, the chair of the Islamic Students’ Society. Many pogroms against Jewish people have been reported from all over Europe today as I’m talking, and we can only expect this to get worse, and we must make sure our own defenses are not neglected. Our task is to call this filthy thing, this plague, this pest, by its right name, to make unceasing resistance to it, knowing all the time that it’s probably ultimately ineradicable, and bearing in mind that its hatred towards us is a compliment and resolving some of the time at any rate to do a bit more to deserve it. Thank you.
American journalist Daniel Pearl was murdered on February 1st, 2002, in Karachi, Pakistan.
In the video that was taken of him immediately before his murder, Pearl is taunted by his captors and asked whether he is Jewish. His response:
“My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American from Encino, California, USA. I come from, uh, on my father’s side the family is Zionist. My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We’ve made numerous family visits to Israel. Back in the town of Bnei Brak, there is a street named after my great-grandfather, Chaim Pearl, who was one of the founders of the town.”
And those were Daniel Pearl’s final words. Contrast the bravery of Daniel Pearl — and his family’s legacy of construction and contribution to Israel — with the barbarism and cruelty and evil of the murderers who shortly thereafter took his life.
The life and death of Daniel Pearl is, in other words, a story about everything to love and fight for (intelligence, sincerity, family, Western Civilization) and everything to despise (racism, savagery, murder, violence, the slaughter of innocent people, fanaticism). Thus Daniel Pearl’s story is, in microcosm, a story about the battle between civilization and barbarism — and one could even say between good and evil.
Former mayor of New York City Ed Koch, who died last month, had his tombstone inscribed with Pearl’s last words: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”
Watch Hitchens’s lecture below.