For two years in the mid-1990s, I sat in a cubicle next to Danny Pearl’s in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal. We were not close, but I can state with great certainty that Danny was not an agent of the CIA or the Mossad or “anti-Islam,” as his apparently anti-Semitic captors clumsily alleged. (Of course, even if he had been any of those things, he would not have deserved to have his throat slit.) Danny’s best friend at the paper, who also sat beside me—I was sandwiched between the two—was a spirited Muslim named Asra Nomani, who, as it happens, is in Pakistan herself right now, writing a series of engaging articles about her travels through the region for Salon. Asra and Danny would stand on either side of me, trade gossip and jokes, and tease one another with characteristic fondness. Occasionally I’d be honored with inclusion in their conspiracy against the large pomposities of Washington, and the smaller ones that surfaced now and then in our office. Mostly, I admired at close quarters their ability to remain (well, at least appear) carefree while performing their extremely demanding jobs with great aplomb.
I never saw Danny after he went overseas for the Journal early in 1996 (though we exchanged e-mails once or twice). From what I’ve heard, and what I observed in his writing, he remained what he’d been when I knew him: a very skillful reporter with a sharp eye for human detail who faced the world with humor, kindness, intelligence, and absolutely no preconceived notions. These qualities gave Danny something very close to the ideal journalist’s temperament. It’s doubtful that Danny’s murderers knew any of this or cared. That’s one more reason to hate them, and to hate the murderous fanaticism that has seized much of the Islamic world.
[Update, Feb. 22: The Journal has posted a selection of Danny’s best articles for the paper on its Web site. Click here to see them.]