The man who knew too much
It is hard to imagine knowing too much these days since our sources of information from the CIA to the nightly TV news cannot be depended upon to provide much reliable information about what’s going on in the world.
I mean no disrespect for my government when I say one can hardly believe what we hear coming out of Washington today, or for that matter, what we hear coming out of London, or Paris, Berlin, Islamabad, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Beijing, Baghdad, Tokyo, Ramallah, Kabul, or Pyongyang, because what we hear are at best disjointed assemblages of “facts” that are often cobbled together into false absolutes made out of half truths.
The problems involved are graphically illustrated in the case of Daniel Pearl’s murder, which has been investigated in a provocative new book by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy titled Who Killed Daniel Pearl?.
On the surface, we might say, what’s the big deal? Over a year ago we saw Islamic jihadists torture and murder this Wall Street Journal correspondent on TV. We later read about the arrests and the secret trial and the sentencing of the perpetrators. What else is there to know? In his book, Levy shocks us with detailed revelations about the case which seep into our bones, chilling the marrow with names, dates, figures, facts, experiences, insights and, yes, speculations about the perpetrators and the true intentions behind Pearl’s vicious murder.
Levy admits he may have at times lost his way during the investigation in a “dust storm of facts," but in the end he declares, “I assert that what is taking place there, between Islamabad and Karachi (Pakistan, where Pearl was killed), is a black hole compared to which Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad was an obsolete weapons dump. The stench of apocalypse hangs over those cities; I am convinced that Danny smelled that stench.” In short, Levy concludes Pearl was assassinated because he was “a man who knew too much.”
Levy delves into the obvious motives for killing Pearl. These include the fact that he was an American, that he was a Jew in an Islamic society, and that he was a journalist poking his nose into places where he was not welcome. But the bulk of the book, which arises out of Levy’s following Pearl’s leads and retracing his footsteps for over a year, reveals broader motives involving nuclear weaponry, international terrorist links leading back to the United States and Europe, and incredibly complex interrelationships within the several Islamic terrorist communities involved in the kidnaping and execution of Pearl. What we learn is that the killing of Danny Pearl could have something to do with the safety of anyone reading this article.
As Levy said to Bill Moyers on PBS recently, “Pakistan is at the core, the center of international terrorism.” He went further to assert that Pakistan’s president, Musharrif, " is not in control of his country." Scary stuff, since Pakistan is supposedly a major ally in the Bush Administration’s war against terrorism.
Like Pakistan, New Mexico is a nuclear zone serving as a repository for weapons of mass destruction. Levy’s intrepid investigations of terror and proliferation in Pakistan underscore the importance of understanding the global dimensions of terrorist efforts to secure such weapons, as well as understanding what motivates the terrorists’ anti-American activities.
In the days when I was a college professor, we could still use terms like “culture” to describe the dense, often inscrutable (to others) structures that characterize how certain countries, religions, and ethnic groups are organized and operated. That is where Levy takes us, behind several of the veils of culture in Islamic Pakistan, seeking the “truth” that dedicated journalists like Pearl sought—and why and how that led to his death.
The unexpected people and governments Levy finds directly and indirectly implicated in the murder provide unsettling glimpses into our modern world. For example, the fact that Sheikh Omar, the chief assassin, was the product of the best British schools, privilege, and Western affluence. He was not oppressed, deprived, or uneducated, as some might have assumed.
Levy cogitates about war and peace, religion and violence, prejudice and politics, and love and hate. As he points out, these dialogues sometimes blur the line between fact and fiction, but his philosophizing makes his book a primer for understanding the violent global situation in which we find ourselves the world’s only superpower. Levy’s book confronts the plethora of conflicts, contradictions, and imponderables that our Western involvement with Islamic cultures creates.
The Bush Administration seems to be operating on a simplistic principle of “American universalism” that assumes things about culture, religion, politics, and terrorism that do not meet the test of global realities. Levy guides us across many cultures into the labyrinth of worlds where even some elements of major religions have become unloving and violent. His philosophical ruminations about Pearl’s murder also give us an opportunity to ask ourselves important questions about our own spiritual condition and open us up to being able to know more—if not too much—about the world around us.