Opinion » Viewpoint

Murdering a Faith

Anti-Semitism was the motivation for Daniel Pearl's killers.



Ah, Co-hane," the PLO official said, examining my passport and pronouncing my name in the Hebrew manner. This was Beirut in the 1980s, during the civil war, and I was asking permission to visit the PLO-controlled refugee camps in the south of Lebanon.

"Co-hane," the official repeated. I held my breath. Finally, he looked up. "You are most welcome," he said. The "issue" was never again mentioned.

But the issue was most certainly raised with Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan. We may never know precisely why Pearl was snatched and killed -- whether it was because he was a Westerner, an American, a reporter, a Jew, or some combination thereof. But until we know better, we must take his killers at their word. Pearl was kidnapped because he was "anti-Islam and a Jew.'' So said Fahad Naseem, a suspect in the case.

Nothing I know about Pearl suggests he was anti-Islam. But he was most definitely a Jew. According to those who have seen the videotape that the killers made of what apparently were Pearl's last moments, he was forced to say, "I am a Jew. My mother is a Jew.''

Well, so is mine. And I am an American and a journalist as well, so you can understand why I am consumed with anger and sadness at the death of this young man whose widow is carrying his child.

But I don't think I am being irrational when I say that the hideous murder of Daniel Pearl was not just the work of "barbarians" -- the phrase du jour to describe his killers--but the inevitable result of policy. Throughout the once-tolerant Islamic world, anti-Semitism -- hatred of Jews -- has become both common and acceptable.

To some, this will seem unsurprising. After all, there is a connection between Judaism and Zionism. But while most Zionists are Jews, not all Jews are Zionists -- and even those who are pro-Israel are not the subhuman caricatures of the Islamic world's anti-Semitic media. This caricature -- devious, diabolical, intent on world domination, and in total control of the world's financial system -- appears so often in the Islamic world's press that it can and maybe was used to justify the murder of a totally innocent man.

The Saudi newspaper Al-Watan ran a two-part series back in December headlined "The Jewish Sense of Superiority in the World.'' It revealed, as anti-Semites have over and over again, the secret plans of the Jews to "implement their strategic hellish plans to take over the world.''

Just precisely how these all-powerful and devilishly clever people were somehow nearly exterminated during the Nazi era might present something of a problem to anti-Semites. Not to worry: The Holocaust never happened. Last year, for instance, the often-lauded Qatar television channel Al-Jazeera held a panel discussion entitled "Is Zionism worse than Nazism?'' Some prominent Holocaust deniers were allowed to participate. Of course, both sides of the question were presented.

Just six days after September 11th, President Bush went to Washington's Islamic Center to send a message: "Islam is peace.'' He distinguished between the perverted and perfidious religious zealotry of Osama bin Laden and mainstream Islam. "The face of terror is not the true face of Islam,'' the president said.

The decency, the guts, to make a similar repudiation of bigotry is precisely what is lacking in most Islamic or Arab leaders. Neither the Saudi nor the Egyptian regimes slap down their local anti-Semites, and neither, of course, does Yasser Arafat, whose own organization has trafficked in vile stereotypes of the sort once used by the Nazis.

It could be that Daniel Pearl would have been killed no matter what. It could be that it was enough that he was American. But it was not his nationality that seemed to matter to his captors. It was his religion. Anti-Semitic kidnappers killed Pearl. Cowardly governments enabled it to happen.

Richard Cohen is a member of the Washington Post Writers Group. His work frequently appers in the Flyer.

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