Mariane Pearl is co-founder of the Meteor.
Almost two decades ago, the people of Pakistan sent me messages expressing sadness and anger at the murder of my husband, Daniel Pearl, in their beloved country. Danny was 38 years old and the Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief for South Asia. “I am a Muslim and this, my friend, is not Islam,” one wrote. My favorite message read: “Your husband had a great smile . . . a happy mixture of Pope John Paul and Dean Martin.”
On Jan. 23, 2002, we had just arrived in Karachi, an intricate puzzle of a city. In recent years, it had metastasized into a hub of blind hatred and violent militancy. Danny was in search of a radical Muslim cleric who had led a man to try to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami. In these last few days, Danny’s schedule had been hectic. He was exhausted and increasingly worried about what he was finding, but he dressed with his usual understated elegance and headed out. It was to be his last interview before we were to fly to Dubai for a break. Three hours later, I just knew by intuition that Danny had been kidnapped. Soon after, the name came up: A man named Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh abducted him with the intention of murdering him. I never saw Danny again.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that Saeed and the accomplices responsible for this crime should be released from prison and absolved of any wrongdoing. The High Court of Sindh, where Saeed was held, argued that the men should only have been charged with kidnapping, which carries a prison sentence of seven years, not murder.
Over the years, I have come to distrust man’s ability to handle power. I have learned that so-called justice systems often have nothing to do with justice.
Long before last week’s decision, Danny’s murder had been disappearing in the dirty corridors of international politics and decades-long conflicts. The geopolitical tug of war over terrorism made it so that my infinitely complex, wholesome Danny boy was reduced to just “the American,” or “the journalist” or “the Westerner.”
Danny and I were from very different backgrounds. Danny was of Jewish and Polish origin, and my background was a bit French, a bit Cuban and a bit Dutch, with a Chinese grandfather added to the mix. I was pregnant, and we were very much in love. We were going to have a son; Danny wanted to name him Adam, as a wish for humanity to come together.
What united us was journalism. I was then freelancing for French media and reported from Peshawar, Islamabad and Karachi. As journalists, Danny and I learned what ordinary Pakistani citizens were up against. We saw up close how much damage a corrupt leader can inflict. We learned it was so easy for extremists to lead people into conflict and misery, by offering desperate people nothing to eat but hateful rhetoric. During the months that Danny and I spent in Pakistan, we met as many people as we could, to try to resist simplistic narratives about the people in Pakistan.
The morning after Danny disappeared, I did not know whom to trust. Our rented house was full of police and shady agents. I looked for someone who could help me find Danny. I chose a man standing apart from everybody else, quietly chain-smoking amid the chaos.
I went to him. “I need someone I can trust,” I told him. He was the chief of the antiterrorism unit in the city. He gave me an order: to stay quiet. I nicknamed him “Captain.” Once everyone in the house was gone, he said: “I am going to give everything I have to bring your Danny home.” From then on, he did just that, ordering raids throughout the city. I never had to tell him Danny was innocent. He knew. I never had to persuade him to work with a victim’s family, a woman and a journalist. He didn’t care.
Five weeks later, we learned Danny was dead. Everyone’s pain was thick. But I could not cry. I didn’t believe it. During my five-week search for Danny in Karachi, the Pakistani police reported at least 11 killings of Shiite Muslims in the city. There were so many of us losing loved ones to the violence in Pakistan.
Captain’s wife brought me spicy food for the baby, saying it would be good for our unborn son. “Stop being so nice,” I said. “How am I ever going to hate you guys?” We both laughed, letting the humor pierce through the walls and give us a breath of fresh air.
And this is what gives me hope in the face of so much injustice. I don’t hate Pakistan or its people, even after Danny’s murder and last week’s unjust decision. Over the years, when my heart feels as though it will bleed, I keep the messages of love, support and outrage close to me. As for Captain, he is Adam’s godfather.
I am convinced that true justice will never come from above. Wherever I go, I look for the Captains and their wives. I have seen how abuse and corruption rip apart the lives of a family or a community. The justice I have come to believe in lies in the power of humanism.