Daniel Pearl was a Jewish-American journalist who enjoyed writing and music. People knew him as a man who brought people together with his charm, kindness, and love of life. While on assignment for The Wall Street Journal in Pakistan in 2002, Pearl was abducted and executed by al-Qaeda terrorists. To memorialize him and foster cross-cultural understanding, his parents established the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which in turn launched the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture Series at Stanford University in 2006.
This year’s keynote speaker was U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, who spoke on October 18 in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. The senator’s appearance was co-sponsored by the ASSU Speakers Bureau, Hillel at Stanford, and the Office for Religious Life.
Senator Lieberman dubbed his speech “The End of the War on Terror.” As he stated, “Our responsibility in gathering tonight, I believe, is not only to celebrate the values that defined Danny’s life, but also to confront the terrible reality of his death and the forces that were responsible for it.” Those forces, according to the senator, are not groups like al-Qaeda, per se, but rather the “fanatical ideology” that fuels them. He then stated bluntly, “What ended Danny’s life was a deliberate and calculated act of evil…What animated and inspired [his killers] was not terrorism, which is merely a tactic, but a specific worldview and ideology.” That ideology, he repeatedly and fervently asserted, is “Islamist extremism.”
Senator Lieberman declared that such destructive ideologies “must be confronted, fought, and defeated – or else they will defeat us.” This ideology, he continued, is part of “the same totalitarian impulse that we have seen appear and reappear, like a pestilence, across numerous countries and cultures and eras, intensely so during the past hundred years.” In spite of this rally against Islamism, Senator Lieberman was also clear on his stance that the War on Terrorism is not “a clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam. The senator pointed out that most victims of terrorism are innocent Muslims and not Americans or members of other faiths. What is happening today, the senator argued, is a “civil war within Islam…that pits what I believe to be a moderate Muslim majority that wants what we all want—a better, safer life—against an extremist Islamist minority that has a fanatical determination to do whatever is necessary to prevail, and whose success would threaten the entire world.”
In response to the senator’s mention of the wants of moderate Muslims, a Pakistani international student came to the microphone during the question and answer session following the speech. He announced, “There are many Muslims like me who are ready to take action against extremism, such as that which led to the death of Daniel Pearl.” Senator Lieberman replied to an applauding auditorium, “What you just said made my trip out here worth it!”
Toward the end of his speech, Senator Lieberman challenged the audience to support political freedom, improved standards of governance, and economic opportunity in the Middle East and around the world. He argued that “values of freedom of thought and expression, of curiosity and tolerance” have the overarching power to bring people closer together regardless of their underlying differences.
The senator concluded by saying that Daniel Pearl is ultimately a reminder for us: “Ending the war on terror does not require that we succeed in creating heaven on earth. Rather, this war will end when a critical mass of people recognize that the ideology of our enemy is capable of creating nothing but hell on earth. It will end not when every conflict and injustice is solved, but when the worldview of Islamist extremism is discredited, discarded, and reviled—and when this set of ideas no longer inspires anything but frustration and disgust.” The audience responded to that statement with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
The Fourth Annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture was a rare opportunity to hear an American leader at the national level speak on a highly controversial and complex issue. Senator Lieberman offered practical words of inspiration and clearly illustrated the threat that Islamist extremism poses to the values and the security of America and its allies. Perhaps most importantly, Senator Lieberman eloquently articulated the importance of remembering Daniel Pearl and the indomitability of his demonstrated courage, integrity, and humanity.