More than 12 years have passed since her husband and Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was brutally killed by militants in Pakistan. But Mariane Pearl says she no longer thinks about his killers. “Omar Sheikh and others are in my past. I don’t think about them. I look to ordinary women for hope, and to keep my hope in life and my work alive.”
In New Delhi to deliver the First Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture after the presentation of the Excellence in Journalism awards on Tuesday, Pearl said that after Daniel’s murder, she went through an acute phase of disillusionment with the profession she and her husband had practised for years. To build hope, she began writing stories for women and found her calling.
The managing editor of Chime for Change, a global journalism platform which highlights powerful stories about girls and women and the potential of individuals to bring change, Pearl began her career in France as a radio journalist covering immigration issues.
She was writing for a French magazine when her husband was South Asia bureau chief of the WSJ. She wrote a memoir, A Mighty Heart, celebrating the values of humanism and dignity while offering a detailed account of the search for her husband in Pakistan. In 2007, it was released as a major motion picture starring Angelina Jolie as Mariane.
Her second book, In Search of Hope, is a collection of profiles of extraordinary women around the world.
“Danny and I lived and practised a very ideal version of journalism and we believed in that. But after his death when I became the news myself, I was struck by the heartlessness of journalists, and it was a bad phase of cynicism and doubt. Back then, I was saved by women.”
Mariane, who was pregnant at the time of Daniel’s death, went to attend a forum of “mothers of 9/11”.
“A group of 110 women who were pregnant at the time of 9/11 were brought together by a forum. Hearing them got me thinking. Soon after I travelled to 18 different countries, profiling women who had started with nothing and had still given hope to so many others around them.”
She came across 16-year-old Julianne in Uganda who decided to become a doctor after her mother was diagnosed with AIDS, and then started a movement to stop African doctors from leaving the continent; in Colombia, she found 16-year-old Mayeili who started the first think tank of children in an atmosphere of violence; she also profiled the then president of Liberia — and all are stories In Search of Hope.
“After I wrote about them, these women got help. Julianne got a Harvard scholarship, and Mayeili a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. So this effort helped cut down the contradiction between my ethics and journalism.”
It was around this time, she decided her son Adam’s godfather would be the Pakistani police officer who investigated her husband’s disappearance and killing.
While Daniel’s killers are “in the past”, she does not think her view of the media has changed entirely. “The media forgets its role, and it forgets the story. In the case of James Foley (the American journalist executed last month by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), how can I be the story? Do they want me to be a spokesperson for the al-Qaeda on how it spreads terror?”
What if son Adam, now 12, were to say he wants to be a journalist like Daniel? Would she let him? “You can only fight terror with whatever they try to take away from you, which is hope and faith. I am not saying I have blind faith in mankind but I have the faith to let my son choose his profession.”
Adam, she said, was under a lot of pressure with “everyone trying to project their expectations of Danny” on him. “I took him to Spain four years ago. He knows everything that happened to his dad. I told him everything when he was seven years old. I talk to him a lot, but he should be his own man. Right now, he wants to be a designer.”
She still finds it difficult to return to this part of the world. “I returned to Mumbai three years ago, but I avoided it until then. It was hard thinking of our house there. The memories come back, interviewing Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, getting eve teased on a beach… small memories.”
The Ramnath Goenka memorial lecture — the first will be delivered by Pearl on Tuesday — is a forum of men and women from across the world who embody courage.
Speaker is chief guest at RNG awards function
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan will be the chief guest at the seventh edition of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards function in New Delhi on Tuesday. She will present the awards for outstanding work done in 2011and 2012. The winners have been chosen by an eminent jury from nominations in 15 categories.