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Living In The Spirit Of Daniel Pearl

Daniel Pearl and Asra Nomani in Karachi in 2001
Daniel Pearl and Asra Nomani in Karachi in 2001

It has been more than a decade since Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Pakistan. On January 23, 2002, he left the house of his friend and colleague, Asra Nomani, for an interview but never returned.

Ever since, Nomani has been on the trail of Pearl's killers, diving deeply into every detail of his disappearance. She co-founded the Pearl Project at Georgetown University, a faculty-student investigation into Pearl's murder. Nomani even traveled to Guantanamo for the trial of alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. She went, she says, "as a witness for Danny."

She wrote about the Pearl Project's investigation and her personal journey to find relief in this month's Washingtonian magazine, and spoke with Tell Me More host Michel Martin.

Interview Highlights

On her friendship with Daniel Pearl

I was the geeky immigrant kid from India who just didn't know quite how to fit in in America. Danny introduced me to all those awesome clubs on 18th Street and U Street [in Washington DC] before they were really hot ... I had never bought a CD in my life and so Danny sent me out on a mission, so I went to that music store on Connecticut Avenue and I came back with "I'll Do Anything For Love [But I Won't Do That]" as the title song, and he said "Meatloaf? That's not music" and sent me back for another assignment.

Asra Nomani praying in Guantanamo, where she traveled for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
/ Courtesy Asra Nomani
Asra Nomani praying in Guantanamo, where she traveled for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

On seeing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed up close

I can't even describe it. It just has transformed my life. I mean it has really just shifted something very deep within me. I didn't even know why I needed to go to Guantanamo, and then my friends — really wise people — said you know you're going as a witness for Danny. I thought I needed to see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — look him straight in the eyes. I thought I was going to burn a hole in his head through my eyes just staring at him so hard. And then I realized that I needed to see his hand. Because he had bragged that he had killed Danny with his blessed right hand. And I had studied and studied and studied the murder video because there's distinguishable vein features on the hand of the man that's holding the knife.

On the brutal details of Danny's death

The brutality of it is something that I can hardly even express. I wrote it because ultimately it's in those details that the haunting happens. The haunting details of these three men arriving on the last day. They have a bag and in the bag is a video camera so they know what they're going to do. They have a knife and Danny doesn't even know. He doesn't even know what's about to happen. And he is then thrown to the ground, they hold him down and that knife goes to his throat ... In those details is where we can find our own humanity I think because in the absence of kindness we have to really figure out how we can absorb, handle the horror of what man can do to another man.

The importance of finding out the truth

Now I can understand this deeper need within my heart to just be there with Danny on these lonely last days that he had, and to know what it is that he experienced, witnessed, though we weren't present with him. Because he was such an incredible companion and friend to all of us that knew him, and it just broke my heart that he was there alone.

Asra Nomani
/ Andrew Propp, Washingtonian Magazine
Asra Nomani

On returning from Guantanamo

I realized coming back from Guantanamo in the year since that there's this magnificent thing that has to happen where you also live the spirit of the life of the person that you loved, the person who you miss. And I had lived for so long in the moment of Danny's death that now I am returning to great things like the volleyball that we used to play together. I hadn't picked up a ball since I last played with Danny in Karachi. I'm actually going to go out and try and find music again. And I think in that way, do that amazing thing that people say you can do when you mourn and grieve, and that is, live in the spirit of the person that you cherished.

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