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January 17, 2002    

Kill the Message Not the Messenger


By Linda LaRoche

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the freedom of association and assembly.  It also protects the rights of citizens to worship as they please and not be forced to support someone else’s religion.  But human nature inclines us to take our civil liberties for granted and abuse them.   

Take, for example the media.  Nowhere but in this country do people air their grievances about the media’s stronghold yet blame the media for most fallouts' calling them giant conspirators.  It’s a love/ hate relationship, one where people vainly seek their names in the newspaper, long to hear their voices on the airwaves and see their faces plastered on the six o’clock news but they also blame the media as the scapegoat for political outrage.  Journalists represent the institution are also under attack.

Wall Street Journal’s South Asian bureau chief, Daniel Pearl was in Karachi, Pakistan working on a story on Richard Reid, a Brit who was arrested on a Paris- to-Miami flight in December after he allegedly tried to ignite explosives hidden in his sneakers. On January 23 Pearl was seeking an interview with Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, the leader of the radical Islamic group Jamaat al-Fuqra, with whom Reid may have been connected. 

Pearl disappeared and several days later a militant underground calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty sends an e-mail to Pakistani and international media showing Pearl in captivity.  Initially his captors thought he was with the CIA, and then they thought he worked for Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence agency. 

On February 22, FBI and Pakistani officials receive a videotape containing scenes from Pearls’ murder.  It is unsure of when he was killed and his body has not been found. 

What caused this senseless death? Pearl had three strikes against him.  First he was a Jew.  His kidnappers may have believed he was working against Islam.  Certainly there have been enough venomous Antisemitic rants about Islamic struggles that perpetuate the belief that Jews have a secret conspiracy to rule the world.

Second Pearl was an American. With the war on terrorism no American will ever forget on September 11 how our nation after having faced injury became a target of hurled obscenities and threats of violence, even death by those across the Atlantic. Lastly Pearl was a Reporter, a messenger with a global institution that is an object of international disdain.  

Few institutions come under as much scrutiny and persistent criticism.  Unlike government or politics, most newspapers and magazines run criticisms of their own work in the letters to the editor column. But why is it that only in this country with the world’s most free and open press do we feel so comfortable in trashing this whole enterprise?  Our first amendment permits us to express ourselves without interference or constraints by the government. In other parts of the world, however such freedom is a luxury. 

When I lived In Berlin shortly after the wall came down, you would see the droves of people coming from the East to the West.  They’d marvel at the lavish lifestyle.  Stocks and the economy were good but housing prices kept going up. I wondered where it was all going. From living in Los Angeles I knew housing usually leads the economy to recession.  I also knew that unemployment was on the rise.  Picking up a copy of the Berliner Morgenpost I’d read what I perceived as a veiled article on the state of financial affairs. The belief was with a high gross domestic product the Germans would weather any future storm.  Not everyone agrees.  At least I didn’t. I’d shoot off a letter to the paper.  In response, I’d get a letter stating that the Editors disagreed with my opinion.  They did not publish my letter and made references from past articles why their position was accurate.

As individuals we have a right to speak and have our sentiments published. Other governments do not grant the same level of participation of expression to their citizens, which is why the voice and written word of an American journalist is sensed as a threat. Often in International circles they are perceived as people with enormous power and of great status. The Pakistanis thought they were getting a bigwig when in reality Pearl was doing his job, covering a story.   

Even the American public is seduced by the false glamour.  The Katie Couric multimillion dollar contract leads many on that don’t realize according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a Reporter is around $30,000. 

Daniel Pearl may have seen the world as a reporter but grew up and went to elementary and high school in the San Fernando Valley.  His parents still live in Encino. 

In recent months we’ve seen that no American is exempt from the effects from the war on terrorism.  As we mourn the loss of another life, rather than hold contempt for the media let’s keep in mind that we are fortunate to live in a country where we have people like Pearl working hard to maintain our right to know and The Bill of Rights – to ensure it stays that way.


January 17, 2002    

Justifying War


By Linda LaRoche

Dr. Yahia Abdul- Rahman is a chemical engineer who resides in Altadena. A native of Egypt, Rahman is a distinguished man with refined features and steel blue eyes; he aims at furthering interfaith amity and helping fellow Americans understand Islam through the Shura Council, a statewide association of mosques, schools and Islamic centers.

The 100 people in attendance at Abdul-Rahman’s recent presentation at the Pasadena Jewish Center and Temple (PJTC) were expecting to hear a political discussion on the ever growing military and human rights crisis erupting in the Middle East.  But like most things related to that historic conflict, there are no straight definitions, no easily explained theories and the spiritual pull that the often misinterpreted Koran has on the people who believe in it.

Since the events of Sept. 11, the Koran and the religion it inspired has been on trial. Is Islam an inherently intolerant faith? Does the Koran oblige Muslims to wage jihad (holy war) on those who do not share beliefs? If Jews and Christians are monotheists too and Muslims revere their prophets through their holy books, then who are the infidels? And why do Muslims cherish the idea that Mohammed could not read or write as proof that the Koran is a pure revelation.  Does that purity constitute perfection and the submission ideal? What common ground if any joins these groups? With the never-ending battle in the Middle East what particles of reconciliation lies within Jews and Muslims and the traditions they represent?           

But in today’s world, religious voices do not command attention. However, Rahman preached humility, not bravado plumbed into the mind of God, with a historical lesson on Islam and its similarities to Judaism. And as Rabbi Gilbert Kollin of PJTC pointed out regarding Rahman’s presentation, “It’s this understanding that opens the door to continued dialogue”. 

Theologically, both books, the Koran and the Pentateuch (first five books of Moses) also known as the Torah profess faith in a single God. Both warn of God’s punishment and final judgment of the world. According to Rahman both texts define rules for prayer and religious rituals, relations between men and women and how to raise righteous children. The Koran, he claims places a great deal of emphasis on acts of justice, mercy and compassion.  There are many interpretations of jihad-, which means literally “effort.” Often it means to be a better more pious Muslim. But we’ve come to associate the meaning with religious war because terrorists use Gods name and religious texts in a way that authenticates their cause.  War gets justified as a personal obligation that challenges authority. In reality their goals are political and personal.  That’s not Gods doing, its man.  

In Islam’s current political conflicts with the West the major problem is not the Muslims sacred book but how it is interpreted.  Muslims everywhere are plagued by a crippling crisis of authority.  The Koran may have envisioned a single Muslim community, but history shows that they have never resolved the tension between religious authority and Islamic governments.

When I asked Rahman about his opinion on the building tension in the Middle East he cited, “Arab countries nationalize religion. The Koran, either consciously or inadvertently has been corrupted. Also the text is misinterpreted, with 98% illiteracy, lack of education is the problem. Extremists of Muslim backgrounds are violating the norms of Islamic justice and should be held accountable for their criminal behavior”.

As sacred texts, however the Pentateuch and the Koran could not be more different.  To read the Old Testament requires analysis and there are commentaries, anthologies that draw from many sources.  It’s also a historical document. Judaism is also overwhelming self-critical, whereas the Koran is poetic and reads like a fluid stream. 

Where these two cultures can unite is in their commonality. Both are descendants from the Patriarch Abraham, and traditionally these two cultures both have religious verses that show both God and Allah, created diverse people for pluralistic reasons. Here it seems, lay the seeds for reconciliation. “If more God- loving Jews and Muslims were fair with one another and came to the table with fresh ideas and dismissed the idea of settling accounts of this madness would go away.  I fear that the episodes of the last few weeks will leave a scar and influence the minds of youngsters, both Muslim and Jew. My greatest hope lies in organizations such as this one, that raise the consciousness of Americans who in turn work with their Muslim brothers overseas to strive for peace” said Abdul-Rahman. 

Muslims and Jews are at a precarious place in history. In this country we have a large population of first and second-generation Muslims, enlightened intellectuals who have experienced democracy firsthand.

Similar to the American Jew assisting his or her fellow Israeli, and building a fellowship for support here after World War II, Muslims in America have the ability and duty to give encouragement and lend support in efforts to educate their fellow Muslims, both in this country and afar.

Let’s hope as Americans, both Jews and Muslims live up to that responsibility and seek to do the best that their respective gods intended for us all.

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