She was six months pregnant when her husband, Wall Street Journal bureau chief Danny Pearl, was abducted and killed in Pakistan. Now Mariane Pearl opens up about their sweet, unconventional love affair, the beauty of her husband's spirit, and the challenge to be hopeful no matter what.
The Manhattan apartment of Mariane Pearl—widow of Wall Street Journal bureau chief Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and executed in Pakistan by Islamic militants—is filled with the signs of life beginning again. Mariane and Danny's 1-year-old son, Adam, from his crib in the corner of the living room, claps and bops his head up and down to a French version of Barney on TV. From the next room, Latin tunes waft through the air and mix with the rich aroma of the Cuban coffee Mariane offers me. Before we sit down to talk—she'll take her spot on what she says was Danny's favorite recliner—she shows me a photo of their wedding day: Normandy, 1999. A moment later, the beat beckons. "I love this music," she says, allowing the rhythms of her heritage—her mother is Cuban, her late father Dutch and Jewish; she was raised in France—to sweep her into a salsa swing. "I have to dance to live."
Hard to believe that only a year and a half ago, Mariane survived an unthinkable tragedy, one that began two days after she and Danny discovered that the baby she was carrying was a boy. On January 23, 2002, Danny was abducted in Karachi, Pakistan; he'd been on his way to conduct an interview for a story that would possibly link would-be shoe bomber Richard C. Reid with a radical Muslim cleric. Four days later, his captors, the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, sent the media an e-mail accusing Pearl of spying for the United States, and demanding better treatment of detainees in Guantánamo, Cuba. On January 30, a second e-mail from the kidnappers threatened that Pearl would be murdered in 24 hours and other American journalists in Pakistan risked death unless they all left within three days. That same day, Muhammad Ali issued an appeal for Pearl's release and Mariane herself made a plea for her husband's life on CNN. Despite their impassioned efforts, on February 21, a three-and-a-half-minute video delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi showed Daniel Pearl having his throat cut and his head severed. Last summer on July 15, a court in Pakistan sentenced Sheik Ahmed Omar Saeed to death, and three more men to life terms in prison, for Pearl's kidnapping and murder.
Mariane's spirit is indomitable. With every gesture she uses to punctuate her words, with every pronouncement she makes that those who killed Danny will not destroy her, she exudes a fiery conviction born of deep pain. This is a woman who has turned the horror of her loss into a commitment to honor the two principles by which Danny lived his life—ethics and truth. This is a woman who is keeping her husband's legacy alive in her new book, A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband, Danny Pearl (Scribner). This is a woman who has decided that, however devastating her sorrow, she must rise up and dance again.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Mariane Pearl
Note: This interview appeared in the October 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Oprah: I love how you start your book—you tell us that on the day your husband was kidnapped, you began that morning in each other's arms. You say, "My love was absolute."
Mariane: Yes. Danny had never lived with a woman before me. He'd had relationships, but he was very independent and was happy traveling all over the world as a journalist. So when we met and decided to live together and marry, it was really because we were so attracted to each other. There was no "I have to get married" kind of thought.
Oprah: How did you meet?
Mariane: In 1998, he was with his girlfriend at a party in Paris, but I didn't know the woman was his girlfriend. She was just hanging out there. She was my opposite: a tall, blonde, blue-eyed German lingerie designer. Danny gave me his business card and was very proper. When he left with his girlfriend, that's when I realized they were together.
Oprah: Were you attracted immediately?
Mariane: I was, and he was attracted to me, too. I started dancing with my mom, who is Cuban, and he was watching. He was fascinated to see a woman dancing with her mother. After that I didn't see him for a long time. But I would travel [as a journalist for Radio France International], he would travel, and we would write each other about the countries we visited. He was in the Middle East and Iran a lot, and I was in Cuba.
Oprah: What drew you to him?
Mariane: His talent for life. I admired his work as a journalist. I admired his integrity. I admired his effort to be so open to the world. I didn't know where it came from—he'd grown up as a Jewish boy in L.A., an all-American boy, right? But together we traveled the world, and his capacity to just be himself wherever he was fascinated me. And we had something in common: this desire, this appetite for the world.
Oprah: Didn't you have deep philosophical conversations all the time?
Mariane: All the time and about everything—like courage and truth. Danny's sense of journalism was so ethical; and to remain a journalist who was independent and thinking, he chose not to practice any religion or do anything that would alter his objectivity. I once asked Danny, "If you had a religion, what would it be?" Because I have a religion—I'm Buddhist. He said, "Ethics." And then he said, "Truth." Our love relationship was like two people together, for the world. I've heard it said that love is not about looking each other in the eyes, but about looking together in the same direction. That was the idea with us.
Oprah: Was he a man who took a lot of risks? Just being a journalist in Karachi was very dangerous then.
Mariane: Danny was very security conscious, much more so than I was. The first time we went to Karachi [on September 12, 2001], I thought we'd just land at the airport, take a taxi, and go to the hotel, right? But he had somebody waiting for us at the airport, carrying an AK-47, to guide us. Danny had arranged everything so that we would be safe.
Oprah: Let's talk about January 23, the day Danny disappeared. Weren't you planning a little party for that evening?
Mariane: Right. For our Pakistani friends, I was trying to make the one Cuban dish I can cook.
Oprah: What fascinates me about disaster is just how ordinary the day can begin. That morning, as you describe beautifully in the book, Danny came out of the bathroom, got under the sheets with you, and rubbed your belly and talked to Adam.
Mariane: When we were in difficult circumstances, we tended to be very playful so we would preserve our relationship. The war was right there, but we were building a little family. We were staying in Karachi with one of Danny's longtime friends, Asra Nomani, so we had this feeling of just being happy to be together.
Oprah: Did you feel fear every time either of you left the house?
Mariane: In that part of the world, you hear things like "We hate America" all the time. You get used to it, and you don't necessarily take it seriously. So the danger is difficult to assess because it's a constant thing. We didn't know how much Al Qaeda was in Karachi.
Oprah: You've written that you usually accompanied him on assignments, but that day you were going to interview someone else.
Mariane: Yes. And I wasn't feeling well because of the pregnancy, and I knew Danny's would be a difficult interview. I didn't feel like hearing "America is going to be destroyed."
Oprah: Who was Danny going to interview?
Mariane: Sheik [Mubarak Ali Shah] Gilani, who he thought was a mentor to Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.
Oprah: Wasn't Danny's security guy late that day?
Mariane: Yes. The "fixer" is the guy who's supposed to make sure the appointment happens, and he's also a security person. When he showed up, he said he'd gotten lost, which was bizarre.
Mariane: A bit. Because he lives in Karachi, and he's a journalist. I didn't think he got lost. He probably lied. That tells you he's not a good fixer, that you can't trust him. But you still won't go out without a fixer, right?
Oprah: Right. So he and Danny go out, and they come back at about 4 in the afternoon. Then Asra calls for a car service to get Danny to the Gilani interview. But there are no cars available. Is that normal?
Mariane: First time that ever happened. Danny was nervous because it was a big interview and he didn't want to be late—and he had a few appointments before. He said, "Should we just take a taxi?" I said, "Okay, let's take a taxi." I had an interview of my own, so we parted and got in different cars.
Oprah: So you come home after your interview and you're preparing the one Cuban dish you know how to prepare. When do you first start to worry about Danny?
Mariane: Quickly. I was uncomfortable because all of a sudden it occurred to me that I didn't really even know where he was going—where exactly his meeting was. Whenever we're in a situation that's a bit difficult, we call each other every half hour. So I call and his cell phone is off. This is around 7:30.
Oprah: What time is your dinner party?
Mariane: Guests start coming at 8. I'd told him we'd wait for him to have dinner. At 9:30, he's still not there, and I have all these people in the house, and I'm getting very nervous. The Pakistani friends of our friend Asra are a very elite group of kids. Basically, they're spoiled brats. They have hashish all the time. They're on a completely different planet. So I'm giving them their food, but it's like "Eat it and get out," because I was so upset about what might be happening with Danny.
Oprah: In the meantime, are you still trying to call him on the cell?
Mariane: All the time, like every ten minutes.
Oprah: When did you move from nervousness to thinking, "Something is really wrong here"?
Mariane: Almost immediately. Danny not calling? That never, never, never happened. But then I tried to calm down, because if something was wrong, I needed to stay strong, right? So I had everybody get out of the house. Then Asra made the decision to start calling for help at around 12:30.
Oprah: Who did you call?
Mariane: The first person I called was John Bussey, Danny's boss at The Wall Street Journal. I said, "Danny's not back."
Oprah: Did your mind race to the worst possible scenario?
Mariane: No. I didn't think he was dead. I thought they kidnapped him for money. But I didn't think they'd harm him, because he was such a valuable hostage. Asra and I knew we were in a very difficult situation. We didn't even know if calling the Pakistani police was a good thing. Who could we trust? The reputation of the police is pretty bad over there, so do we call them? And at what point? How do we get help? We realized we needed to be in control of whatever happened.
Oprah: How long before you got word that he had indeed been kidnapped?
Mariane: It took three entire days.
Oprah: So you heard absolutely nothing for three days?
Mariane: Nothing. There were cops all over the house because we had to go ahead and call the police. They had their own understanding of the situation—everybody thought it was a jihad thing. I thought right away that it had to do with Al Qaeda. But no one thought he might be dead. The people who were sent to our house were antiterrorism police and intelligence agents.
Oprah: How did the word come to you that he'd been kidnapped?
Mariane: By an e-mail. Asra and I managed to tell [the police], "If we're going to look for Danny, this house needs to be the headquarters." I had Danny's computer and all his stuff. I wouldn't hand it over to anyone. It had to be in the house. We were working really, really hard.
Oprah: So an e-mail came to your house.
Mariane: The first person to get the e-mail was the L.A. bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. It said, "We have kidnapped CIA agent Daniel Pearl." And then there was this very bizarre text with a number of claims—about weapons that America was supposed to sell to Pakistan, and Pakistan had given the money, and America hadn't given the weapons. And they were talking about the treatment of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. And they said Danny pretended to be a Wall Street Journal reporter, but in fact he was a CIA agent. But they didn't say, "Give us money and we'll give you Danny," or anything like that. It was just a political statement. And there were photos of Danny in captivity, so I knew they had him.
Oprah: Did it disturb you that they weren't asking for something in exchange for his release?
Mariane: Oh, yes. I know those people, and they have this kind of speech where they're just all over the place and they don't even know what they're talking about. It's not a focused thing. You're not talking with rational people.
Oprah: What did you think then?
Mariane: We knew Danny was in a life-or-death situation. So we were in a fighting mood. They were trying to scare us, so I couldn't be scared. That was the first thing.
Oprah: So your reaction is "I'm not afraid of you."
Mariane: Yes. "I am going to fight back." And I knew Danny was doing the same thing. When I received the pictures, I saw a photo where he was smiling because he wanted to say, "I'm okay." He had shackles on, but his hand goes like this [makes peace sign with two fingers] in the photo. But [in another picture] the hand—and I'm sorry for that gesture—goes like this [raises middle finger]. He's trying to convey something. He can't speak, but he speaks.
Oprah: In the photo where he has his head down, you think he's smiling?
Mariane: Yes, you can see that. Everybody was like, "Why is he smiling?" But I knew why. He was saying, "I'm all right. They're trying to silence me, they're trying to scare me, and I'm resisting that." So he and I were doing exactly the same thing. I also saw a photo of my husband with a gun to his head, and I knew they could kill him.
Oprah: Did it take your breath away?
Mariane: Fortunately, I had a very, very good relationship with two Pakistani investigators, and they explained, "Okay, this is why they put the photo with the gun first, so that you'll be shocked." But of course, it's scary. I knew he was either going to die or not. And I thought, "If he's going to die, we're just going to say, 'Fuck you.' I wasn't panicked." It's difficult to explain to you, but it was the kind of situation that's so extreme, you don't think, "Oh my God—am I going to be alone?" You're just fighting.
Oprah: So you're not even thinking about yourself or your unborn child.
Mariane: Not at all—not until the moment I knew Danny was dead. Once the video [of his execution] came out and I was told everything, it took me two days to realize I was alone. I was so much with him the whole time that I didn't even think once of me alone. It was like we were together.
Oprah: My friends and I would watch the news and say prayers and be hoping, hoping, hoping for the best. So many people believed Danny would be okay. He was a journalist for The Wall Street Journal—why would they kill him? Did you believe he was going to be freed?
Mariane: I put myself in this place: "Whether you die or live, we're going to be together. Whatever happens, I'm with you."
Oprah: So you weren't in the "Please, please, please let him live" place?
Mariane: No. I did everything to keep my strength together, and if I was not afraid of his dying, then I would be stronger.
Oprah: I've got that.
Mariane: It took me a long time to realize that I was alive and he was dead. Before he died, that scenario didn't cross my mind.
Oprah: Tell us how you heard about his death. Because before then, you're saying you weren't living in a hopeful place.
Mariane: It was hopeful because I got very strong. There was a team of people in the house, and the relationships became amazing. There's so much goodness. Danny's editor, John Bussey, came to Karachi, and his colleague Steve LeVine was there, and Asra, and the police. They just agreed completely to work with us. The police did the raids to look for Danny, and though they didn't take us with them, we were the brains. They analyzed Danny's phone logs looking for clues. It was like a factory. It was so efficient, so strong, that we did have a lot of hope, actually. We thought we were going to win. But that's a completely personal thing. I guess everybody else was thinking, "Is he going to make it?" I thought, "I'm not going to lose energy thinking about whether he's going to live or die." But that doesn't mean you're not hopeful—it means you're more hopeful because they're not leading the game. You're taking away the weapons they're using to try and terrify you.
Oprah: That is so powerful, because it means that in the moment of your greatest crisis, you still have the opportunity to choose who you're going to be.
Mariane: Right. And that moment is so extreme. They're trying to take the most important thing from you, and that's the real war. They're taking somebody as a symbol. They don't care about Danny, but they want to kill me and they want to kill his countrymen and they want to kill The Wall Street Journal and they want to kill Americans, Jews, and blah, blah, blah.
Oprah: If they can scare you and make you bend—
Mariane: Then they've won. And to this day it's the same struggle. Even to write this book was really painful. But if I fall now after this ordeal and my son becomes an unhappy man because of that, then they've won. And I can't let them win. That doesn't mean I'm not suffering: They took away my husband. But if they can't destroy me, then they have ultimately lost—even though they took Danny's life. I have to deny them their goal, which is to terrify, to crush, to paralyze. People sometimes ask me, "Do you think Danny was killed because he was Jewish or because he was American?" And I say, "In a way, it's not relevant. That's not the point. The point is that they want a clash of civilizations. They want war. And if you deny them war, then you've won."
Oprah: So it's up to each person to deny them war.
Mariane: Right. And that's a tough one. It would be so easy for me to hate Arabs or Pakistanis, or to hate the world, or to hate life.
Oprah: So you harbor no hatred.
Mariane: I have anger, but no hatred, especially not for the Pakistanis. Why would I hate Pakistanis? I don't forgive those who killed Danny. I think they're completely responsible for what they did. And they should die. I think these people are evil, beyond what we can even imagine. There's no reason to forgive them. What they want is for me to fear them and to hate them so that the war can happen, and I won't let it. This is why I don't believe in wars. It's like a cycle. The struggle for peace is much more of a battle than war is.
Oprah: Once Danny was killed, how did the news finally come to you?
Mariane: For about two weeks after his disappearance, it was very intense—we didn't sleep, and we were looking for Danny all the time. By the time the second, more threatening e-mail came, there had been arrests, and we saw a little bit more of what was happening. We had a big chart on the wall, and it showed the terrorist cells and how Al Qaeda works. Cell one doesn't know what cell two is doing, and cell two doesn't know what the third is doing. That's how they try to protect themselves. And the hub is really deep. We knew we were in very deep trouble. But we still didn't know what they wanted. The second e-mail just said that in 24 hours, Danny would be killed. Of course, I didn't believe them.
Oprah: When did you make your plea on television?
Mariane: The day we received the second e-mail, I went on BBC and CNN and said something like "If somebody is going to give her life, it's me—so why don't you have the guts to come and get me? If you really want to have someone, take me instead." The investigators weren't too happy about me saying that! It was hard to determine whether to take that second e-mail seriously. Why would they kill him? What has he done? Then for three weeks we just didn't know what had happened. We kept trying to look for him. Asra and I were working around the clock. We were getting deeper and deeper into the Al Qaeda hub, and seeing more and more names, and it was more and more scary.
Oprah: How do you keep yourself from sinking into despair?
Mariane: I am a Buddhist, so I chant a lot. I thought, "No matter what, you're not going to get me."
Oprah: How did word come to you that he was gone?
Mariane: One day I felt like I was going to collapse, because I hadn't slept. And Asra and I thought it was weird that Bussey had left the house. We thought something was happening. We called the FBI, and nobody would answer the phone. Five minutes later, they all came and were devastated. Everybody was crying and they told me, "He's dead." I wouldn't believe it. They said, "There's a video." At first I was like, "Bullshit." So one of my very dear friends sat down with me and explained what was on the video. And it just broke me to accept that he was dead. My friend wanted me to just cry.
Oprah: And to accept the reality.
Mariane: Yes. That's it. It's over.
Oprah: Did he tell you in detail what was on the video?
Mariane: Not everything, but he did tell me Danny was beheaded.
Oprah: So did you break?
Mariane: Yes. I cried.
Oprah: Thank God! But then could you even accept what your friend was telling you?
Oprah: Have you ever seen the video?
Oprah: And you don't intend to.
Oprah: Is that Danny's ring you're wearing?
Oprah: Does it comfort you?
Mariane: It's part of me.
Oprah: Do you think the U.S. government did enough to save Danny?
Mariane: That's a complicated question. The people in the house really gave everything, and none of them had ever gotten so emotionally involved in a case. In the government, it's difficult—as you know, Colin Powell wouldn't negotiate. The government is trying to keep Pakistan an ally and so they're trying to preserve that relationship. And sometimes they will sacrifice other issues.
Oprah: Did Danny's kidnappers ever try to call you?
Mariane: Yes, they did threaten me. Asra picked up the phone, but she doesn't speak Urdu, so they hung up. And then we found out that they were the actual kidnappers. Then they called one of the police and said, "We're going to kill the family."
Oprah: Do you live in fear today?
Oprah: Just to hear the news of your husband's death is one thing, but to accept that he died such a torturous death is another. When did it become a reality for you?
Mariane: Maybe today. But from the time of his death, I had my own personal jihad. It was very clear that I was going to either die or live—nothing in between. Because that same vow I had made to not let them win—I knew it was even more real at that moment. That night I remember saying, "I'm pregnant and I'm alone."
Oprah: And you decided to live.
Mariane: Yes. And if I was going to take the challenge to live, then I was going to take the challenge to be happy.
Oprah: Wow. And why did you name your son Adam? The world expected you to name him Daniel.
Mariane: Danny chose that name. Adam was the first man, and my son is also such a universal baby. He has so much different blood in his veins, because my mom is Cuban, my father is Dutch, Danny's mother was born in Iraq, and his father in Israel. Danny's American and I'm French. Adam was conceived in Bombay and then he traveled to seven countries in my belly and to another four after he was born.
Oprah: So what will you tell your son about his father?
Mariane: I wrote this book partly for Adam. I think the book retains his father the way he was. Danny's life is not hijacked by the way he died. I try to keep him alive by the way I describe him in the book.
Oprah: So many people put so much emphasis on the way a person died. But there was a whole life here.
Mariane: Right. That was my big challenge. And I think I succeeded in doing it. Adam will know how silly his father was and the kind of jokes he made. He'll know his father's personality. Sometimes I'm terrified because there's a video out there. And whether or not I want to see it, Adam will have access to graphic images. How do you tell a kid that his father was killed in that way?
Oprah: But you do have to tell him.
Oprah: He'll grow up, and he will know.
Mariane: He'll know. So I can only do my best to make him happy and to try to convey everything to him—not only what happened to his father but what happened to me, and how he was born. We're so happy that he's here.
Oprah: There's a wonderful line in the book where Daniel says to you, "It's so incredible how much you can love somebody you haven't even met yet."
Mariane: Right. What I realized recently is that Daniel will always be Adam's father. No matter what, Adam will have a very strong father. In his final days, Danny couldn't communicate. He had no pen. He couldn't talk. They took away his voice. But somehow, people all over the world still knew who he was. People wrote to me saying, "Danny could be my son," and things like that. Without words, he managed to communicate who he was to people he didn't even know. And that told me he wasn't defeated.
Oprah: And all those letters show that he created this bond of human solidarity that allowed you to be lifted.
Mariane: Very powerful, very strong.
Oprah: I love what you said about the challenge to be happy so that they won't win—and I know that choice is daily. You've still got to get up every morning and face the reality of your life and raise your son.
Oprah: With the support of a lot of friends.
Mariane: And with Cuban music and Cuban coffee! I knew completely the challenge it was going to be. When I started this book, I didn't know if I was going to be able to finish it. And I knew every day was going to be a fight. Happiness is an everyday challenge. Some days I'm doing better than others. But even when I'm so sad, I still won't let them win.
Oprah: I've heard some of the pregnant widows of 9/11 say that a child is a gift because it is a happy reminder of their spouse. Others say it's very painful because it reminds you of what could have been. Which is it for you?
Mariane: I've gone through phases. Danny was a very happy and silly character, so I'm happy because Adam is happy and silly, too. That's a profound thing. That's also your curse. It's not only your life but also the life of your baby. And that's always very painful. But I trust Adam a lot. I see his relationships with people, and I realize that he has his own story. The pain of missing his father is mine, not his. There are many people who didn't lose a spouse, but their kids never know their fathers, either. It's difficult to scale pain. The first year, not having Danny around was really painful. But the baby probably saved my life.
Oprah: What do you want people to know most about your husband?
Mariane: That he was right: The world belongs to us, and it also belongs to us to change it. That's what I want people to know. Danny got killed in the hands of people who are racist and intolerant, but Danny was the opposite. And they would want me to become intolerant and racist—but twice more now, I say the world belongs to me. That is Danny's legacy.
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, March 8, 2014
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