Two memorials, infinite food for thought

The differences between the wonderful varieties of humanity are, in reality, terribly minor; and that small amount of difference isn’t worth vilifying one another.

I returned from a trip to the Scottish Highlands to discover that Amjad Hussain Farooqi had been killed by security forces in Pakistan on Sept. 28.

Farooqi’s hardly a household name, but the report on the death of this alleged senior member of al-Qaida caught my eye because Farooqi was wanted in connection with the kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.

I find it strangely ironic that Farooqi should be killed less than two weeks before the third annual Daniel Pearl Music Day, marking what would have been Pearl’s 41st birthday.

The actual anniversary was Oct. 10, but through Sunday, just fewer than 300 musical observances took place in more than 30 places in honor of Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed by Islamic extremists in Pakistan 2 1/2 years ago.

Pearl’s family and friends started the Daniel Pearl Foundation in his honor and declared his birthday “Daniel Pearl Music Day,” because Pearl was an accomplished violinist, fiddler, mandolin player and supporter of the performance arts.

This year’s theme was “Harmony for Humanity,” in the hope that music could be used to resist hatred and celebrate a common humanity.

Pearl was abducted Jan. 23, 2002, while trying to interview a Pakistani terrorist group that might have had connections to shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Pearl’s kidnappers originally demanded the release of Pakistani detainees from the U.S. Army’s facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where many of Farooqi’s associates are still being held.

On Feb. 22, 2002, a tape of Pearl’s death was released to U.S. officials. Pearl’s remains were found in May and returned to the United States in August 2002.

According to the Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial, which keeps track of the number of journalists killed each year, 53 journalists were killed on the job in 2003. The same number have died so far in 2004, 20 of them in Iraq.

On the same day that Farooqi died, Faculty Against War at the University began a 24-hour reading of the names of the Americans and Iraqis that have died since the war in Iraq began March 19, 2003, a little more than a year after Pearl’s death.

Afghanistan has largely been forgotten as the threat of terrorism has been used to justify a war in Iraq that might have actually increased the terrorist threat.

In addition to remembering the journalists, Daniel Pearl Music Day provides a unique opportunity to remember all of those who have died – 1,100 U.S. soldiers, more than 135 independent civilian contractors, and between 13,000 and 15,000 Iraqi civilians, according to a tally by The Associated Press based on Defense Department figures. CBS News estimates that 7,245 U.S. soldiers have been injured. Up to 150,000 U.S. troops remain stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father, posted a statement on the foundation’s Web site May 18, after the revelation of the Abu Ghraib atrocities by U.S. soldiers and the murder of contractor Nicholas Berg by Iraqi rebels.

He said he was not directing his letter to those who beheaded Berg, “Rather, I am speaking to those who can win the minds of the young and faithful to the side of hope … As a father of a person who experienced the horrors of captivity, I can personally feel the anguish of the parents of the Iraqi prisoners who were abused in the Abu Ghraib prison. I nevertheless appeal to you, intellectual leaders of the Muslim community, to unilaterally refrain from joining the cycle of accusation of ‘who treated who worse’ and help transform it into a contest of pride: Whose role models are more humane …

The American public has reacted to the Abu Ghraib atrocities with outrage, seriousness and resoluteness. I am proud of this reaction because I know that self-criticism is a prerequisite to progress and self-improvement.”

Falling in the midst of the Daniel Pearl Music Day observances was Oct. 12, which marked the sixth anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, who was brutally murdered at the age of 21 in Wyoming for being gay.

This provides an opportunity to get at the heart of U.S. self-improvement and indeed the meaning of Daniel Pearl Music Day itself. This was not a day to only remember those who have died in far-away conflicts, but to remember all victims of hatred.

Shepard was lured from a campus bar shortly after midnight Oct. 7, 1998, by two men who told him they were gay. He was then tied to a split-rail fence, beaten and left for dead in near-freezing temperatures.

A cyclist found him 18 hours after the attack, almost mistaking his body, turned rigid by hypothermia, for a scarecrow. Shepard died at 12:53 a.m. Oct. 12, 1998. Hospital officials said Shepard had injuries so severe that doctors were unable to operate. He never regained consciousness after being found.

Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, wrote on the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s Web site that she would like the sixth anniversary of her son’s death to be used “to create a more respectful and caring culture free from hate.”

To that end, University students were encouraged by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office last week to “wear the band, end the violence,” by picking up a wristband commemorating Matthew Shepard.

Whether you wore a band, performed in a band or just listened to one; whether you were for invading Iraq; whether you think journalists are muckrakers; or whether you support gay rights; the differences between all the wonderful varieties of human come down to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the human genome, and that small amount of difference isn’t worth vilifying one another.

R.R.S. Stewart is a University student studying in Scotland. She welcomes comments at [email protected]