Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl’s barbaric murder must not deter journalists from continuing to pursue truth around the world.

Pearl, 38, who was the Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, disappeared Jan. 23 after going to a restaurant in the port city of Karachi in southern Pakistan to meet with intermediaries he hoped would arrange an interview with an Islamic cleric.

Pearl, who had declined an earlier assignment to Afghanistan because he said it was too dangerous, was investigating links between Pakistani extremists and Richard Reid, the British citizen accused of trying to blow up a commercial airliner with explosives hidden in his sneakers.

Shortly after his capture, his kidnappers sent two e-mail messages to news organizations claiming they took Pearl because he was a CIA agent. They also made several ransom demands, including the release of Pakistani prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They pledged that if the demands weren’t met in two days, Pearl would be killed and Pakistan would never be safe for Western journalists again.

Pearl wasn’t a soldier or a spy ? he was simply a journalist going about his daily work. He was a noncombatant trying to explain the Islamic world to his readers. He was someone who believed, as almost all journalists do, that by exploring and exposing the truth about events, the world will be better able to confront and solve its problems.

The irony of his murder and threats made against Western journalists is that it is counterproductive to the goals of those who killed Pearl. Journalists in South Asia are tirelessly trying to provide an accurate and informed picture of the mindset, motives and grievances of Islamic fundamentalists in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11.

His death also reminds us that journalism is inherently dangerous work. Like policemen and firefighters, a journalist is one of the few who rush toward danger. This year alone, 51 journalists have died, the most since 1996 when 69 were killed on the job. One must remember that none of these journalists placed themselves in harm’s way for personal gain or fame. They wanted to provide vital information that people need to make intelligent decisions about their life.

The Journal said Friday, “The terrorists who attacked America on Sept. 11 thought they would cower a nation into retreating from the world. Instead they made Americans more resolute than ever about protecting themselves and their values around the world.

The killers of Danny Pearl may think that they will intimidate American journalists into retreating from their job of reporting on the world. They will discover soon that they are equally mistaken.”

Hildebrandt can be reached at thildebrandt@campustimes.org.

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