In January 2002, Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the New York Times, was beheaded by an extremist group operating in Pakistan. I will not use “Islamic” to describe the extremist group, as the group does not adhere to Islamic principles, as clearly stated within the context of the movie. To label the group thusly would be erroneous.
Daniel was covering the rise of extremist groups in Pakistan for the New York Times and was abducted while on his way to a meeting with an important contact. The contact would eventually be found as responsible for Daniel’s murder.
A number of interesting themes should be noted. Tensions between Pakistan and India are running very high during the timeline of the events portrayed. Pakistanis are concerned that Indians working the case are nothing other than Indian spies. Asra, a fellow reporter, and an Indian, is harassed by the Pakistanis. The Pakistan intelligence office, ISI, believes that Daniel was abducted by Indian spies in order to embarrass Pakistan on the world stage.
Daniel also erred by admitting to being a Jew, admitted to a suspicious and paranoid Pakistani businessman. Pakistanis and many in the Muslim world felt that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by the Jews and orchestrated to frame Saudis and Muslims, in general. Furthermore, as a Jew in Pakistan, Pearl was also suspected of being a member of the Israeli spy agency, Mossad.
Blames shifts again as Pearl is then publicly accused of being an agent of the United States spy agency, the CIA. The action that creates this element occurred when the Wall Street Journal turned a computer over to the CIA. As a result, journalists are viewed as potential spies. As an agent or operative of the CIA, the kidnappers indicate their motives are to treat Daniel Pearl in the same way as Guantanamo Bay prisoners are kept.
Other interesting elements are also present in the movie. Sheik Gilani is described as being a direct descendent of Muhammad, making him a Pir, or a holy man.
Eid-ul-Adha is portrayed. Eid-ul-Adha is an important Muslim festival when all Muslim families sacrifice an animal to Allah (God) in memory of Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. Of the meat, 1/3rd stays with the family, 1/3rd is given to the neighbors, and 1/3rd is given to the poor.
Some other cultural traits are evident. Women in burqas can be seen trying to navigate the streets. In other scenes, neither women nor men pay much attention to their state of dress. Some women wear head scarves, others do not. Some men are heavily bearded and may wear a skull cap. In other words, contemporary dress.
The streets of Karachi are crowded, full of people, cars, trucks, and many, many motorbikes. Signs are both in Arabic script and English.
In Pakistan, the names, addresses, and phone numbers of people the police investigate as well as the crime being investigated, are published in the newspaper.
The movie helped me understand better the complexity involved in covering extremist groups in tense and dangerous situations. From 2002 to 2007, 56 journalists have lost their lives in covering terrorism, terrorists, and extremist groups.
The agony of Mariane Pearl when she finds out about Daniel’s death is gratuitous. While I was somewhat impressed by AJ ability to pull of a Cuban accent, the spontaneous grieving of Daniel’s death was just too theatric and could never be adequately captured. I would have preferred the scene fade-to-black with Mariane wailing in the darkness.