Friday, November 02, 2007

Pearl, Kaplan, Packer, Wright, and Khaitan

Earlier today I watched A Mighty Heart, sharing an entire hall with eight others. I walked away a little shaken, for I had a back story to Daniel Pearl's drive to uncover links between the ISI and Al-Qaeda. As I have, anyone who has ever read The Journalist and the Terrorist, Robert Sam Anson's moving story in the August Vanity Fair issue the year Pearl was murdered is unlikely to forget. We learn that Pearl may have been spurred on by the irrational motivation journalists use to justify their doings. That his stories not making it to the front page may have added to it.

I came home and stared at my books, at Lawrence Wright's Looming Tower, at The Assassins Gate by George Packer, and remembered Robert D Kaplan's book where he hung out with militants. It's hard to describe the feeling. Not just an overwhelming sadness, or an admiration for what these guys do. A bit of a mix, you know? Ashish Khaitan has great courage, but the Tehelka investigation for me lacked something more lasting, something that carries on week after week, pummeling the rioters and instigators. Something that explains in detail what happened and when, and all the characters involved. Above all, something that has balance.

I'm afraid this has been one big ramble, but I guess what I'm trying to say is this: when you put your life at risk as a journalist, do you seek instant sensation, or do you, in your own little way, change the world you live in? Pearl, had he succeeded, would have certainly made it the the first page in a different way, by proving what people will say they already knew. But it would have changed people's positions slightly, now that they had proof. Khaitan has a wife and child too, and he probably knew of the danger he was and still is in. The outcome of his investigation has had its effect, but now what? Now what?

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