Those who ritually slaughtered Daniel Pearl, said the President in a prepared statement, "need to know that their crimes only hurt their cause." Pearl’s publisher at the Wall Street Journal, Peter Kann, added that the murder "was an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of everything Danny’s kidnappers claimed to believe in." The New York Times, in an editorial published on the same day as these oddly phrased denunciations, could not stop reiterating the same theme. Pearl’s murder was "ultimately self-defeating for those responsible." The killers "gained nothing by their unspeakable act." Not only this, but in case you missed the point the first couple of times, "the kidnappers have only undermined their cause by their acts."
As an Establishment party line, this stinks in a number of ways. A group of unscrupulous theocratic gangsters kidnaps a young reporter and announces on the first day that it will maltreat him (in a supposed riposte to the handling of Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees at Guantánamo Bay). It then holds him in filthy captivity, ignores appeals from his pregnant wife–who even offers to exchange herself for him–and then slashes his throat on camera. The rest of the lovingly made video shows his subsequent decapitation. It is further clear, from the audio "portion" and from statements made by the gang (who were obviously having themselves quite a good time with their hostage), that they awarded themselves extra points for doing this to a Jew. But, when the thunder of condemnation is heard, it turns out that the perpetrators have somehow failed to live up to their professed standards!
What can possibly explain this sudden outbreak of creepy euphemism? Just like the bin Ladenites who are their partners and their inspiration, the Pakistani fundamentalists maintain a strict symmetry between ends and means. They aim for a stagnant and dictatorial society ruled by a mediocre "holy" text, and they have no concept of an unbeliever as a civilian. (Those who have been making lists of civilian casualties in the recent war have, I hope, raised their tally by one–this time one inflicted with elaborate premeditation.) What the Islamic fascists do, and what they believe, and what they intend, are three aspects of the same one-dimensional thing. It is ludicrous to accuse them of being untrue to themselves or their cause.
The usual rush to "understand" Pervez Musharraf’s difficulties seems to supply a partial explanation for this moral feebleness. Once again, the gallant general has exerted himself and expended political capital to confront his apparently inexhaustible supply of lawless underlings and subordinates. We forget that in the first days of the Pearl abduction, as in the days just after the assault on the Parliament in New Delhi, Musharraf and his spokesmen openly put the blame for both outrages on sinister Indian circles. We also forget that the professionalism of the kidnappers, and their ability to escape detection, has suggested to more than one investigator the possibility of a role played by Pakistan’s secret police Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). I did not see this obvious contingency mentioned openly until an excellent report in the Washington Post of February 23.