The HBO documentary “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl”, that premiÃ¨red this Tueday is the story of two people: very similar to each other in terms of having had a privileged upbringing, having being high achievers in school and having achieved success in their respective professions at a very early age.
One of them is Daniel Pearl, a “rising star” journalist with the Wall Street Journal— a musician, a humanist and a true “liberal”.
And the other: Omar Sheikh, an urbane British-public-school educated Muslim fundamentalist who had made a name for himself in the world of Jihad with his masterfully executed kidnappings. [Yes the same Omar Sheikh who was released by India (along with his spiritual guru Azhar Masood, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed) during the IC814 crisis.]
It is a story of how their lives collided in Karachi on a fateful January day in 2002. Daniel Pearl, eschewing the comfort of taking press releases from official sources, had been chasing the money trail of 9/11 and had started looking in all the “wrong” places. An appointment had been set up with a certain “Basheer” who was to take Daniel on to the next chain in the link.
That “Basheer” was actually Omar Sheikh, one of the world’s most dreaded terrorists. Drawn in by his friendly emails from nobadmashi@yahoo, Daniel felt that Basheer was a guy he could trust. It was a fatal error in judgement that would end with Daniel Pearl being mutilated and beheaded on video and the Western world, for the first time, catching a brief glimpse of the ground realities in the real cradle of Islamic terrorism …Pakistan–ironically also a “first-class ally” in the West’s battle against terror.
While the documentary is about Daniel Pearl, its most powerful scenes are when Omar Sheikh is in focus—a grainy 80s video of a British pub with a clean-shaven nattily dressed Omar Sheikh looking like an uppity prep-school boy, Omar Sheikh taking on hugely muscled men in arm-wrestling competitions (and winning many times), his friend talking about a violent, mean, fearless streak in Omar throughout his childhood and a Pakistani cop who was in charge of Omar Sheikh when he was undertrial saying that Omar Sheikh was “beyond brainwashed”.
What emerges through the documentary is the chilling profile of a religious, supersmart pyscho. A man who organized a vast network of micro-modules of terror…none of which were intentionally told about the whole plan (The terrorists who kidnapped Pearl thought he would be released after a propaganda tape was made. Except that Daniel’s death rights had been “sold” to a group of Arabs for $50,000. These people first made Daniel read out a prepared statement stating he was a Jewish person who had strong links to Israel and then he was made to condemn America. After that, his neck was hacked off slowly with a knife and his head paraded in front of the camera. Then his body was hacked into 10 pieces and buried). A man who so charmed his victims with his urbane friendliness that he never needed a gun to make them get into a car. A master organizer, a “people person” with wells of deep violence and hatred, Omar Sheikh is about as scary a demon as you can imagine.
The documentary also treads unfamiliar ground for Western audiences since it very clearly articulates the fact that Omar Sheikh was trained in Pakistan to perform kidnappings in Kashmir, that when he was released in Kandahar, there were ISI agents on the ground along with the Taliban coordinating the whole operation ,that after Daniel Pearl’s capture, when the Pakistani police were “looking” for Omar Sheikh, he had already been “taken in” by the ISI. [Omar Sheikh basically gave himself to the police–the entire thing coordinated by the ISI] and that one of the most plausible reason Pearl was murdered was because he had come “too close” to revealing the ISI nexus with 9/11.
Of course, all these still do not conclusively prove Pakistan to be a “terrorist state”—nothing short of Jesus Christ writing that in blood on the blue sky will make that happen.
But at least the facts are being brought out in the open in primtime on HBO. And the real terror masterminds being identified. Make no mistake. If Islamic terror is a fast-food-shop, Osama is just the Ronald McDonald mascot, a colorful front, the media guy. It is people like Omar and Azhar Masood who are the actual store managers—the guys who keep the assembly line moving…making sure that if the store clerk quits there is one to replace him immediately. And that your fries are never cold. And the ketchup bottle never empty.
An interesting titbit in passing. According to Pervez “the Pinocchio” Musharaff , Omar Sheikh was actually an MI6 spy and not an ISI agent as universally believed. I really think Gen Mush would have called his book “Experiments with Truth” had it not already been in use.
This may come as no surprise, but I have came across discussions and articles that support Omar Sheikh, making him out to be a victim of a conspiracy. They claim that Omar never actually murdered anyone, that his confession was taken under pressure [and this despite the fact that Omar Sheikh had also told reporters that he had “organized the kidnapping” and was “proud of it” ], that the court (Pakistani) was biased and did not follow proper proceedures and that 9/11 was done by the evil West [just as we are to believe that the Indian government attacked parliament]
And I was compelled to do a Search-Replace with Omar Sheikh being replaced by Mohammed Afzal.
What came out was almost the same arguments that Nandita Haskar and her cohorts in the press and in the blogosphere are circulating, trying to prove that Mohammed Afzal is innocent. Never mind that SAR Geelani, a self-proclaimed Kashmiri freedom struggler who considers violence against the Indian state as “not terrorism” does not think that Afzal is innocent.
I am not saying he is innocentâ€¦but Afzal has been deprived of a fair trial. The quantum of punishment awarded to him does not match his role in the attack and the opinion is being shared by people of the Kashmir valley and political parties.[Link]
Is the similarity between the defence of Omar and Afzal a coincidence?
Do not think so.
It’s just that there is a standard template of Jihadi defense that just keeps on getting tweaked with each scumbag that turns up.
So what has become of Omar Sheikh? Sentenced to death in 2002, he is still alive in a Pakistani jail after his execution was stayed 33 times because “it is feared that he might reveal information implicating a certain Pakistani agency”.
The name of that Pakistani agency?
Why MI6 of course.
Indeed if Mohammed Afzal and Omar Sheikh are “innocent”, then what’s the problem in believing that?