Each year an invitation lands on my desk from the US consulate in Karachi for the Daniel Pearl Music Day. And each year I marvel at this phenomenon. Even my sister, who was up by the time I got back from this year’s concert, remarked: “Man, I don’t know how his parents do it. If something like that had happened to my son, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with that city.” She was talking about Karachi where Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered ten years ago.
Unfortunately, even this year’s concert couldn’t be held for the open public, which would be ideal. Karachi doesn’t have many concerts for security reasons. The police and law enforcement agencies don’t like crowds gathering in one place because of the threat of bomb attacks, which is very real. As a result, young people have been missing out on what is otherwise a normal part of growing up – going to concerts for your favourite bands.
At the US Consul General’s residence on Saturday, Oct 29, I was introduced to an attaché called Kevin Murakami. I lamented that the concert wasn’t open to the public and he frowned in thought before asking me if I had any solutions. Suddenly, I thought, why don’t we try to live stream it next year via my newspaper’s website http://tribune.com.pk, which has all the bells and whistles. Ideally, our sister concern, Urdu television channel Express News, could also broadcast it live. And if we published it properly perhaps young people in Karachi could actually take part like this? Mr Murakami agreed that it was an idea. And I will definitely pursue it on my end.
The line-up this year was fantastic, we had Mary McBride and her band, who became the first Americans to perform in Karachi for a
Daniel Pearl Music Day. It was a fitting choice for the 10th anniversary. I discovered that McBride sang for the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack and has even worked with Elton John among other big names. I couldn’t say that I fancied her brand of music much but she had a presence on stage and a great voice. I chatted with two band members backstage about their experience in Pakistan, asked them the usual boring questions of whether they were frightened to come etc. etc. And it struck me, that evening, how I was talking to Americans after so very long. You see, there are no white people left in Karachi because of the security threat. You’ll see the odd Russian at the supermarket really early in the morning, but that’s about it. Even the Chinese, who come here to work on development projects, keep a low profile. And they’re from a friendly country.
I realized it was important to keep talking and spreading the word about Daniel Pearl Music Days when someone who came to the event asked me to explain what it was all about. Apparently they had not been briefed about it. As the music played this person asked me, ‘So what is this all for?’ I had to explain as best as I could who Daniel Pearl was, what happened and how the music days came about. This person then paused, as if to digest this information and then leaned forward and asked me in a conspiratorial tone, ‘So, was he like a Raymond Davis?’ I nearly fell off my chair! ‘NO! NO! It’s not like that at all!’ I whispered back fiercely, my heart slamming against my ribcage. I wanted to pull my hair out. ‘No. Daniel Pearl was a CLEAN reporter… not an agent or spy or anything like that!’ I looked at their face again, to see if this person had comprehended what I was saying. ‘You’re a reporter right,’ they asked, looking at me with a tilt to the head. Well, actually I’m the city editor, I felt like saying with a bruised ego. But I sighed. ‘Yes, I’m a reporter, but we’re here to remember the reporters who have lost their lives. And Daniel Pearl was a reporter, a clean reporter.’ This answer and perhaps my demeanor seemed to satisfy this person. They leaned back, ‘OK, I believe you, but only because you seem honest to me and a nice person and you told me your name.’
As I walked away I thought how little it takes to misunderstand something you don’t know anything about. I thought about how important it was for journalists to get simple facts and truths out there enough in the public sphere so the record is set straight. I realized that this person had conflated two American names, personae, just because of inherent suspicions about Americans. Earlier in the evening, I was chatting with Mushtaq Rajpar, who works with the US consulate, and Razzak Abro, a reporter with Pakistan Today, who used to be my chief reporter at Daily Times. We had talked about Sindhi media and exposure and strengthening the hands of Sindhi journalists who need training. I thought, we really have our work cut out for us, not the English press or TV, but the local language media – Urdu and Sindhi – in particular. We need to be reaching people who can’t read or write English or want their news delivered in indigenous languages. I’d wager that the American PR machine in Pakistan needs to work closer with them. Perhaps the Daniel Pearl Foundation needs to have Sindhi and Urdu dubbed messages and invite more Sindhi and Urdu people who can spread the Pearls’ message of harmony for humanity.
(For my story in The Express Tribune, please go to: http://tribune.com.pk/story/285270/music-circles-the-world-to-make-a-pit-stop-in-karachi-for-daniel-pearl-once-again/)
Journalists recently killed in Pakistan and remembered on Daniel Pearl Music Day
Daniel Pearl (February 1, 2002) Wall Street Journal
Misri Khan (September 6, 2010) Ausaf and Mashriq
Abdul Wahab (December 6, 2010) Express News
Pervez Khan (December 6, 2010) Waqt TV
Nasrullah Khan Afridi (May 10, 2011) Khyber News Agency
Saleem Shahzad (May 19, 2011) Asia Times Online
Asfandyar Khan (June 11, 2011) Akhbar-e-Khyber
Wali Khan Babar (June 13, 2011) Geo TV
Shafiullah Khan (June 17, 2011) The News
Faisal Qureshi (October 7, 2011) London Post
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