Ambassador Samantha Power was in LA on Sunday, to give a commemorative speech at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall, presented by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, UCLA Hillel and the Burkle Center.
The 2014 Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture - "The War on Truth (and what we must do to win it)" -- By Ambassador Samantha Power
Twelve years ago this month a brutal murder in Pakistan, webcast for all to see, jarred the American public about the horrors of the war on Terror and perhaps served as a harbinger for what was to come.
After the vicious beheading of Daniel Pearl, other Americans were abducted and beheaded with gruesome footage uploaded for shock value. A shaken populous began to contemplate the kind of bottomless malevolence that our foes were capable of, and the brutality that would come to characterize our long battle with extremism.
Today the Daniel Pearl Foundation, founded by his parents Judea and Ruth Pearl, stands in stark contrast to the vile hatred that ended his life. Each year, the foundation sponsors the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) - together with Yitzhak Rabin Hillel UCLA and the Burkle Center for International Relations - to remind us that Daniel Pearl was a journalist whose insatiable quest for truth in a world where mankind communicates for understanding made him a marked man. He was, in the end, killed by people for whom truth is a threat to a centuries old order which protects ideologies and territories that are not easily ceded.
This year, the honored lecturer was Ambassador Samantha Power, the United States permanent representative to the United Nations. After being introduced by new LA Mayor Eric Garcetti - himself a former journalist and international traveler - Ambassador Power gave the audience a glimpse of the world she sees from her vantage point at the UN. With multiple wars and humanitarian catastrophes in her view as she looks across the broad world of crises, Ambassador Power walked her audience through a world of dark corners and shaky players who feared nothing more than truth and the bright light that comes with looking for it.
She quoted Louis Brandeis as having said that "sunlight is the best of disinfectants", and that in fact, journalism is that sunlight - that bright light - that ordinary people can shine on the inequities being delivered by governments and their operatives around the world. Citing China, Egypt, Iran and even Turkey, Ambassador Power reminded us how rare a free press is and how that freedom to speak must be extended to citizen journalists that serve as the eyes and ears of the world where journalists are not allowed to work. 2012, she said, was the most murderous year in history for journalists and though 2013 was a little better, it still left us with the stark reality that only 1 in 6 people live in a country where the press can be described as free.
"Ambassador Power spoke with passion and commitment about the critical role a free press plays in ensuring that the public is informed and that those in power are held accountable," said Dr. Cindy Fan, Director of the International Institute at UCLA and Vice Provost on International Studies.
Daniel Pearl was a journalist. He was on his way to an interview in Karachi to shed light on the link between Richard Reid, the alleged 'shoe bomber' and Al Qaeda. He was abducted and executed in the vilest of ways for the mere act of investigating with intent to report on the truth, while being Jewish. As opposed to hunkering down and entrenching themselves in hatred, his parents created the Daniel Pearl Foundation which proposes cross cultural dialogue with a focus on the foundations of peace rather than war. Still, in many places, being a journalist of the sort that Danny was, is forbidden. In many places, members of the press are so deeply convinced that untold horrors will visit them if they write the plain truth, that they self sensor. I lived in Iran and worked at a daily English language newspaper in Tehran where I didn't know who the censors were (though I knew they were among us), but censored myself in a way that ensured my ability to continue. A partial voice was better than no voice at all.
As we remember Daniel Pearl, and take stock of our own role as the custodians of freedom around the globe, we are reminded of how valuable the press is both at home and abroad. More than 200 years ago, Ambassador Power reminded us; Thomas Jefferson warned that the freedom of the press will be the first to be quelled by those who fear the bright light of truth. Through every continent, she observed, there is a war on truth and journalists and citizens who bear witness to that war are the "fledgling truth tellers". As the ranks of bloggers grow and the outlets for citizen journalism expand, governments afraid of the sunlight hunker down more heavily of the words of those who would have the truth be told. Today as we celebrate Daniel Pearl and his journalists voice, we are reminded how crucial his quest for the truth was, and how we should protect the guarantees of freedom of the press.
Ambassador Power reminded us that there are many voices that are still silenced and multitudes of stories worthy of telling, and each of us has a duty to help tell them. We each have an obligation to be advocates for honesty and openness and the rights of people who don't have a voice. In my own line of work, I know that the rights of untold women in those very lands where Danny Pearl was looking for truth are trampled and systemically denied. These are the rights of women in lands from the Far East to Sub-Saharan Africa and places in between where traditions that abuse women and girls, and rob them of a voice, have become folkloric truths that are hard to upturn. But just as Danny Pearl didn't turn away from a tough narrative or a difficult truth, neither should we. As ambassador Power implored us from her powerful lectern at UCLA, we each have a duty to defend the freedom of people to be heard around the world and the idea that the truth, however difficult, must be told.
In 1903 Louis Brandeis told Americans that "the most important office...is that of private citizen. The duties of the office of private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public." Today as we contemplate our republic, we are reminded that our duties as citizens of the strongest Democracy in human history do not end at the edge of convenience. We are tasked with the toughest charge known to man - the tireless seeking of truth and the hard work of telling it.
Thank you Daniel Pearl for seeking it. Thank you Ambassador Power for reminding us to continue telling it.