25 June 2004
The father of a Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan two years ago is leading a series of public dialogues with a Pakistani scholar aimed at improving Jewish-Muslim relations. The series that began in the United States last year moved to London this week and will continue to travel around the world.
After Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered, his father turned his grief and anger into a determination to help bridge the gap between Muslims and Jews. Israeli-born computer science professor Judea Pearl teamed up with a Pakistani scholar of Islamic studies Akbar Ahmed to launch a series of public discussions. The series began in Pennsylvania last year. It received such a positive response that they decided to take the program abroad. Their European launch was at the University of London in front of a multicultural audience that included Muslim religious leaders and rabbis.
Professor Pearl says his son tried to promote cross-cultural understanding through his work as a reporter. And Mr. Pearl says these talks are in honor of Daniel's memory.
"He would have loved it, of course," he said. "He would have been thrilled to see people getting together that normally do not meet and dealing with issues that are at the center of global conflict.
The Islamic representative, Professor Ahmed, says he hopes these dialogues with Mr. Pearl encourage Muslims and Jews to try to listen to each other, and gain a mutual respect and understanding.
"I decided to do this dialogue because I felt every one of us involved in living in today's world, this very difficult, changing, dangerous world, needs to be involved in interfaith dialogue, particularly between Muslims and Jews, because the Muslim-Christian and the Christian-Jewish dialogues are developed. It's happening in many parts of the world," he noted. "But the Jewish-Muslim dialogue is not very well developed. It does take place but it's not developed. I think this will help not only Muslims and Jews but ultimately help America and its relations with the Muslim world."
In their presentation in London, Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Pearl discussed the similarities and differences between Islam and Judaism. They also discussed the role religion plays in terrorism.
Professor Judea: "Religion does play a role. The perpetrators that commit those crimes constantly speak in the name of Islam."
Professor Ahmed: "Here's the hard evidence Judea. Who are the nineteen hijackers? They're not religious leaders. They were spending nights at the bar before they take their flights. Who is Osama bin Laden? Now he may be fighting what he thinks is a religious war, but he is not a religious figure. Who are all the Al Qaida people who are slitting throats and brutalizing people? They are not coming from any great religious tradition."
Mr. Pearl says his son's death is a symbol of what has gone wrong in Muslim-Jewish relations. He hopes that by breaking down negative stereotypes and shifting the nature of discourse from accusations to understanding, he will help keep his son's spirit alive.