Muslim-Jewish group hosts Judea Pearl
By Abigail Cuker, Special to The CJN
Canadian Jewish News
November 30, 2006
9 Kislev, 5767

 

HAMILTON – Right before he was decapitated by terrorists in Pakistan, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl looked into a camera and said, “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” It could be expected his father would want revenge. But what is Judea Pearl’s idea of revenge? Eradicating the hatred that took his son. Pearl and Akbar Ahmed, a leading authority on contemporary Islam, believe they are slowly changing the world.

 

And in their quest to change Hamilton, the Committee for Hamilton Arab, Muslim and Jewish Dialogue called upon the two men to help. More than 800 people came to hear them speak at Hamilton Place on Nov. 12. Pearl and Ahmed lead the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding, a positive, respectful dialogue on issues such as foreign policy. They believe that if two men – a Muslim and a Jew – can sit down together for open dialogue, hope exists for co-existence and non-violence. Pearl, a computer scientist at UCLA, is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation and Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, is the author of Islam Under Siege.

 

Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in early 2002. People around the world, along with his pregnant wife Mariane and family, prayed for his release. As described in his wife’s book A Mighty Heart, his mission as a writer was to build bridges between diverse cultures.

 

The Daniel Pearl Foundation was formed in his memory to further the ideals that inspired his life and work: to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music and communications. Pearl and Ahmed have traveled together to speak in places such as Toronto, New York City, Ottawa, London, England and at Duke University in North Carolina.

 

The set-up is simple – two chairs, two microphones, two men talking about misunderstanding and tension. And in Hamilton, it seems, people were listening. Since the event, Lorne Finkelstein, a member of the Committee for Hamilton Arab, Muslim and Jewish Dialogue, has received countless e-mails, letters and phone calls from Hamilton residents expressing their gratitude for bringing the event to the city.

 

After the event, some members of the Muslim community complained that the speakers were pro-Israel and did not discuss enough local issues. After some arguing, this group of men invited Finkelstein to meet and discuss their issues. “This is what it’s all about to me. We are not out to change each other’s politics. We are here to ensure, that what happens there we can’t control, but we can have civil discourse in Hamilton,” he said.

 

The Committee for Hamilton Arab, Muslim and Jewish Dialogue was formed last September in the wake of controversy over the Hamilton police chief’s trip to Israel. When vicious invective between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel supporters brought a public forum on the trip to an abrupt end, a group of leaders from the Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities decided to meet once a month to discuss issues and plan events to promote understanding.

 

Members worked for six months to bring Pearl and Ahmed to Hamilton. Finkelstein said that 70 per cent of donations to cover the men’s airfare, transportation costs and fees came from the Christian community. “This is a reflection of the respect for what we are doing to try to promote peace,” Finkelstein said.

 

The evening also included a performance by a choir of Jewish, Arab and Muslim youth, accompanied by the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, as well as a question-and-answer session. After watching a video clip last fall of a choir of Jewish and Arab children in Israel singing songs of peace, Finkelstein decided that a similar choir had to be formed in Hamilton.

 

“There are people here who against any dialogue, but if in Israel, Arabs and Jews can come together to sing songs of peace, why not in Hamilton? How can anyone disagree with this?” Ahmed hopes his and Pearl’s work will help change the world one community at a time. “Dialogue brings respect, respect brings friendship and with friendship, you can talk about difficult issues.”