January 29, 2004
Dr. Pearl's Revengeful Dialogue
By Lenora Fisher
Ever since the murder of Wall Street Journalist Daniel Pearl by extremists, reporters have asked his father Dr. Judea Pearl what he intended. In response, he always answers "revenge." However this soft spoken scientist's revenge has taken very unique and unexpected forms. I witnessed the powerful impact of his strategy at a public discussion in Philadelphia on Tuesday, January 20th. People filled the Harrison Auditorium of the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum to hear Dr. Pearl, a professor of computer science and founding fellow of the American Association of Artificial Intelligence, and Dr. Akbar Ahmed, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain and, as the BBC describes, "probably the world's best known scholar on contemporary Islam," speak on the matter at hand.
Contrary to typical types of revenge, violence and hatred took no part in the gathering hosted by the American Jewish Committee on this Tuesday afternoon. Rather, their meeting illustrated Dr. Pearl's definition, retaliation against the hatred (not the murderers) that killed his son. He fights by elevating moderate Islamic voices who promote compassion and mercy in contrast to the voices that promote hate. Therefore, the battle to which I was privy involved a friendship between Dr. Ahmed and Dr. Pearl; a shared meal, hosted by the President of The Franklin Institute; a lecture, broadcast by the local news channels; and a closing celebration for the participants- all in the name of revenge.
This unlikely public gathering in Philadelphia was the second of its kind (the first occurred in Pittsburg at the end of last year). Dr. Pearl and Dr. Ahmed met to address the hatred that often exists between Muslims and Jews, and to raise awareness about the dialogue that builds understanding and alleviates the terror between them. When shared values, shared prophets, shared histories, and even shared blood lines fail to bring these two religious groups to peaceful relationship, leaders must begin to address the differences and difficulties between them. These two respected and accomplished men initiated their discussion by exploring the problems between their peoples. In meeting, they learned about each other's religions, perspectives, concerns, and grievances toward the other. They discussed the modern day situations in Israel, Palestine, Pakistan and referred back to Andalusia Spain for examples. They highlighted inclusive and exclusive religious perspectives. And they discussed options for the future.
Dr. Pearl and Dr. Ahmed agreed that the best way to move toward peace and understanding involves dialogues such as theirs. Inspired by their respective religious teachings, they spoke of inclusiveness, compassion, and mercy. Their efforts represent the first steps toward a brighter future in which all are invited to participate. However, the significance of the evening went beyond the call to dialogue and into the realm of political change signified by the questions asked and the distinguished guests who responded to Dr. Ahmed and Dr. Pearl's exhortations.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims crowed the theater to explore many of the difficult issues existing between the different religions. They asked questions about Pakistan's refusal to recognize the state of Israel. They gave recognition to the violence that had happened to both Jews and Muslims in the past. They also highlighted the dialogues that were already occurring, bringing peace to differing religious groups the world over.
The most groundbreaking aspect of the evening, however, was the political and diplomatic presence at the event. Participants in this "revengeful" public dialogue included the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Pakistan Embassy, the Israeli Counselor General, representatives from the governor's office, religious leaders, the Managing Director of the Arab-American Institute, and others. For the first time in history a Pakistani Ambassador met with an Israeli Counselor General, under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee (which publicly supports the state of Israel) to pursue dialogue and understanding between peoples who need not kill each other to honor and respect their histories and their beliefs. All of this occurred with the written blessing of the governor of Philadelphia in the United States of America, whose citizens are trying desperately to understand what is going wrong and how they will respond to the situations around the world. For a representative of the Pakistani Ambassador, whose country denies the existence of Israel, and an organization that supports Israel to meet in friendship, warmth, and understanding, signifies that times are changing, peaceful relations are possible, and that initiatives toward a better future have only just begun.
Dialogues such as the ones between Dr. Pearl and Dr. Ahmed have infinite implications for the future of our world and our relationships in it. An insight Dr. Pearl gleaned from his discussions with Dr. Ahmed and his efforts to understand the death of his son clearly shows this point. Dr. Pearl originally hoped that he could make Daniel Pearl a role model for Pakistani children, steering them away from the hatred and violence murderers espoused. But upon dialogue with Dr. Ahmed and further understanding of Pakistan and Islam, he realized the unrealistic nature of his goal. Pakistanis would not accept a foreign man from a Jewish background as an inspirational role model. In greater understanding and appreciation, Dr. Pearl now elevates compassionate and moderate Islamic perspectives exemplified by countless leaders throughout history, but lifts Dr. Ahmed as his foremost example. If the children could look to one of their own who carves the way of understanding and dialogue, the future has truly great possibilities.
The best news of the evening came from the Pakistani Deputy Ambassador who affirmed the insight and importance of Dr. Pearl's initiatives. He reported that young Pakistani leaders in the United States already list Dr. Ahmed as their foremost role model, signifying the influence of Dr. Pearl and Dr. Ahmed's efforts. In memory of Daniel Pearl, Dr. Pearl and Dr. Ahmed remind us that we can turn the world into a place where positive role models for our children abound and where peace and tolerance becomes the way of life. We must only carry on their dialogue.