Jewish Journal

Fighting Hate ‘Under Danny’s Banner’

"At first, the mind can't cope with the finality of death."

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Sep. 5, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Daniel Pearl

Daniel Pearl

Professor Judea Pearl, an internationally recognized authority on machine intelligence, has discovered a great deal about human emotion -- both private and public -- since his son, journalist Daniel Pearl, was murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan eight months ago.

He, his wife and two daughters have tried to draw a line, not always successfully, between their insistence on a modicum of privacy and their desire to perpetuate Daniel Pearl's legacy throughout the world.

They have been deeply touched by the thousands of individuals, from President Bush to ordinary Pakistanis, who have expressed their sympathy, and have been deeply offended by those in the media who, they feel, have exploited the tragedy for a string of kitschy interviews and stories.

Now, some three weeks after finally burying their son, Judea and Ruth Pearl are full of plans and projects to transmute their private grief into public good. To reach that point, they have had to pass through three stages.

"At first, the mind can't cope with the finality of death," the father said. "Then the mind refuses to accept the senselessness of the act and tries to derive something positive from it. Finally, you realize that there is an opportunity to fight, under Danny's banner, against the very hatred that caused his death."

The primary vehicle for this purpose is the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.com), whose broad aim is to address the root causes of his murder by promoting, through his example, "cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music and innovative communication."

An indicator of the foundation's international breadth is the composition of its board of trustees, which includes former President Bill Clinton and Elie Wiesel, Pakistani social welfare pioneer Abdul Sattar Edhi and Sari Nusseibeh, president of the Palestinian Al-Quds University.

One of the foundation's current top projects is an international music day on Oct. 10, which would have marked the 39th birthday of The Wall Street Journal reporter. Cities and musical groups throughout the world will dedicate performances reflecting Daniel Pearl's own eclectic love of music, ranging from classical and jazz to folk music and bluegrass.

The kickoff for this global concert will start Sunday, Oct. 6, in Encino, with a music festival sponsored by the California Traditional Music Society. A bluegrass concert for the foundation is set on Nov. 16 in Boston. Performers will include musicians from two of the bands in which Pearl played the violin, mandolin or guitar, such as The Clamp and The Ottoman Empire.

A major fundraising concert will be held Dec. 5 in UCLA's Royce Hall, with pianist Yefim Bronfman as soloist. As part of the event, excerpts from Daniel's travel diaries and writings will be read.

Judea Pearl will travel to East Brunswick, N.J., on Oct. 20 to help dedicate Congregation B'nai Shalom's Educational Center, which will bear Daniel's name.

Among many other tributes, the Los Angeles Press Club and the South Asia Journalists Association have established annual awards to honor Pearl's example of professional courage and integrity.

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman will deliver the first Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture on Sept. 26 at the UCLA Faculty Center.

An innovative project in "hate reduction," conceived by Daniel's sisters, Michelle and Tamara, would allow a foreign student -- perhaps a Pakistani or Palestinian -- to retrace the steps in Daniel's college and journalistic careers.

In chronological order, the selected candidate would study at Stanford University's communications department, then work in Massachusetts at the North Adams Transcript and Berkshire Eagle, followed by the San Francisco Business Times and finally, The Wall Street Journal.

Also under consideration is a partnership with an organization named YouthNoise, visualized as an Internet dialogue among teenagers focusing on the world's flashpoints, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Anti-Defamation League has offered to assist in similar programs to reduce hatred and prejudice.

Some of the best of Pearl's own writings have been collected in the book, "At Home in the World," published by The Wall Street Journal and Simon & Schuster (see story on next page).

The Pearl family appreciates the recognition bestowed by journalistic colleagues and praises the media's self-restraint in not revealing their Israeli roots, while there was still hope that Daniel's life might be spared. At the same time, the Pearls, perhaps naïve about press priorities and mechanisms, express some bitterness about many of their media encounters.

In appearances on television and in interviews with reporters, the Pearls had hoped that their own priorities -- the work of the foundation and publication of the book -- would be featured, or at least included. Instead, Judea and Ruth Pearl said, most of the media has opted for a "sob sister" approach, embodied in the constantly repeated question, "How did you feel when you learned that your son had been murdered?" Judea Pearl cites as major "offenders" the Daily Telegraph of London and the Los Angeles Times.

Among other new skills, Judea Pearl is learning to be a fundraiser on behalf of the foundation.

So far, considering the worldwide attention on the case, efforts to establish a substantial endowment have met with only modest success. In the absence of major donors, some $400,000 has been raised from around 2,000 contributors.

Appraising his own performance in dealing with the new worlds of the media and philanthropy, Pearl said, "I'm not as shy as I used to be, but I'm not very eloquent. I also realize that I have been given a rare chance to speak to the Jewish and global communities."

Beyond the public spotlight, there are the private Ruth and Judea Pearl, both persons of distinctive accomplishment. Ruth Pearl graduated and worked as an electrical engineer and Judea Pearl is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and recently received a prestigious prize from the London School of Economics for his contributions to the philosophy of science. As a 65-year-old professor emeritus in the UCLA computer science department, he directs the Cognitive Systems Laboratory, continues his research, teaches one graduate course a year, and supervises five doctorate students.

When Daniel Pearl was a youngster, he was frequently asked whether he was the son of professor Pearl. Nowadays, the senior Pearl acknowledges, the roles are reversed, as strangers wonder whether he is the father of Daniel Pearl.

"I checked Google on the Internet and found 4,000 entries for myself," Judea Pearl said. "There were 78,000 entries for Daniel.

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