Although voters across the country are weighing issues ranging from the economy to health care to immigration as they ponder their 2008 election choices, the war on terror remains the most pressing reality for Judea Pearl.
Pearl, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the father of slain reporter Daniel Pearl, addressed an audience of about 50 in the Branford College common room Tuesday in a talk titled “Confronting the Ideology of Terror.”
In a thick accent, Pearl discussed how his experiences with his son — who, as the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, was murdered by Islamic militants in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002 — have informed his efforts to combat hatred and violence through fostering collaboration between different cultures around the world. Attendees, who were mostly middle-aged or elderly, were a mix of students, residents from in and around New Haven and University affiliates.
Pearl opened his presentation by sharing his son Daniel’s final words, which were videotaped by his murderers. In the tape, the reporter identified himself and his family as Jews, and then made reference to a street named for his grandfather in a city in Israel.
Calling this final statement a “majestic poem,” Judea Pearl said he interpreted it as an indication of his son’s identification with his Jewish heritage as well as his son’s way of demonstrating his ability to speak freely to his family, his captors and the free world.
Pearl went on to discuss the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which he helped to establish in 2002 in response to his son’s death in order to “help contain the tsunami of hate that has swept our planet.”
“Hatred killed our son, and hatred we should fight for the rest of our lives with vengeance and tenacity,” Pearl, the president of the foundation, said.
But the goal of the foundation, he said, is to use goodwill, rather than force, to promote understanding and reconciliation.
A number of the foundation’s initiatives aim to foster understanding between different cultures through journalism and music — two of Daniel Pearl’s favorite activities. Through one of the foundation’s programs, Muslim journalists are invited to intern at U.S. newspapers, Pearl said, in order to give them the experience of participating in a free press and producing objective reporting — opportunities he said are hard to come by in much of the Muslim world.
The foundation’s other projects include a journalism program for high-school students around the world, Daniel Pearl World Music Days and an ongoing lecture series addressing Muslim-Jewish relations given by Judea Pearl and Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic studies at American University.
Turning to the title of his talk, Pearl identified terror as the “targeting and killing of innocent, unarmed civilians” for the purpose of communicating a political message. He said the motivation to commit acts of terrorism often comes from religion — a force that can be both positive and dangerous.
One of the largest culprits in the spread of terrorism, Pearl said, is Al Jazeera, the Arabic television network, which reaches an audience of millions of people worldwide. Pearl said that by neglecting to censure terrorists, the network implicitly supports them, “creating a generation of Arabs that are full with combustible anger, humiliated and ready to explode.”
Pearl said Al Jazeera has inculcated into its audience a worldview in which the United States is portrayed as a villain. Members of the Western world should reach out in dialogue with Muslims to encourage understanding rather than ignorance, he recommended.
“Communication and education is the only way to overcome that ignorance,” he said.
Interviewed audience members said they were both interested in and impressed with Pearl’s discussion of terrorism and the ways in which his foundation seeks to combat it.
David Papermaster, a former professor of pathology at Yale and a current professor of neurology at the University of Connecticut, said he has been friends with Pearl for 30 years. Papermaster said he thinks the dangers of terrorism should be of great concern to Americans who want to ensure a safe future for their children.
“I’m terribly concerned with the issues [Pearl] identified,” Papermaster said, referring to the use of “anti-Western propaganda that justifies killing innocent people.”
Naina Saligram ’11, one of only a handful of students present, said she came to the event after seeing the 2007 film “A Mighty Heart,” which tells the story of Daniel Pearl’s life and death. Saligram, who like Daniel Pearl enjoys writing and music, said Pearl’s bold testament to his son was both tragic and inspiring.
“I didn’t expect him to be so adamant or outspoken,” she said.
Audience member Bruce Altman, a fellow of Branford College, said he was profoundly impressed by Pearl’s ability to turn the painful death of his son into an opportunity to work for positive change.
Several copies of the book “I Am Jewish,” an anthology of reflections on Daniel Pearl’s last words for which Judea Pearl was a co-editor, were handed out to attendants at the Tea.