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April 28, 2008

Father of Daniel Pearl Urges Tolerance

“We are not your enemy.”

This is the message that Judea Pearl, father of the late journalist Daniel Pearl, would like the Muslim world to hear.

For Americans stewing in obsessive self-criticism and self-deprecation, he has another message: “Stop this nonsense. You have something to offer this world, and the world expects you to deliver it.”

Pearl, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation and a noted scientist, delivered two talks on April 18 at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The first, addressed to the Department of Biostatistics, focused on “The Mathematics of Cause and Effect.” The second presentation, which was open to the public, was titled, “Carving a Path for East-West Dialogue,” and in it Pearl explained the efforts of the foundation to shepherd peaceful co-existence among nations of the world.

Pearl’s son, Daniel, was a Wall Street Journal reporter and musician who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists six years ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in what Pearl calls a “desolate dungeon in the middle of the great madness.” In response to the murder of his son, and also in an effort to harness the energy and good will that poured forth afterwards, Pearl and his family formed the foundation.

Of the foundation’s efforts, Pearl said that “results are hard to measure. But we see some softening of attitudes. We are leaving a track of acceptance and improving the image of America in the world.”

The Daniel Pearl Foundation sponsors journalism fellowships that foster integrity in reporting and cross-cultural tolerance by journalists and editors, and it supports other programs designed to reduce inflammatory and stereotyping rhetoric in journalism. The foundation also organizes worldwide concerts that honor Daniel and promote the ideas of humanity and open-mindedness. Another of Pearl’s projects is a series of public dialogues with friend and colleague Akbar Ahmed, in which the men explore common ground between Jews and Muslims, confess concerns, speak frankly and listen respectfully. “We are two grandfathers,” he said, “having a conversation on stage.” Of the packed houses and rapt audiences, he said: “Crowds you wouldn’t believe.”

A professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of the Cognitive Systems Laboratory, Pearl is a Tel Aviv-born scientist and author with expertise in the areas of artificial intelligence, human cognition, and philosophy of science. When asked whether deeply religious scientists can maintain objectivity, Pearl opined that it is possible for faith and science to co-exist. “Devoutness contradicts objectivity. But we live with contradiction,” he said. “Faith is poetry.” — Christine Grillo

Public Affairs media contact: Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.