Daniel Pearl’s Parents Turning Private Grief into Public Tribute
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Daniel Pearl’s Parents Turning Private Grief into Public Tribute

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

Judea Pearl, his wife and two daughters have tried to draw a line, not always successfully, between their insistence on some 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. They also 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.

“At first, the mind can’t cope with the finality of death,” Judea Pearl says. “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 Clinton, Elie Wiesel, Pakistani social welfare pioneer Abdul Sattar Edhi and Palestinian Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University in eastern Jerusalem.

One of the foundation’s current 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 eclectic love of music, ranging from classical and jazz to folk music and bluegrass.

Preceding the global concert day will be the world premiere of “A Mother’s Lament” by Sharon Farber, with words by the poet Nathan Alterman, composed in response to Pearl’s murder. The performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale will be Sept. 29 at the Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

On Oct. 6, a music festival sponsored by the Traditional Music Society will be held in Encino, Calif., Daniel Pearl’s hometown.

A bluegrass concert for the foundation is set on Nov. 16 in Boston. Performers will include musicians from two of the bands in which Daniel Pearl played the violin, mandolin or guitar.

A major fund-raising concert will be held Dec. 5 at the University of California at Los Angeles, with pianist Yefim Bronfman as soloist. As part of the event, excerpts will be read from Pearl’s travel diaries and other writings.

Judea Pearl will travel to East Brunswick, New Jersey on Oct. 20 to help dedicate Congregation B’nai Shalom’s Educational Center, which will bear Pearl’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 Pearl’s sisters, Michelle and Tamara, would allow a foreign student — perhaps a Pakistani or Palestinian — to retrace the steps in Pearl’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 newspaper, followed by the San Francisco Business Times and, finally, The Wall Street Journal.

Also under consideration is a partnership with 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 these and other programs to reduce hatred and prejudice.

Some of the best of Pearl’s writings have been collected in the book “At Home in the World,” published by The Wall Street Journal and Simon & Schuster.

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

The Pearls had hoped that television appearances and interviews would focus on their own priorities — the work of the foundation and publication of the book — or at least them.

Instead, Judea and Ruth Pearl say, most of the media have opted for a “sob sister” approach, symbolized by the frequent question, “How did you feel when you learned that your son had been murdered?”

Among other new skills, Judea Pearl is learning to be a fund-raiser 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 approximately 2,000 contributors.

Beyond the public spotlight, there is the private Ruth and Judea Pearl.

Ruth Pearl worked as an electrical engineer.

Judea Pearl is a member of the elite National Academy of Engineering and recently received a prestigious prize from the London School of Economics for his contributions to the philosophy of science. A 65-year old professor emeritus in the UCLA computer science department, he directs the Cognitive Systems Laboratory.

When Daniel Pearl was a youngster, he was frequently asked whether he was the son of Judea Pearl. Nowadays, the senior Pearl acknowledges, 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 says. “There were 78,000 entries for Daniel.”

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