LOS ANGELES, Sept. 5 (JTA) — The father of slain Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl will share a prize for activism with a Muslim man. Judea Pearl and Akbar Ahmed are joint recipients of a new $100,000 prize for their campaign against intolerance and terrorism. The Los Angeles- and Washington-based professors were among five recipients of the newly established Purpose Prize, awarded to Americans age 60 or older who are using their experience and skills to address long-standing social problems. Pearl, 69, an authority on artificial intelligence at UCLA, became a semi-public figure when his son was kidnapped and brutally murdered by Islamic extremists in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002. In response to the tragedy, Pearl and his wife Ruth established a foundation in their son’s name to further understanding between East and West through journalism, music and dialogue. Ahmed, 63, holds the chair in Islamic Studies at American University in Washington. He was born in Karachi and is a former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain. Over the past two years, he and Pearl have appeared before mixed Jewish, Muslim and Christian audiences in the United States and overseas in dialogues and discussions on emotional and divisive issues. “We have only two rules,” Pearl said. “No topic is taboo and we and the audience will behave with civility.” “Dr. Pearl and Dr. Ahmed are doing something unusual and courageous to create a safer world,” said Marc Freedman, founder and president of Civic Ventures. “They are proving that idealism and passion have nothing to do with age, and that experience has everything to do with accomplishment.” Civic Ventures is a San Francisco-based think tank and program incubator that advances the proposition that “today’s boomers and older Americans are an extraordinary pool of social and human capital that — with the right investment — can yield unprecedented returns for society,” Freedman said. The Purpose Prize is supported by Atlantic Philanthropies and the John Templeton Foundation. In separate interviews, Pearl and Ahmed said they would use the prize money to further their joint work. “The prize will serve as a seal of approval and give visibility to our work, especially in the Muslim media,” Pearl said. Ahmed said he initially received severe criticism in the Muslim press and was accused of being “the sole Muslim voice in dialogue with Israel,” but that his moderate viewpoint is gaining ground. Increased hostility in the wake of the Hezbollah-Israel war this summer “has only hardened my determination” that Jews and Muslims must reach an understanding, he said. Among the other four winners are activists addressing racial disparities in preventable deaths, job opportunities for the disabled, housing needs for the elderly poor and the disrupted lives of children who have a parent in jail. There were 1,200 nominations for the prize. The top 70 are meeting Thursday through Saturday at Stanford University with academics and venture philanthropists in a “Purpose Prize Innovation Summit.”
Tom Tugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.