Judea pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and former Pakistani diplomat Akbar Ahmed are among the winners of the inaugural Purpose Prize, an award created by think tank Civic Ventures to honor seniors who take on "society's biggest challenges." For the last two years, Pearl, 70, and Ahmed, 63, have done just that, engaging in a traveling dialogue where, in front of interfaith audiences around the world, the two men sit on a bare stage and discuss conflict in the Middle East and ways to improve Jewish-Muslim relations.
For Pearl, the discussions carry a deeply personal undertone. While on assignment in Pakistan in 2002, his son was abducted by Islamic extremists, who later videotaped his brutal beheading. Transforming his grief into resolve, Pearl and his wife, Ruth--herself an Iraqi Jew--channeled their son's optimism and good will into the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which they run mostly from their son's childhood bedroom in their Encino, Calif., home, and which has become their life's work.
In addition to the Pearl-Ahmed road show, the Pearls' efforts to span the chasm between Islam and Judaism include bringing Muslim journalists on fellowships to work in U.S. newsrooms and at Jewish papers. "We have to defeat the hatred that took Danny's life. That is our mission, our revenge," says Judea, whose dialogue with Ahmed is supported by the foundation's $500,000 annual budget. (Pearl's share of their $100,000 Purpose Prize will help as well.)
The Pearls, who value their privacy, have struggled with being forced into the public eye by their son's legacy. And this year will bring new challenges. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are about to begin production on "A Mighty Heart," the movie based on the book by Daniel's widow, Mariane. And in October, HBO will air "The Journalist and the Jihadi," a documentary profiling Daniel and his captor Omar Sheikh, who in 2003 was tried and convicted in Pakistan for his role in the abduction. "Being in the public spotlight doesn't come naturally to us," says Ruth. "But it's something we have had to get used to. We can't remain private if we are to succeed in our mission."
The new prize will bring even more attention, this time for their cause, something the Pearls believe is even more relevant coming at the end of a terrible summer of conflict in the Middle East. "Our job has been made more difficult," says Judea. "And thus more urgent."