The Journalist and the Jihadi
By Marta Zoladz
American University
Washington, DC

 


Group picture of the interfaith panelists

The French Embassy was full of life on the evening of October 5, 2006. Washingtonian professionals, professors and intelligentsia gathered and sipped on cocktails and discussed current events while waiting for the premiere of a new HBO documentary. La Maison Francaise was hosting the debut of The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl directed and produced by Ahmad A. Jamal and Ramesh Sharma. Amongst the distinguished guests was Ambassador Akbar Ahmed who not only attended this lavish evening but also took part in the discussion panel moderated by CNN’s renowned journalist, Wolf Blitzer.
The film narrated by Christian Amanpour explores the lives of two educated men with privileged childhoods but divided ideologies that lead to a tragic end. Pearl’s story is portrayed through the words of his family, friends, colleagues and State Department employees who were involved in his case. They describe Daniel Pearl’s ruthless character in seeking understanding in the Muslim world, his love and determination for journalism, the well-organized plot for his kidnapping and the tragic result of his death. The film also explained the life of Omar Sheikh and all the events that led him to become the mastermind of the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl.

This intense film shows the animosity and misunderstanding between the divided cultures of the West and Islam. Through actual footage and photographs the audience was introduced to Omar Sheikh as a privileged, young man who attended elite schools in Great Britain and explained the events throughout his life that made him turn to violence in support of his beliefs.
Daniel Pearl was living a parallel life in California as the son of a well-educated Jewish family. His career as a journalist advanced rapidly due to his charisma and curiosity that in turn led him to Pakistan in search for answers. The film goes even beyond the two men and explains the law and order situation in Pakistan. The directors paint a vivid picture of the overcrowded streets of Karachi and the chaos within the society. The directors interviewed Pakistani police and Muslim scholars to illustrate what was happening throughout the kidnapping.

Prof. Akbar Ahmed (center), Wolf Blitzer (right) and Miss Ahmed
Umar Ahmed (right) and Wolf Blitzer

After the movie the guests sat down to dinner and listened to a panel discussion between two Indian directors Ahmed A. Jamal and Ramesh Sharma and former Pakistani Ambassador to the UK Akbar Ahmed. Wolf Blitzer led the conversation by asking striking questions about the film, what message the directors wanted to convey and current sentiment about Islam.
Ambassador Ahmed began the conversation by stating that “only in Washington could Indian and Pakistani sit together and agree on issues”. Ambassador Ahmed suggested that it is Islam that is under attack and not just one person. “We must look at the whole scenario together. This is a challenge for the whole world,” he urged. “People such as Sheik have brought a negative image to this religion that is not truly representative of what it preaches”. Ambassador Ahmed says that the solution is to bridge the cultures through dialogue and showing films such as this one. The two directors explained that this film tries to show that behind every person there is a family, love, peace and relationships and they hope that this will have an emotional effect on people.
The panelists agreed that in this divided world that we live in it is important to show films of this degree to explain understanding and what is happening with the growing hostility.
After the panelist discussion, Ambassador Ahmed and Wolf Blitzer continued the conversation amongst themselves and with Ambassador Ahmed’s team of students from the American University. Ambassador Ahmed introduced his students as the educated, future generation that will work on tolerance and cross- cultural communications. Two of his students, Hailey Woldt and Frankie Martin, who accompanied Ambassador Ahmed on a two-month trip in the Muslim World, shared their experiences of being in Karachi and their journey to build good relations and understanding in the divided world. Marta Zoladz, the student assistant, Ramanathan Coimbatore, Ahmed’s teaching assistant and Jonathan Hayden, head assistant also attended the event and had the opportunity to share their experiences with Wolf Blitzer and what they have learned on the importance of interfaith dialogue while working for Akbar Ahmed.
As the evening came to an end more questions were asked by the intrigued audience about international relations and current events. A night such as this one does not occur often, where people of different faiths and cultures come together to discuss a tragedy and together through dialogue try to bridge the gap to prevent future disasters from occurring.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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