A Muslim journalist from Egypt has spent five months in the United States under a fellowship established in the memory of the late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl was killed by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002. In Los Angeles, Mike O'Sullivan spoke with Egyptian reporter Amr Emam, this year's recipient of the Pearl fellowship.
The program, sponsored by the Daniel Pearl Foundation and Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships, is intended to promote press freedom and foster East-West understanding.
This year's recipient, 28-year-old Amr Emam, writes for the English-language newspaper the Egyptian Gazette. But beginning in March, he worked for nearly five months as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, and also spent time in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.
He says Middle Eastern journalists, in their day-to-day reporting, focus on the suffering and killing in their region, using vivid descriptions and graphic images. He faults the American media for not being explicit enough in its Mid-Eastern coverage, and for focusing too much on local stories. He says that like many in the Arab world, he is unhappy with U.S. Middle Eastern policy, but was pleasantly surprised at his warm reception here, and with the friendliness and professionalism of the Chronicle's journalists.
"And I met people belonging to all religions, and these people, most of them were broad-minded, said Emam. "They helped me a lot. And I discovered that some of the misconceptions we have about American society, the Americans being anti-Muslim or anti-Arab, most of them are not right. People loved me, they helped me, and this is the message I'm going to take back with me."
He says he is also combatting a false image of Islam as a religion of intolerance and violence, a conception he encountered with a few Americans, which he attributes to terrorist groups such as al Qaida.
"I think against this background of violence and hatred and misunderstanding and the clash of civilizations and the clash of religions, I think it's about time for us to act and tell everybody that we should search for the things that unite us instead of searching for the things that separate us," he said. "This is about time that we understand each other because we are partners in this world."
Rob Eshman, editor in chief of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, moderated a discussion with Emam and the parents of the late Daniel Pearl at the Los Angeles Press Club. The American editor says he may not see eye to eye with this Egyptian journalist or with previous recipients of Pearl fellowships, who came from Pakistan, Yemen and Nepal. But he says each side has been open to an exchange of ideas, and that as journalists, they agree on many issues.
"They're against extremism," said Eshman. "By the very nature of these people who signed up for the Daniel Pearl Foundation, I think there's a lot of values that are in common. So no, we haven't had any wicked arguments with any of them. And the other point is, these are really fine journalists."
Judea Pearl, father of the late Daniel Pearl, says these reporters understand that they face a common enemy, together with Americans.
"The enemy is a culture of terrorism, a culture of tantrum, I call it - the idea that every grievance is a cosmic conspiracy, and that every cosmic conspiracy leads to a license to kill the innocent," he said.
He says exchanges like this allow reporters from the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa to meet ordinary Americans and hear their stories, and carry on the kind of journalism his son, Danny, practiced.