Can a high-profile film about a horrific event, the 2002 kidnapping and killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl, serve as a vehicle to promote religious and cultural understanding?

For many who attended an interfaith discussion that followed a screening of “A Mighty Heart” at Paramount Studios this week, the answer appeared to be yes, with panelists and audience alike generally praising the film for its sensitive depiction of the events surrounding Pearl’s death.

A reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Pearl was abducted and killed in Karachi, Pakistan, where he and his wife, Mariane, had traveled to cover the war in Afghanistan and investigate the activities of Al Qaeda. The film is based on a memoir written by Mariane Pearl, a French radio journalist, and traces the harrowing period from Daniel’s disappearance Jan. 23, 2002, to the discovery of his dismembered body several weeks later.

Yet several panelists noted that the film, despite its tragic central story, also offers a measure of hope in its portrayal of the culturally and religiously diverse group of investigators, diplomats, journalists and friends that joined in the effort to rescue Daniel Pearl and support his wife, then nearly six months pregnant.

“The overall message of the movie is to be able to look beyond the labels and see each of these people as human beings, and it does that very well,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Ayloush, whose organization cosponsored Thursday’s panel discussion, said one of the most wrenching aspects of the film for him was the implicit question it raised about Islam and whether acts such as Pearl’s killing could ever be justified under its tenets.

But he said he was certain of the answer. “This is a real story, about a real person who lost his life, and it’s painful for me as a Muslim because it shows people who use the name ‘Muslim’ to justify killing,” Ayloush said. “But these people were not Muslim. They were not Pakistani. They were criminal.”

The audience of about 300, which included women in colorful scarves and a scattering of men with skullcaps, applauded.


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