We need understanding, open and honest dialogue

To the Editor:

Many of us were horrified and outraged recently by the brutal and deadly attack of religious extremists upon the editorial cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical journal headquartered in Paris. That attack hit especially close to home, reverberating through our collective consciousness because of similar attacks on our soil on September 11th in 2001 and more recently at the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

While there are some differences in the various attacks, the style of terror and the accompanying rhetoric have a sickening familiarity. These incidents, all too frequent, tend to evoke fear, anger, despair, and a desire for revenge among many across the ideological spectrum. After all, that is the nature of terrorism – to inflict terror. But as many Muslims express quite vehemently, these extremists do not accurately represent the true nature of Islam. While they may invoke the name of Allah, they do not represent the faith of many, many peace-loving Muslims around the world.

Attacks like the one in Paris raise many questions about the fundamental rights of a democratic society to honor and protect freedom of speech, one of our most treasured rights and privileges. Even when we don’t necessarily agree with the content or the good taste of an individual publication or politician, we vigorously defend their right to speak without fear of retribution or violence. On the other hand, we must also heed the sensibilities of other religious traditions. What one group might consider in poor taste or offensive, another group might consider blasphemous. When does free speech become hate speech and how do we distinguish between them? What we need for navigating this narrow margin is increased understanding among people of all different religious traditions. We need honest and personal sharing among individuals at the grassroots level. We need dialogue, not diatribe that surmounts stereotypes and overcomes latent prejudice and fears. Only when we know each other’s personal stories, our hopes, our fears, our passions, and our visions for a shared future, do we transcend our perception as enemies and become friends with respected differences of opinion.

We will continue to pray for the people of France who were victimized by that horrendous terror attack two weeks ago. We ask ongoing prayers for the families and friends of the Parisian journalists who were killed so senselessly by those extremists with no tolerance for freedom of speech. We ask prayers for the families of those Jewish hostages taken and killed in the kosher supermarket by other suspects in the wake of the initial attack. And we ask prayers as well for all peace-loving Muslims (the majority by far) who are living quiet, faithful, devout lives all around the world. May they not become scapegoats in society’s rush to retaliation. And may we become instruments of true peace.

(Opinions expressed in this letter come from individual clergy; ?congregations listed are for identification purposes only)

The Rev. Richard G. Leavitt, Senior Pastor, Congregational Church of Amherst, United Church of Christ

The Rev. Judith Bryant, Mont Vernon Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

The Rev. Thomas E. Teichmann, Messiah Lutheran Church, Amherst

The Rev. Hays Junkin, Rector, Church of Our Saviour (Episcopal), Milford

The Rev. Dr. Regina Kinney, Pastor, Second Congregational Church Wilton, United Church of Christ

The Rev. Dr. Wesley Palmer, Milford United Methodist Church

The Rev. John W. Keegan, SJ, Pastor, St. Patrick Church, Milford

The Rev. Maureen Frescott, Assoc. Pastor, Congregational Church of Amherst, United Church of Christ

The Rev. Barbara McKusick Liscord, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Milford