As the stories and images from the horror and madness in Paris filled TV screens and dominated newspaper front pages, I sat in a room and talked with Muslim Hoosiers.
We talked on Saturday, the day after terrorists launched a series of attacks on the City of Light, murdering nearly 130 people and wounding at least another 350. Even as the sobs of the grieving still could be heard, ISIS – the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – claimed credit for the atrocities.
My conversation with the Muslim Alliance of Indiana had been scheduled weeks before. I was supposed to moderate a discussion with other media and political professionals about the impact of specific public policy issues on Muslim citizens.
But the suffering in Paris overshadowed – indeed, overwhelmed – that agenda and we dispensed with it.
We became a group of people, puzzled and troubled by the madness of an angry world, sitting in a room, trying to find points of understanding.
The Muslim Hoosiers in the room were as horrified by the brutality in Paris as anyone else. Beneath that horror was something else, a sense of shell shock and resignation that they once again somehow would be blamed or held responsible for actions they deplore.
For acts they consider a betrayal of their faith.
As we talked, their questions began to form a refrain.
How do we get other people to see that we are a religion of peace?
How do we get people to see that we despise terrorism, too?
How do we get our neighbors and fellow citizens to understand that we, too, just want to live our lives, raise our families and do our work?
How? How? How?
We talked about the difficulties of arriving at anything resembling understanding in a social media-dominated world in which everyone shouts and too few people listen. We talked about the angry voices on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere who scream for massive and irrational retaliation – using atomic weapons in the Middle East, slaughtering civilians, including women and children, to "send a message," answering madness with still more madness.
More important, we listened.
One man, the anguish in his voice palpable, asked:
How can we get people to realize that these extreme responses are just what the jihadists and extremists want? They want the West to issue blanket and angry condemnations of all Muslims everywhere. They want American leaders to threaten sweeping reprisals. They launch these attacks not just to hurt the people of the West, but to provoke rage in them – because that rage helps the jihadists and extremists recruit new members to their murderous fold.
The answers, even in this age of exploding communications technology, were old ones.
Regardless of the medium or media one uses, we have to find ways to cut through the noise, all the yelling and screaming. We have to find ways to get people to slow down and pay attention. We have to find ways to help people listen, because that's the only way we'll come to understand each other.
Outside that room, elsewhere in the world, people running for president of the United States – people who should know better – threatened to rain Armageddon down on the Muslim world. They pledged to answer horror with horror.
Inside the room, we talked as neighbors should, about our hopes for our children and our community, our desire for an end to strife and a new birth of peace. We talked about the things that link us as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends and fellow human beings.
And we listened.
Then, when the time was up, with handshakes and well wishes all around, we left that room, that quiet place in an otherwise troubled world.
John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehousefile.com.