Religious Terrorism and a letter to the Moderator, Jordan Cantwell

On Sunday, gretta spoke about the murderous attacks on two publishers in Bangladesh and urged us to engage our Members of Parliament about the ongoing hostility against secular writers in that country. Since the beginning of the year, four secular blogers have been murdered by religious extremists. 

As a first step in her own response, gretta wrote to the Moderator of the United Church, Jordan Cantwell. Here is her letter.

Dear Jordan,
How I wish that subject line (Murder in Bangladesh) were the title of a novel that had just hit the top of the bestseller list instead of a headline that is becoming so frequent we run the risk of not noticing it anymore. A news item that describes someone being hacked to death is stunning. Another, we are similarly shocked. Another, and we just read the headline this time. Another, and it shows up on page three.
But the horror is real and those who continue to be threatened with it, or who live with the reality of having experienced, it are deserving of the attentions of The United Church of Canada. In fact, I believe they deserve not only our attention but our intervention.
I am certain that you are aware that, over the weekend, two publishers in Bangladesh were attacked, one fatally. They were targeted because they had each published works by Avijit Roy, an atheist author who had been hacked to death in February. His wife, badly injured in the attack has begun speaking about her husband's work and appealing to the world and its leaders to intervene where religious intolerance takes such violent forms. We have not done so but we must.
In addition to the publishers who were attacked, two writers also received injuries and were locked inside their offices, one can assume, to prevent anyone from saving them before they died of their wounds. One of those seriously injured writers is married to a Canadian citizen. I write on his behalf, embarrassed that I have not written sooner, before Canada had "skin in the game", but recognizing that now we do, this is the most urgent time for us to act. To delay in our response, to be silent in the face of this religiously-based terror, would be tantamount to complicity. We know the quotes. We know the stories. We know that sins of omission are as significant as sins of commission. Now is the time to act.
To encourage you to act both within The United Church of Canada and on its behalf, I provide this pertinent information. 
  • Tareq Rahim is currently hospitalized. 
  • His wife, Monika Mistry has been a Canadian citizen since 2009/10 and is currently living in Montreal. 
  • Some engagement has already been commenced with Ms. Mistry's local Member of Parliament. 
  • Although Tareq has the copies of their marriage documents, it is expected that these will not be difficult to attain. 
  • Theirs is an interreligious marriage - Tareq is Muslim and Monika is Hindu. Both their families and communities have expressed disdain for their union. 
  • Monika is concerned that, when released from the hospital where there is some semblance of security, Tareq will be at risk of a repeat attack and possibly murdered. 
  • Paperwork is being gathered that will invite Canada to allow Tareq to come here when he is well enough to travel and to be allowed to remain on compassionate grounds.
I share all this information despite being fully aware that there are many individuals and families who are registered as refugees and that many United Church congregations are working to sponsor some of them to come to Canada. We have been focusing our efforts almost exclusively on Syrian refugees, undoubtedly a high need group. But we have not taken note of the dire situation in Bangladesh with respect to religious, or non-religious freedoms. Since the beginning of this year, four secular bloggers, including Roy, have been killed. These most recent attacks suggest that the environment is not going to be safe any time soon. The situation is urgent.
What I am asking you to do is to engage those within the UCC and those beyond it. 
Within the denomination, I believe it is important that we make emergency funds available for the sponsorship of refugee claimants. West Hill applied to receive grant funds for a secular Bangladeshi blogger who has now arrived in Canada and who, subsequent to making an application for refugee status based on threats to his life related to his lack of beliefs, will have a first hearing this week. We did not receive funds because the fund had been depleted by the time our application was processed. I am encouraging you to lead the conversation that puts more money on the table for urgent needs related to refugee sponsorship. Many of the grants have gone to congregations that are in the beginning stages of the refugee support process and will not be drawn down for some months if not over a year. I urge you to find a source for funds on an ongoing and urgent basis that will allow those congregations who wish to, to respond quickly when urgent situations unfold.
Additionally, I believe that whenever egregious acts related to belief are in the headlines, the United Church should have a statement about them sent to congregations and posted on its website. I could find no such statement related to any of the murders that have taken place in Bangladesh. The UCC responded quickly to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Despite my disagreement with the theological assumptions within that response, I believe it was important for us to have recognized the tragedy that had unfolded. I cannot understand why we have not been similarly responsive to the situation in Bangladesh. If we have, my apologies; I have been unable to locate it.
Beyond the denomination, I believe the concern of the UCC must be raised at a governmental level. A letter will be posted on West Hill's website and delivered to the congregation; our members, in turn, will be invited to share that letter with their own Member of Parliament and with Andrew Bennett who continues in leadership in the Office of Religious Freedom. I urge you to prepare such a letter to be sent on behalf of all members of the United Church and forwarded to congregations so that they can, in turn, take action.
Together, we have an incredible power created by the relationships we build and nourish with one another and the world around us. That power is considerable. I believe those who are in the most urgent need of that power deserve to receive all its benefits. It is because of my confidence in the United Church's ability to speak powerfully to this issue that I write and urge you to act on our behalf.
gretta vosper
You are invited to use portions of this letter to frame a request to your own Member of Parliament. A letter template will be distributed tomorrow. Please become engaged on this important issue. 
West Hill United