Scapegoating of Muslims has reached alarming proportions in this ugly election year. It is being fueled by Americans who may have never actually met a Muslim.

For more than 14 years, since the attacks of 9/11, the First Congregational Church of Williamstown has hosted members of the Al-Baqi Islamic Center for Human Excellence of Springfield at an interfaith prayer service. (Derek Gentile story, Eagle, January 11). In getting to know one another personally, they learned what they have in common, most specifically a desire for love and tolerance that transcends religion.

Extremist presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and even so-called moderate Jeb Bush, have been fueling anti-Muslim hysteria to one degree or another since the Paris attacks by Islamic terrorists. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama rightly declared that when Muslims are insulted by politicians or demeaned by Americans, "It betrays who we are as a country."

There are few Muslims in Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts, which could make our region prone to simplistic blanket indictments of all Muslims because of the horrific actions of a violent few. The solution is getting to know one another, and ideally more groups will follow the lead of the Williamstown Congregational Church and Al-Baqi Islamic Center of Springfield. It is needed now more than ever.