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The disturbing public rush to use horror for other ends

Gavin Ashenden writes about the use and misuse of the Orlando shooting in the public square

Bad news may not be good for you.

I have friends who have given up watching the news on television, and even reading newspapers.

Why traumatise yourself — they ask — with an endless round of the same news about human hate and suffering. The details change – the place, the time, the victims, but the overarching story of violence and victims is the same.

It’s always struck me as odd that bad news sells more newspapers than good news; but horror has a certain fascination.

And the shooting in Orlando was pure horror.

What was also disturbing was the rush to use the horror for other ends,

The public space soon became full of different groups drawing lessons from it that supported their agendas . It’s understandable, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It reduces the human lives lost to statistics for arguments.

The Democrats turned the event into an argument for gun control. Fewer guns would be good, but the Paris massacre wasn’t hindered by gun control.

American politicians within minutes were denouncing the murders as terrorism, trying to avoid the ‘Islam’ word.  Clearly Omar Mateen caused terror. But the murderous shooting spree of a man who said he was disgusted by two gay men kissing in front of his children is not a classical act of terrorism.

His father gave interviews in which he was quick to emphasise the killing was nothing to do with religion. As a practising Muslim in American one can see why he might have wanted to say that.

Donald Trump disingenuously pretended he had been right on his twitter feed, and asked not for congratulations but for votes.

Discovering exactly what led Omar to murder may take time. Already the papers are filling up with stories that he was a disturbed, violent and perhaps tortured man who had been using gay dating apps and even frequenting that gay club himself.

No doubt we will find out more over the next few days and start to sift truth from fiction, and gossip from reality.

We should suspect the truth that comes to us from people who have overt agendas. Edith Stein, a Jewish girl who converted to Christianity in France during the Second World War, and died in Auschwitz pointedly advised:

“Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love; and do not accept anything as love if it lacks the truth.”

The journey into mayhem and violence will always capture the headlines. What has escaped the media is the better news of a different kind of migration; one from Mohammed to Jesus-Islam to Christianity.

In Germany, a Church in the suburbs of Berlin, Trinity Church in Steglitz,  has grown from 150 a couple of years ago to almost 700 today. The new people are mainly ex Muslims changing their faith. Earlier this year churches in Berlin and Hamburg had to rent local municipal swimming pools to cope with the large numbers of Muslims seeking baptism.

The Catholic Church in Austria has logged 300 applications for baptism in the first three months of this year.

Who could have guessed or foreseen that Churches and faith that had been deserted by Europeans would be filled by migrant Muslims turning to Christ?

The curate at Liverpool Cathedral is a priest called Mohammed Eghtedarian. He fled on foot from the Iranian city of Shiraz to Europe. He was helped by compassionate Christians on the way. He was so touched by this experience of love, that he became a Christian. Love can be contagious. After gaining asylum in the UK he became an Anglican priest. He now teaches the faith to other migrant ex Muslim Christians.

The stories follow similar patterns. Johannes, another Iranian, left Tehran for Vienna. Born into a Muslim family, the 32-year-old—who was previously called Sadegh—began questioning the roots of Islam at university. “I found that the history of Islam was completely different from what we were taught at school. ‘Maybe’, I thought, ‘it was a religion that was born in violence?’ ” He was beaten for attending Bible studies in Tehran, and jumped at the chance to migrate to Austria, where he asked for baptism.

Some people rightly ask if these are conversions of convenience to help with asylum? Leaving aside the fact that they risk the death penalty Islam imposes on those who leave, it is a proper question.

When I was a BBC radio presenter I had an Iranian Muslim convert phone in to talk about her journey. I asked her some hard questions about her experience. She persuaded me with ease that it was real when she talked about “how encountering the love of Jesus had allowed her heart to grow wings.” This was the language of spiritual discovery not political pragmatism.

Perhaps the media needs to work harder at looking for good news.

Good news has its own fascination.

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