Many of the young people that are known to have joined IS in Syria have been children and young adults still at school. The most famous case is of the four young women aged 15 and 16 who flew to Turkey and who were then spirited across the border into Syria where they are thought to have joined up with IS militias. Their families are understandably heart-broken at the thought that these vulnerable daughter and sisters are somewhere out of reach and in a war zone that is potentially extremely dangerous.
I heard a news report recently in which it was suggested that the Easter holidays are a dangerous time for young people who might have been groomed and radicalised by IS. It has been known for some time that a number of teenage girls do not return to school after the summer holidays because they have been married off to older men in Asia. This summer it is expected that more young people will go to join IS, but, just as many of us now don’t wait until the summer to take holidays, so young people are not waiting until school breaks up in July, to go to Syria.
There has been much discussion about how this situation can be stopped. Parents and schools have both been blamed for not being sufficiently vigilant. However, it is hard to see how either teachers or parents can monitor young people’s access to the digital world when almost every teenager has a smart phone on which they can communicate privately with anyone, anywhere.
I heard a psychologist speaking on the radio about this situation and his answer was that for some young people IS offers hope. This might seem a bizarre statement to make, but it recognises that young people are often more hopeful about the world than their elders. However misguided these young people might be, this psychologist suggested that they see IS as offering hope. They see the world not as it is, but how it could be.
I was taken aback when I heard this sentence. This was partly because of its jarring with everything we know about the IS cult and its wanton disregard for history, other faiths and human life itself. I was also surprised because in the same week I had heard the self same words spoken in quite a different context.
Kenneth Branagh, the multi-talented actor and film-maker has directed a new live action version of the Cinderella story. This is no re-working of the familiar tale. Rather it is a very straight forward, although beautifully acted and filmed version of a story whose end we all know. There is a narration at points during the film which is the voice of Helena Bonham-Carter playing the fairy godmother – or hairy dog father, as she says when she gets her words muddled. At one point she says of Cinderella, that she “saw the world not only as it was, but as it perhaps could be”.
Many people want to put their faith in something and some will not choose wisely. However, it is good that people see the world through ‘the eyes of faith’ so that they see it not just as it is, but how it could be.
This thought is at the heart of the Christian message in that the Gospel offers hope for a world which need not be as it is now. Christianity offers a world in which there is a new creation – Eden will be restored, when once again the lamb will lie down with the lion.
This is not the world as it is, but the message of the Gospel is not that we should sit back and wait for it to happen. It is that we should look forward in hope, but live out the Gospel in the hear and now so that we do what we can to make the world what it could be.