Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Why we must save our children from becoming fodder for the fanatics

Holy terror: jihadist Rahim Kalantar from Coventry
Holy terror: jihadist Rahim Kalantar from Coventry

Back in the worst days of the Troubles comedians used to a tell a joke about this place which centred on a pilot announcing arrival at Belfast airport. He informs his passengers of weather conditions and then advises they set their watches to local time.

Back 1,000 years.

The joke being, of course, that here we were, medieval old us, still fighting over religion while the rest of the world had moved on.

As it turns out, we weren't so much stuck in a time warp after all. Actually we were ahead of the curve.

And now sadly the rest of the world seems to be catching up. Religious war has gone global. Ancient conflict has gone online. Tribal is trending.

It is a dark reflection of our times that the options available to today's students would appear to include knuckle down, work hard and get that university degree. Take yourself off on a gap year doing some voluntary work for charity.

Or head for the Middle East, decapitate people and put the pictures up on Twitter.

One of the startling aspects of the rise of Isis or Isil or Islamic State or whatever the bring-back-the-caliphate community are calling themselves this week, is the number of seemingly intelligent young people from the West who have headed off in search of Holy War leaving behind glowing school reports and baffled former friends.

What is especially startling is that these homegrown jihadis are reported to have been at the very forefront of some of the most truly gruesome crimes. And have subsequently been tweeting selfies of their savagery with all the untroubled enthusiasm of a sixth form girl proudly showing off her prom preparation.

"Here's me with my new acrylic nails."

"Here's me with the head of an infidel."

On social network sites they post vile images, boasts, threats and exhortations to other misguided youth to join them. The language is a mix of street slang and fundamentalist fanaticism. It's the Crusades meets Joey Essex.

Amid the bloodthirsty bragging there are glimpses of the priorities of the 21st century wannabe martyr. They don't just yearn for that one-way ticket to Paradise. One also longs for a tub of Nutella. A girl urges others to join her over there as a sort of jihadi WAG. She also admits she's missing her mum.

What has led them to such a point? Young lives that could have amounted to something positive and good now dedicated to the most appalling brutality.

We don't, of course, have much room to talk or judge in this part of the world. Generation after generation here, including arguably the current one, has also been suckered into sectarian conflict.

This is not an apologist argument that, poor dears, they couldn't help themselves, the crimes they committed weren't really their fault.

I believe we are all responsible for our own choices.

But I also know that in Northern Ireland many working class youngsters in particular, were cynically used as fodder in the conflict by older, cunning warlords. And it would seem to be pretty obvious that something similar is happening in the recruitment of the Isis foreign legion.

In what is probably the most powerful song about our own Troubles, the great Tommy Sands notes: "For those who give the orders, they are not the ones to die ..."

Nor are they the ones to get their hands bloodied. Or face commensurate punishment for their crimes against humanity.

It's the foot-soldier jihadi who does the dirtiest work. Acquires the stains upon the soul.

When you have held in your hand the severed head of another human being it is hard to see how you ever come back from that in any sense.

But it is those who prey on easily-led youth and fire up within them such hatred that it obliterates all human compassion who are the starting point in the bloody chain that leads inexorably to this barbarism.

Save our children from such fanatics? In a world so consumed with the past, sometimes it seems we have forgotten entirely about the future.

Nothing sarong with Rory's suit

Rory's suit? Give the boy a break. Actually I thought it wasn't that bad. He's 24. He's allowed a little flamboyance. Besides the canny, young Mr McIlroy may well have worked out that if you want to promote the brand you're not going to do it as just another grey, albeit high-achieving, sportsman.

Standing out from the crowd in every sense is a smart move. He may not have catwalk potential – not that many golfers do – but he does have his own quirky style. And if this adds to raising even further his profile (and hence earning potential) that's surely a plus. As the multi-millionaire David Beckham might say, nothing sarong with that.

Bikini for the face? It's a balaclava!

In China where the weather-beaten, tanned face is a look to be avoided, the face-kini has been catching on with female bathers.

As the name would suggest it's a sort of bikini for the face.

A thin hood with holes for eyes and mouth. Here, we would call it a balaclava.

As one observer points out, a group of these and it looks like bank robbers are raiding the beach. What was once a trend solely among Chinese matrons is now spreading to younger, more fashionable circles.

It will certainly stop skin damage although like Nigella's burkini (remember that?) it has to be said it's not a great look. Still.

On the plus side with this one, who's going to know that's you in there?

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