God and I had prayed together about the situation months ago. We had prayed that there would come a time when the young British Muslim men and women who had left UK to join IS in Syrian would have had enough of blood and executions and want to come home. They had purchased a one-way ticket to what they believed to be a meaningful life standing up for a righteous cause, but it turned out not to be so. The grass turned out to be less than green on the other side of the fence.
Wanting to come home and actually being allowed to come home are two very different things. It’s not just the UK government who don’t want them to come home and are threatening prison sentences, but the IS don’t want them going home either. Mehdi Hassan, just 19-years-old was killed this week because he 'wanted to come home'.
These young people are truly stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The less sympathetic among us will want to say, “You made your bed and now you must lie on it,” I think of some parents of these Muslim children who have talked about betrayal and how they cannot forgive their child’s actions.
When did any of us make the sensible decisions when we were nineteen years old? Didn’t we, even at nineteen, sometimes feel our lives to be on a meaningless path? Didn’t we long for something a little more exciting? The older generation had lost its way, got side-tracked by mortgages and bills and keeping up with the Joneses.
God snared me at 18 years old. He nudged me onto a very different path to the one I had planned. His path wasn't bad for me in any way. Following God does not automatically mean something negative, destructive or divisive. Christians are required by God to serve the community and to love people unconditionally.
I believe the disillusioned jihadis should be allowed to come home. Who better to talk to the next wave of radicalised Muslims? These people had swallowed the same propaganda and let the fire be ignited in their hearts. They have been out there and they know how the story ends. Who better to talk sense to the next wave?
They are still young. Their ways are not set in stone. They are malleable. They represent the child who stuck his hand in the fire and got burnt and won’t do it again. Wisdom has come quickly to them.
One day they will not be so young and they will become hard. Right now they have hearts soft enough to hurt when they see acts of horror meted out on innocent communities. Leave them there and those hearts will harden and they will hurt less and less as time goes on and horror falls upon horror.
If other countries like Denmark, Sweden and Germany have set up programmes aimed at bringing them home we should be able to follow their example.
The times when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place it doesn’t help to be told that we have made our bed and must lie on it. It’s not about being soft on the offender and letting anyone off. Very often the way out of our rock and hard place requires effort to change our thinking about things. We have no “Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free” card that we can slap on the table when times are tough. We can’t snap our fingers, like Mary Poppins, and the mess of the floor tidies itself up.
No one expects it to be easy. A lot of hurt has been caused by the actions of radicalised young people to families and communities but now is not the time for writing them off.
When one prayer is answered it often leads to another connected prayer. I pray for a Spirit of repentance and forgiveness and for people to be given a new start. It is everything the Christian faith is about.