Praying is a remote experience

11th February 2005 at 00:00
The child of 2025 can log on to assembly, but has just been given a chance to vote for its abolition. Stephanie Northen joins Zara, 14, half Iranian and anxious not to lose touch with her roots, and Tod, 3, who speaks English and Mandarin and is monitored weekly to gauge his precise linguistic development

Zara rushed into the room. Her veil caught an empty chair and sent it spinning. She grabbed it and settled down in one of her secondary's solo-boxes. The 14-year-old had been lucky. Arriving late risked having to share a duo or - ugh, even worse - a multi-box. It was her one day a week at Canterbury's Islamic academy, one of 25 in the country. She'd never actually been to Canterbury, of course, something she got tired of explaining to her grandmother.

"There's no need, Gran. When I'm in the box it is just like being there.

And anyway, three-quarters of the other kids aren't really 'there' either.

Whatever 'there' means."

Her gran huffed. "If you're not 'there,' why do you bother to dress up? I hoped you kids would have grown out of all this religious stuff. But you're worse than we were."

Zara had to resist saying: "Well, that's not a surprise, is it, given what happened in the Middle East?" Her standard reply was that she was studying Iranian history, not religion, and it would count towards her diploma. And, anyway, she was half Iranian, and had a right to keep in touch with her roots. Although she never admitted it to anyone, she also liked being seen as a bit of a rebel. Not that her attendance at the Islamic academy was considered as outrageous as it used to be.

Tensions in the Middle East had eased when the oil wells ran dry. The West no longer wanted to run the show. Gran had asked her how she was going to vote in the referendum on removing religion from schools.

"Though I suppose you'll be against the idea. Whatever happened to rebellious youth?"

But Zara, like most of her mates, had been impressed by the Government's offer to drop the daily tedium of the mainly Christian assembly. The academy's chatroom was buzzing about it. It would have to give up daily prayers, too, of course. Most kids said that their parents would go ballistic, but they didn't think it was such a big deal. It was a secret ballot and only pupils voted.

The Union, which Gran persisted in calling the EU, was behind the move. It had poured millions of euros into winning over the youth of its 30 countries. Politicians warned that as the Union's economies came closer, its peoples grew further apart. The kids just enjoyed spotting the latest marketing technique intended to persuade them that their parents'

intolerance was intolerable.

The Union's TV channel was dull and the local youth councils alienated the cool kids who didn't want to spend their evenings discussing what type of organic parsnip to plant in the citizens' allotments.

Zara leaned back and yawned. She wished the student governors in the next room would ease off a bit. Just 'cos they were meeting the local councillors to choose their candidate for the Union's youth parliament. She could tell they were showing off from the tone of their voices. Didn't they have any self respect? Creeps.

After what everyone had gone through with demonstr8. Zara still got a thrill remembering it. The Union had wanted to lower the voting age for the youth parliament to eight. Government and parents had spouted patronising nonsense saying why it shouldn't happen. Their opposition had united children from all over the Union. They organised local and national protests, crashed official websites, indulged in cyber-terrorism, turned off their laptops and refused to go to school. Even the children's commissioner had stood up to the Government and got sacked for it.

The bonding that the protests inspired lived on. Zara still regularly logged on to the local demonstr8 club. Every year they celebrated the anniversary of their win, but it didn't mean they always actually voted... Her screen was signalling lunch. Time to check on what her friends were up to. She called up their icons. Matilda was logged on to the Shanghai kidsforum, the place to be. Soni was home with flu - annual jabs were getting less effective. And Janey was designing a visual to explain why everyone should stop drinking tea. Janey belonged to Geldof UK, and was forever going on about the unfinished battle against global poverty.

Matilda's icon was flashing.

"Any chance of borrowing your shalwar kameez?" she asked. "You know, the yellow one. It's just so where-it's-at..."

In Shanghai, thought Zara, wryly.

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