It was just over two months from the Christchurch terrorist attack in New Zealand that had claimed the lives of fifty-one Muslims. I was sat in my local hybrid-mosque for the Friday prayers. By day, and any another time of the week, this place was a Scouts’ club. By midday every Friday, it transformed into a makeshift prayer hall for local Muslims. I can’t remember the topic of the sermon; I do remember however looking at the steel bars on the windows and the steel beam across the emergency exit of this Scouts’ club wondering what would happen if some Islamophobic terrorist began “randomly” [1] shooting at us as we prostrated before God. How would I duck and attempt to escape or retaliate? The bars that were installed to protect against intruders coming in would prevent us from getting out. I looked around and wondered how many of my fellow worshippers entertained similar thoughts; what convoluted route of escape had they come up with that I had failed to note I wondered. Under the shadow of such attacks, we had all become a bit Jason Bourne-esque; instinctively figuring out our points of escape as we entered our places of worship. I made a mental note to raise this salient health and safety issue with our designated Health and Safety Muslim brother, “Mani abi” and re-focused on the sermon, sadly now long forgotten.

Post-prayer and the friendly scuffle to get our shoes on and get back to whatever it was we were doing pre-prayer, I began to make the short walk home from the mosque. As I approached a crossing, I looked over to my left to ensure that there was no vehicle coming my way. I noticed a black cab some way off and decided to cross given its distance. As I got to the middle of the road, the black cab began to accelerate. He could see me as clear as I him, as by this time our eyes were locked on each other. So, I did what any sane person would do in a similar situation; I walked slower as he drove faster, because why the hell not, all the while turning my body so I could maintain eye contact with the driver. It was like playing chicken with a black cab (!) What was I thinking; who knows. I guess I was a little tired of all the shit being thrown my way and I was not prepared to accept more, even if it was delivered by a speeding cabbie.

In that split second, I recalled reading somewhere that maintaining eye contact with your unsavoury interrogator reduces the risk of being tortured; the premise being that eye-contact helps to humanise the interrogated in the eyes of the interrogator. This untested claim had resonated with me because there were many reports of the Turkish authorities arresting and torturing so-called critics of the Turkish government in the past few years. As one such critic, I would fall within this category and I often wondered what I would do if I faced my prospective-torturer. I am not sure why my subconscious mind had served up this piece of, what was likely to be very bad, advice for the taking in a situation that was almost completely irrelevant to the original context for which it was intended. Maybe this was my subconscious minds’ way of giving me the two fingers for expecting it to produce anything more rational for that which was clearly an irrational tempting of fate. Did the eye-locking work with the heavy-footed cabby? Well, self-evidently, I have lived to tell the tale if that’s what you mean but I highly doubt that this had anything to do with my humanising “WTF” combined with “ah come on man” intense stare.

Having made it to the other side of the kerb, I became more reflective. Why had that just happened? Why did the black cab pick-up speed as he saw me crossing? Yeah, he was peed off, that much I get, but why? Was he in a state of peed-off-ness before encountering me or did I pee him off? If the latter, did my crossing pee him off or did this somehow have something to do with my Muslimness? It was then that I realised that before getting to me the black cab would have passed by the make-shift mosque from which my fellow brethren were now dispersing. “Hold up, was he an Islamophobic cabby? A type of Del Boy character who had been radicalised by the EDL in the recent past?” I asked myself as I raised one eye-brow for dramatic self-effect.

I caught myself in these thoughts almost as soon as they had arisen. The Christchurch attacks, and those like it, cause incredible carnage; they kill and maim but they also hijack our inner thoughts and taint our frame of references and inferences. Born and brought up as a practising Muslim in London, I had become accustomed to the constant siege on Muslims. From very early on, I refused to become a victim but was that refusal not a form of reaction? Could I refuse refusing? Can that which remains unmoved without effort be equated with that which remains unmoved by resisting a force to remove it? In sum, have we not become victims in spite of and because of our best efforts to refuse such a mindset?

It is with these thoughts that I sat before my computer back home to pick up on my doctoral thesis exploring the convergence of Islam and human rights. Technically, I have been working on this thesis for the past three years. In reality, I have been working towards this thesis for the past twenty-odd years in the sense that it is a culmination of my experience and cumulative theorisation coupled with practice to date. The question of integration, cooperation, dialogue, peaceful co-existence, and hybridisation had occupied me intellectually and experientially for a very long time. I was close to completion.

That’s when I saw the urgent emails and missed calls from my solicitor I had instructed last year. Seeing this many missed calls and “call my back urgently” emails from your solicitor is never a good sign, especially if they have been retained for a worrisome prospect. Could it be? The convergence of two “likely”s? On the one hand, “the most likely”, my solicitor calling to update me on an urgent matter pertaining to their purposes of retention. On the other, “the most un-likely”, the Home Office certifying a spurious extradition request by the Government of Turkey to extradite me to Turkey to face terror charges for posting critical tweets about her human rights’ abuses, for which purposes I had retained my aforementioned solicitors, should the request be certified. Like the two ends of a rapidly closing circle, the two “likely’s” had come together at the far end only to box me in the middle in the process.

As a British Muslim, I felt the pressure and pain of being hounded by the Islamophobic attack on all things Muslim and Islam by the newly reinvigorated, far right, post-truth, populist white supremacists. As a British Muslim of Turkish who subscribes to a notion of civil not political Islam, I felt doubly pressured and pained of being hounded by the populist, nationalist, Islamist regime of Turkey. In this respect, we were a minority within a minority. We were persecuted as Muslims, with Muslims, by Muslim-hating Islamophobes at one level while being persecuted as a certain type of Muslim, by anti-Western Islamists at another [2].

The line was ringing. My solicitor answered trying to act calm: “Ozcan, it’s crazy I know. I just got a call. You will be arrested on Monday 20 May at 9am by the Extradition Unit of the Metropolitan Police. Yes, I know, I can’t believe it but the Home Secretary [then-Sajid Javid] has certified your extradition request. We need to prepare!” That’s how it began. The white supremacist and black cab driver would have to wait, the Turkish regime had got me first.


[1] News stories often describe such attacks as “random” or “indiscriminate” killing. While some terrorist attacks are purely random, others are only relatively random in that they are random within a particular “target audience” but not beyond. The white supremacist terrorist attack in Christchurch was clearly aimed at randomly killing Muslims, but Muslims alone.

[2] This raises the following question; can an Islamist be Islamophobic? A similar question has been discussed in relation to Jews and anti-Semitism. Many commentators have concluded that a Jew can indeed be anti-Semitic in sentiment, expression and action. According to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, Islamophobia is “is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” This definition does not exclude one Muslim group hating another on the basis of their “expressions of Muslimness”, especially where the hatred is “rooted” in a sense of identity-based superiority, which is akin to racism.