In November 2018, I caused an international crisis.
It involved a late-night tweet, a number of far-right organisations and influencers, multiple hospitals across London, and a mischievous paediatrician, who had been allegedly whispering Islamic prayers into the ears of new-born children. The incident made it to a number of right-wing blogs and forums, as well as prominent British newspapers. Dozens of people demanded that the doctor be struck off, arrested by both the Metropolitan police and INTERPOL, and ‘deported to Pakistan’. Islamophobic influencers from America used the tweet as proof that the UK’s medical system, the National Health Service – which they’d already considered to be an evil, communist project – had been taken over by secret Islamists, and that it was only a matter of time before they did the same in other public institutions.
The only problem was that the entire story was fake. There was no mischievous doctor. The hospital that he not only worked at, but was the ‘chief doctor’ in, had never existed. Even theologically, the claim made no sense. But, since that night, the actions of that doctor have followed me, haunted me, and at times, even defined me.
I had recently moved to Rensselaerville, a small town in Albany, New York, to partake in a writer’s workshop. For two freezing cold months, I aimed to finish the manuscript of my first book – a study of young British Muslims and how they used social media – that was already months behind schedule. The town is one of the smallest in the state, with a population of just over 2,000 people, spread across acres of woodland. In the town, there is just one restaurant, a cafe that opened for two hours a day. The nearest city is a three-hour drive, while getting to New York City would require two additional train journeys. Which is to say that the appeal of the writer’s workshop was its remoteness and detachment from the world. That, in absence of the hustle and bustle of cities, you could do little more except read and write.