Hatun Tash is recovering well after being assaulted at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park last month. The attacker, who is still at large, appeared to aim for her neck, but Hatun deflected the knife so that it broke off in the folds of her clothes. Her bandaged right hand and scarred forehead are the only visible clues of her near escape. She tells me she started watching footage of the incident but couldn’t bring herself to finish. ‘All I can say is, it wasn’t my time.’
She speaks with the calm of a woman who has faced death before. In May, a mob surrounded her screaming for her blood. Last October, she was punched in the face. And in July last year, another mob dragged her to the ground for using a sheik’s own words to point out ‘holes in the narrative’ of the doctrine of Koranic preservation – the belief that the Koran is word-for-word unchanged from its original form.
Speakers’ Corner has, since the 19th century, been a place for open-air free speech, a key element in any healthy democracy. These days, it seems to be an increasingly unsafe space, especially if you want to challenge Islam.
Hatun is herself an ex-Muslim shunned by her own family since becoming a Christian. She has turned heads for years with her controversial tactics at the Corner. Whether holding up a ‘holey’ Koran or waving Charlie Hebdo cartoons, she knows how to draw a crowd. She has been arrested twice in the past year.
When asked about the criticism she faces, sometimes from other Christians, she sighs. ‘I get that critique a lot,’ she says. But there is method in her madness.
‘I used to be a very friendly person,’ she grins.