I am leaving Covid Britain for my spiritual sanity

Why Istanbul may soon outrank London, New York and Paris as your dream relocation

Lauren Booth
8 min readSep 14, 2020

As I felt the front of the plane lift off the runway at Stansted airport, the breathe I hadn’t noticed I was holding released along with the words ‘Yes. Made it!’ Orhan, the young Turkish professor next to me, looked up from his mobile momentarily and raised a plucked eyebrow.

You see, I wasn’t heading to Turkey on a beach and bikini break (you’ll be glad to know). I was returning to the part of Istanbul that falls beyond Europe and into Asia — my second home since Covid hit the UK into lockdown, six months ago.

And if you have a job that travels well, something to sell and a belly for lamb and aubergines, join me. If you can work remotely via laptop, if you want a peaceful, more spiritual existence then — start a new life, as soon as you are able in this Muslim majority country.

There I’ve said it. The heresy that dare not breathe its name

There are cities in the Muslim world which are incredible places to thrive rather than survive. Some are so good (Doha is a taste of heaven) that I’m seriously starting think Muslims are keeping them secret just so westerners don’t flood there and kill the vibe.

Happiness and The Good Life

I’m not alone in changing my stance on European or American cities as ‘the best’ the world has to offer. Our media sources regularly feature studies ‘proving’ human happiness is more easily accessed in the farthest reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. The human population south of the equator, well, you just got handed a bad deal. Meanwhile, white superiority whispers in our ears ‘and the rest they messed up themselves.’

In his excellent book on modernity and the climate crisis, ‘Signs on The Earth,’ Dr Fazlun Khalid explores the way in which imperialist explorers saw the social situation of the peoples they ‘found’ and then exploited. Captain Cook, writing in his journal, on meeting Australian aboriginal people said;

‘These people may truly be said to the in the pure state of nature, and may appear to some to be the most wretched on Earth: but in reality they are far more happier than…we Europeans.’

Social scientists often recommend that measures of subjective well-being should be added to the usual measures of economic prosperity, such as GDP per capita. To which most of us outside the banking sector would say, well duh. The human happiness stats appear, at first glance, to prove only one ‘good life’ is to be had. It is secular. And it is based on the Eurocentric notions of progress.

Western cities are seeing a spike in depression and drug use during Covid

The Apocalypse Convention previously known as 2020

So much nuance is missing from these league tables that essentially they are redundant. In the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. Tragically, more than 2,000 14 to 18-year-olds are choosing the unknowns of death rather then life, dying by suicide. This is like losing a large high school’s worth of teenagers to suicide, year after year. The more we focus on wealth and stuff the less reason to stay alive people can find once their fridge is full.

Parks and high streets constantly filled with the fug of cannabis smoke, so heavy it clings to children’s school uniforms — who in their right mind would CHOOSE that?

A fez is not compulsory in 21c Turkey

Quiet city streets awakened by ancient litanies

Prof Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London has said of the new lockdown now almost inevitable due to a Covid spike: ‘And this isn’t a game. We shouldn’t be out trying to party as hard as we can in the run up to Monday’s lockdown.’ As if a warning like that is needed. Seriously?

Are there actually large amounts of young adults in our society so nihilistic and self obsessed they would hold ‘plague parties’ in a pandemic. The answer is yes. This is not normal folks.

Super spreaders, drunk on the idea of doing what they want, when they want, with no care for consquences on others, protest or party and spike upon deadly spike rolls on. Hedonism portrayed as liberty and selfishness packaged as freedom.

Meanwhile your local drug dealer is doing a roaring trade

‘Business is brisk’ says a friend’s son who sells (mostly) weed.

In the first shocked weeks of lockdown, some took the shocking decision to ask big questions — why am I here? Is there a God? But that didn’t last long. It’s incredibly difficult to seek out spirituality when you are waiting for the bailiffs — or to be sacked. Or to die in a care home without a visit from your children. Predictably, people quickly adapted to the closure of pubs and restaurants by grabbing even more alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences. A decade ago, I would have done precisely the same. A survey by a Scottish drug education charity Crew, found that 58% of their 300 respondents reported taking drugs more, not less, often.

The reasons are revealing:


More time

Stress and isolation.

At the Stanstead check in queue my best friend Anisa, sent me a short text. It said simply:

‘See you on the other side!’

She too has packed up her four storey rental home in South London to ‘get the hell out of Dodge’. Her cat, toddlers, teen daughter and adult cousin, Talib, were snugly packed into a 4x4 heading at speed right across Europe and to the Turkish border. And that isn’t all. Her network of London homeschooling families is leaving the sinking too. People are sick to their stomach of a British government which has no systematic plan to protect lives or jobs from the pandemic onslaught.

In my circles, nobody is talking about emigrating to New York, LA, Paris, London or Rome. Well, except Turkish students and refugees from war zones.

In July and August I was back home in the utterly charming, rural Garden City 30 minutes north of London, where I live outside term time with my university aged daughter. I spent a month visiting family. The tree lined avenues called me back to nostalgic childhood moments in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Until the opening of THE PILE. You know, the brown and white envelopes of doom. Council Tax ‘How much!?’ Gas, electricity, road tax. The feeling of skintness I had, the pressure about money was also a reminder of my childhood, and most of my adulthood.

Expats moving to Turkey can live an organic food lifestyle, in a brand new, sea view apartment for around 500 pounds a month. For a smaller, still lovely flat how does £150 a month sound? Worth a punt atleast, right?

So what’s Istanbul like under lockdown?

Well, it’s been kind of chill, thanks for asking. In the early summer when numbers spiked, Turkey instituted long weekend lockdowns which people observed. My daughter sadly, was in Manchester in April and May.

Looking forward in a city of golden histories

‘How are you doing’ she asked one night via Facetime. ‘Well’ I said, ‘we are in day 3 of a 4 day lockdown, but so far so good.’ She had been inside for 4 weeks. As measures here eased the government ordered that some days only the over 65’s were given free run of the major cities. The rest of us only allowed out for emergency food or medication. It was cute. Silver haired lovers strolled the sunny boulevards, holding hands. My poor mum in London was told to basically never leave home again.

The Muslim hordes are not at the gates of Vienna. We are eagerly scrolling estate agents in Islamabad, Kuala Lumpur, Doha and Kuwait City. But mostly, mostly, Istanbul, Antalya, Bursa and Gazientep.

We are leaving neoliberalism behind because it made us ill. Market-oriented reform policies, boom and bust, privatization and austerity. Our inner peace and our local communities suffering.

Of the 34,000 UK citizens, and growing, who emigrated to Turkey in the past 5 years, the majority though are non Muslim. Is it true that a Muslim, yes a Moozlum country has something special enough to lure secular and Christian families to leave their far wealthier homelands?

Come for the climate stay for the ease

Turkey can offer its residents a good climate, an active and healthy lifestyle, and most expats find they get a good value for money when they move to Turkey according to an expat web guide.

Istanbul straddles two continents, uniting east and west. For me, it’s hyper organised and efficient transport links — ferry, bus, underground and tram, make not having a car easy. I love to stroke the cats in the courtyards of the centuries old mosques which nestle, giving ease, to even prime time shopping traffic.

The British Muslims moving here started as a trickle around a decade ago. This is now a deluge the like of which Farage, Johnson and Talk Radio would approve. Today, as I write this my editor, Naveed, told me his is applying for citizenship here ‘God willing’ we both recite.

UK, Canadian and US Muslims are here to support the country, to help others, to learn the language and the culture. To be a positive addition to Turkish life. My friend’s farming project near Gazientep, will provide livelihoods for British expats and Syrian refugees.

The Grass is Always Greener

Back on the plane the young Turkish professor in his twenties expresses surprise at my keenness to leave the UK. His wife-to-be is Welsh. He has been teaching at a South coast university which he loves.

A hundred years ago, Jewish writer and intellectual, Leopold Weiss, left Austria for Palestine and as Mohammed Assad, went on to become a minister in the first government of Pakistan. He wrote extensively on the malaise of spiritual life in Europe.

“Our reason tells us that a community based on ideas held in common is a far more advanced manifestation of human life than a community resulting from race or language or geographical location.” Mohammed Assad, A Road To Mecca

‘I wish I could stay in Portsmouth’ Orhan says. His colleagues are lovely. Departments are ordered and well run, his career path looks good. The pay is ‘much much’ higher than he could dream of in Istanbul. Plus, the Turkish currency is tanking (true). I ask him which city he would like his family to settle in then…Portsmouth, Swansea? He looks at me like I have lost my mind. ‘My fiancee is flying out to Turkey in 3 weeks. We will bring up our children here. near my family. The UK has nice people, but no….’ he searches for the words ‘….No good ethics, spirituality or family values.’

Britain should be grateful if refugees, mostly Muslim, still want to come to its shores. An island which has relied on colonised nations to run its modern infrastructure, shouldn’t be so quick to shun the world’s waning interest.



Lauren Booth

Author of ‘In Search of A Holy Land’ (2021). Writer and performer of the acclaimed one-woman show ‘Accidentally Muslim.’