Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Birmingham woman goes viral after standing up to far-right protesters

edl-english-defence-league-birmingham-saffiyah-khan-2.jpg

A photograph showing a young British woman smiling in the face of a furious far-right protester has gone viral, with thousands of people around the world praising Saffiyah Khan’s courage and composure in the face of religious and racial hatred.

Infamous far-right organisation the English Defence League (EDL) organised a march in Birmingham on Saturday, in response to last month’s terror attack on Westminster. The attacker, Khalid Masood, is believed to have lived in Birmingham with his wife and children.

Khan had gone down to the city’s Centenary Square in solidarity with those opposing the EDL, and said that she had not intended to get involved in the protest. However, she came face to face with Ian Crossland – the leader of the EDL – after she intervened to help a Muslim woman who was being physically intimidated by members of his organisation.

A photographer from the Press Association captured Khan and Crossland’s interaction in a series of pictures, which have since been shared thousands of time on social media.

In the photos, Khan is smiling serenely, her hands in her pockets and her expression both calm and defiant – in stark contrast to the enraged Crossland, who appears to be being held back from the young woman by a police officer.

Khan, who lives in Birmingham, told the BBC: “I don’t like seeing people getting ganged up on in my town.”

She explained that she went down to the protest “because I am a Brummie.

“This was happening in Birmingham and it felt right,” Khan told the Mirror. “I am not a political activist. I wasn’t in a confrontational role; I wanted to keep a low profile.”


Read more: M.I.A. on music, mentoring and her podcast plans 


She continued: “I was there with a few friends to look after people – because Muslims and people of colour are often abused.”

Khan, who was born in the UK and comes from a Muslim background – she is half-Bosnian and half-Pakistani – said that she was surrounded by members of the EDL after stepping in to support a woman in a headscarf.

The woman, who was wearing a hijab, had shouted “racists” at the protesters, Khan explained. As a result, “about 20 to 25 EDL people ran over and surrounded her,” she said. “She looked absolutely terrified.”

Khan initially waited for the police to help the woman, but eventually decided she would have to intervene herself. “I stepped forward and identified myself as someone who supported her and contradicted them,” she said.

The woman was able to escape as a result of Khan’s intervention. However, this meant that the EDL – including Crossland, the group’s leader – now turned on Khan instead.

But despite Crossland aggressively jabbing his finger in her face, Khan said that she “wasn’t intimidated”.

“I just stood there. I didn't do anything, I wasn’t interested, that wasn’t my intention,” she said. “I couldn't understand what was being said though to be honest, it was all very mumbled.”


Read more: Lucy Mangan: The tragedy at Westminster can unite us


Khan continued: “I wasn’t scared in the slightest. I stay pretty calm in these situations. I knew they were trying to provoke me, but I wasn’t going to be provoked.”

She was eventually led away from the situation by police, without being arrested or charged.

The images of Khan and Crossland had been shared thousands of time on social media by Monday morning, with many praising Khan’s bravery and dignity (and her brilliant The Specials t-shirt). 

Others highlighted the contrast between the photos of Khan and the much-mocked Pepsi advert, in which Kendall Jenner dissipated tension at a protest by handing out cans of Pepsi.

The Guardian reports that only around 100 people were estimated to have marched at the EDL protest in Birmingham. Three times as many guests attended a counter-event organised by Birmingham central mosque at the same time: a “Best of British” tea party, complete with tea, cake and Union Jack bunting.

Addressing the estimated 300 people who attended, local MP Liam Byrne said the event celebrated “the quiet miracle of a normal life and the things that we love most about our city and our country”.

“Getting together as friends, getting together as neighbours, breaking a bit of Victoria sponge and having a cup of tea,” he added. “That is a potent, powerful message that we will send to those who seek to divide us.”

Main image: Members of the EDL photographed in Birmingham in 2011, Rex Features.

Related

we are not afraid sadiq khan london.jpg

Londoners share messages of unity and defiance after Parliament attack

Islamaphobia.jpg

What it’s like to be a British Muslim woman in a Trump-era world

black lives.jpg

“Why it’s time to talk openly about race”

Comments

More

Pirelli’s all-black 2018 calendar makes a statement about inclusivity

The tyre manufacturer aims to continue shaking off its reputation with a beautiful fairy-tale shoot

by Amy Swales
21 Jul 2017

The best A-list Instagrams from the week so far

From Nicole Scherzinger's glam squad to Reese Witherspoon's hair hack

by Nicola Colyer
21 Jul 2017

Lana Del Rey is changing her aesthetic because of Donald Trump

"I’m not going to have the American flag waving while I’m singing Born to Die."

by Moya Crockett
20 Jul 2017

BBC ever so politely shuts down backlash over first female Doctor Who

Some “unhappy” viewers contacted the broadcaster about Jodie Whittaker’s casting

by Kayleigh Dray
20 Jul 2017

“I have my demons”: Neelam Gill on racism, modelling and mental health

Stylist’s cover star is outspoken, honest and on the up

by Anita Bhagwandas
19 Jul 2017

Actresses who have braved playing iconic women from history

As Felicity Jones signs up to play Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we take a look at other movie stars who have played real-life legends

by Moya Crockett
19 Jul 2017

Madonna launches legal battle to get her Tupac breakup letter back

The emotional letter was set to go up for auction – but Madonna says it was taken without her consent

by Moya Crockett
19 Jul 2017

Kate Middleton’s honest response to being called “perfect”

The Duchess of Cambridge isn’t here for the myth of perfection

by Kayleigh Dray
18 Jul 2017

Christine Bleakley is over people asking when she’s going to have kids

“Everyone seems to be fascinated by my body clock…”

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Jul 2017

Woman cancels her wedding and invites homeless people to the party

“It’s a great opportunity to spread love.”

by Moya Crockett
17 Jul 2017