The woman who defied the far-right with a smile

'Sometimes it's more important to smile than shout'

Saffiyah Khan
(Image credit: PA IMAGES)

'Sometimes it's more important to smile than shout'

The image of Saffiyah Khan standing up to a EDL (far-right English Defence League) protestor went viral this weekend. In a world which seems to be increasingly divided by populism, anger and hate, the image of defiant Khan from Birmingham, smiling in the face of aggression has struck a chord with people around the world. The image has been hailed as a symbol of defiance against the far-right. Thousands of people, including Jess Phillips MP for Birmingham Yardley, were quick to tweet their support.

The EDL organised a public demonstration on Saturday 8th April in Birmingham, attracting about 100 members. A counter-protest was also taking place, a peaceful display organised by a local mosque with a 'best of British' tea party theme. Khan stepped in when she saw counter-protestor Saira Zafar - who was wearing a headscarf - surrounded by aggressive EDL demonstrators. Speaking to The Guardian, Khan said: 'She was quite a small woman. When I realised that nothing was being done [by police] and she was being surrounded 360, that’s when I came in as well.'

EDL protestor Ian Crossland, seen in the picture with Khan, later claimed that Khan had disrupted a moment's silence for victims of terrorism, calling her a 'left-wing scrubber’ who is 'lucky she has got any teeth left,' on his Facebook page.

However this was dismissed by a number of sources, including former EDL leader Tommy Robinson who described Crossland's claims as 'rubbish' and calling the photo 'embarrassing'.

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Zafar and Khan later met properly for the first time in a video for The Guardian where Zafar thanked Khan for stepping in and calling out racism: 'I just want to say thanks a lot for your help and for supporting me in that situation. It did really mean a lot. And together we defeated the EDL, I would say, at that rally.'

The EDL demonstration attracted about 100 people and was condemned by the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative leaders of Birmingham city council, who said the group was not and never would be welcome in their city.

And how does Saffiyah Khan feel about her new found fame?

'I'm waiting for it all to die down a bit so that I can start being productive in the fight against racism on the streets of the UK, beyond the crazy media interest at the moment.' she told Vice '[I've] got big things planned, focusing on the bigger picture. Being viral is worthless if nothing helpful comes of it.' What a woman.

Watch Marie Claire's #CallOutRacism video here.

Rosie Benson