At a protest in Birmingham on Saturday, one young woman stepped up to the plate and went head-to-head with a member of the English Defence League (EDL), in an act of defiance against Islamophobia and far-right politics.
In a photo that has since gone viral, Saffiyah Khan, from Birmingham, is shown looking calm and smiling at the angry-looking EDL protester. Some suggested the image epitomises the multicultural city’s reaction to the march. According to reports, only around 50 people attended the march organised by the anti-Muslim group and EDL supporters were vastly outnumbered by counter-activists.
Speaking to the BBC, Khan said she stepped in to defend a “fellow Brummie”, a Muslim woman in a headscarf, who was “360 surrounded” by "a group of 25 quite big-looking EDL lads”. Khan said she hadn’t been part of an organised counter-protest and was “quite surprised” by the global attention the photo has received.
"I don't like seeing people getting ganged up on in my town," she said, adding that she had been trying “to stay out of the way”, but got involved when a woman shouted “Islamophobe” at the EDL members.
"She was 360 surrounded... I stepped forward and identified myself as someone who supported her and contradicted them," she told the BBC. The men then circled Khan instead and the photo was taken by a Press Association photographer.
Khan said: "He put his finger in my face. It was very aggressive. A police officer was there and the man took his finger out of my face. I wouldn't have responded violently," adding that she, “wasn’t intimidated in the slightest”.
The image has been shared thousands of times on social media, by MPs and public figures, among others. Birmingham Labour MP Jess Phillips retweeted the photo, asking: "Who looks like they have power here, the real Brummy on the left or the EDL who migrated for the day to our city and failed to assimilate." Meanwhile, Piers Morgan called it the “photo of the week”.
David Lammy MP also tweeted to say he had "so much love" for the photo and included a line of raised fist emojis to show his solidarity with Khan.
Others also took to Twitter to praise Khan for her actions, with some calling her a "badass" and saying she made her home city proud.