Saffiyah Khan & The Woman She Stood Up For In The Viral Image Met IRL
You may have seen on social media — or here on Bustle — the viral image of a young woman standing and smirking in the face of a right-wing English Defense League (EDL) protester. The woman, Saffiyah Khan, is a Birmingham local and the hate group had come to the city to protest on Saturday. Khan stepped in to defend another woman — a total stranger, who was wearing a hijab and was being surrounded by the angry mob from EDL. Now, Khan has finally met the woman she was standing with and defending.
Khan finally met Saira Zafar on Monday, The Guardian reported. The two are both from Birmingham and by working together were able to change the story, ultimately keeping the EDL protest from having its intended anti-immigrant, anti-diversity message spread any further. Zafar told Khan that she was grateful to her for intervening. "I just want to say thanks a lot for your help and for stepping forward and supporting me in that situation,” Zafar told Khan, according to the British newspaper. “It did really mean a lot. And together we defeated the EDL, I would say, at that rally."
The two had some help by the moment being captured and shared so widely. The photo itself was taken by an AP photographer and then posted to Twitter by Labour Member of Parliament Jess Phillips with the message, "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?" The tweet has been retweeted 22,000 times, and the encounter has been written about in all sorts of media.
Khan spoke with Vice News about how she's hoping to use the moment to try educate against racism and Islamophobia in the United Kingdom. "I can start being productive in the fight against racism on the streets of the UK, beyond the crazy media interest at the moment. [I've] got big things planned, focusing on the bigger picture. Being viral is worthless if nothing helpful comes of it," she told the news website.
It seems she has a willing partner in Zafar, who was at the rally to counter EDL's message. She said the right-wing protestors told her, "‘You’re not English,’ ‘This is a Christian country, not your country,’ and ‘Go back to where you came from.’ I was alarmed and worried for my safety." That is when Khan stepped in, when she didn't see the police intervening as was necessary.
Zafar is sure that the EDL are wrong. "There’s no need for anything like this,” Zafar told The Guardian. “I’m sure we’re more than capable of living together, united despite our differences." She said that the city she shares with Khan is proof of that:
You just have to walk into Birmingham city centre to see how diverse it is. People of different colors, different religions. It’s an absolutely amazing city and such a beautiful city, and it’s nothing like the sort of message that the EDL came here to deliver.
With young activists like these two, it's easier to believe that there is hope in the face of messages of hate.