The Woman Smiling At A Far-Right Protester Is Going Viral

by Celia Darrough
Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images News/Getty Images

While observing a protest in Birmingham, Saffiyah Khan felt she needed to step in. A group of men from the far-right group English Defence League (EDL) reportedly surrounded a woman wearing a hijab who had spoken out against the far-right protesters. Seeing this, Khan stepped in closer, and the photo of her smiling at an EDL protester as he spoke quickly became a viral lesson in a good way to handle one's self and stand up for one another.

"I didn't start anything until I saw someone else being intimidated," she told British media website UNILAD. "I'm a Brummie [from Birmingham, England] so I didn't want anyone in my city feeling intimidated."

Khan further detailed how that moment came to be:

At one point, a very petite lady in a headscarf shouted "racist," "Islamophobic," etc., and almost immediately a group of about 25 EDL members came running over, some of them quite big lads, really intimidating.
For quite a while she was being completely surrounded and they were telling her she wasn’t a Brit, she didn’t belong here, they didn't want Sharia law, and basically using her as a bit of a scapegoat.
After realising the police weren't doing a great job, and she looked very intimidated and holding up place cards saying "no Muslims," which is obviously not a great situation to be in, so I stepped in after a few minutes just to get a bit closer and offer her any kind of support whatsoever even if it was just verbal support.

According to Khan, after she stepped in, some EDL protesters began speaking at her, including reported EDL leader Ian Crossman, and the viral photo was snapped. However, she told UNILAD she wasn't necessarily giving him the smirk it seemed like she was giving:

I think I was just trying to understand him at that point. There's no progress or dialogue between two groups if you're just shouting at each other. So if he wanted to talk I'd let him talk, if he wanted to put his finger in my face, the police can deal with that.

The photo, which was taken by Press Association regional photographer Joe Giddens, earned a lot of praise, with tweets from around the United Kingdom and the world mentioning her calm demeanor in the face of hate. "This is simply the most perfect response to EDL hatred; calm, somewhat nonchalant, defiant, and smiling," wrote Jo Grady, a professor at the University of Leicester.

And while Khan said she was surprised by the viral response to the photo, she was even more surprised that some people were shocked at how she responded. "It might be surprising to understand that I wasn’t intimidated," Khan told UNILAD. "I think it says a lot about [the EDL] that a girl can not be intimidated by 30 of them standing around."

Khan's confidence shone in the photo, as she never backed down from staring at Crossman. And while it may not have been her intention, she has certainly served as an inspiration for many on how to handle hate and stand up for fellow human beings as well.