Members of a far-right group in England held a protest on Saturday, storming the streets of Birmingham in an attempt to flex their political muscle. But the protest backfired when, rather than trying to show off the group's supposed strength, it produced a soon-to-be-iconic photo of a young woman confidently staring down one of the huffy, exasperated demonstrators. The photo quickly went viral, and this led many people to wonder: Who is Saffiyah Khan, the Birmingham woman in the picture?
The protest in question was held by the English Defence League, a British protest movement. According to the group's website, it refers to Islam as a "barbaric evil cult," and has recently been staging protests against Muslim immigration to the United Kingdom. A relatively small crowd of 50 members and sympathizers of the group gathered in Birmingham on Saturday to spread its message.
However, the most notable thing to come out of the protest was this photo. It shows Khan, looking as cool as a cucumber and mildly amused, standing un-phased as incensed EDL protester — actually Ian Crossland, the leader of the EDL — ineffectually shouts in her face. It was a wonderful depiction of powerful, non-violent resistance. Press Association photographer Joe Giddens took the now-iconic photo.
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 pic.twitter.com/bu96ALQsOL— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) April 8, 2017
Khan, who is half-Pakistani and half-Bosnian, was born in the United Kingdom and lives in Birmingham. She told the BBC that she wasn't part of a counter-protest, and didn't intend to get involved at all — she was merely there to observe the protest. But at one point, according to Khan, a Muslim woman shouted "Islamophobe" at the protesters, and the protesters responded by encircling the woman.
"She was 360 [degrees] surrounded," Khan told the BBC. "I stepped forward and identified myself as someone who supported her and contradicted them."
Khan says that after she did this, the protesters started gathering around her instead, which is what led to the confrontation with Crossland. She told the BBC that Crossland put his finger in her face and was "very aggressive," but that she "wouldn't have responded violently" (and she didn't). Khan, who says she was surprised that the photo went viral, added that she "wasn't intimidated in the slightest."
A brief video from the protest shows Khan being escorted away after the confrontation, appearing every bit as composed and pleased as she was moments earlier.
"I don't like seeing people getting ganged up on in my town," Khan said.