A photograph showing a young woman smiling in the face of the incensed leader of Britain’s far-right, anti-Islam English Defence League this weekend has gone viral as a symbol of defiance.
The image of Saffiyeh Khan and Ian Crossland has been shared thousands of times on social media.
It was captured during a demonstration by the league in Birmingham city centre on Saturday.
As the image was shared thousands of times on social media, Khan said she felt compelled to step in when Crossland and over 20 of his supporters confronted a woman wearing a hijab.
Khan, who was observing the protest, claimed police “did nothing” to protect the woman.
When she stepped in, the group turned on her and she was caught in a stand-off with Crossland which was caught on camera.
She is seen stood with one hand in her pocket calmly looking down at the irate Crossland.
Khan said: “The reason I was there was because I am a Brummie [a Birmingham local].
“I am not a political activist. I wasn’t in a confrontational role, I wanted to keep a low profile.
“I was there with a few friends to look after people because Muslims and people of colour are often abused.
“Nothing was really happening until a woman in a headscarf started shouting ‘racist’.
“About 20 to 25 EDL people ran over and surrounded her. She looked absolutely terrified. I still hung back and waited for the police to sort it out.
“I waited two or three minutes and but the police did nothing, so I decided to go and try and get her out of there.
“It all happened very quickly. She left, but then I was identified as anti-fascist. The group turned on me.
“Ian Crossland was poking his finger in my face, but I just stood there. I didn’t do anything, I wasn’t interested, that wasn’t my intention.
“I couldn’t understand what was being said – though to be honest, it was all very mumbled.
“But I wasn’t scared in the slightest. I stay pretty calm in these situations. I knew they were trying to provoke me, but I wasn’t going to be provoked.
“I was just holding out. Then I was just pulled out of there. I wasn’t arrested or charged.
“I have lost my anonymity because of the picture, but on balance it was worth it.
“I have probably been profiled by them now and I have to take one for the team.
“I didn’t realise how many people would be so supportive, so it was worth it.”
The demonstration attracted around 100 people, and was condemned by leaders of Birmingham city council, who said the group was not and never would be welcome in their city.
Tweeting the photograph, Birmingham MP Jess Phillips wrote: “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?”
TV host Piers Morgan dubbed the picture “photo of the week” and shared it on social media with the caption: “Enraged EDL racist stared down by amused, contemptuous Asian woman.”
Countering the protest, Birmingham central mosque held a “Best of British” tea party with union jack bunting, tea and cake.
Addressing an estimated 300 people, local MP Liam Byrne said the event celebrated “the quiet miracle of a normal life and the things that we love most about our city and our country.
“Getting together as friends, getting together as neighbours, breaking a bit of Victoria sponge and having a cup of tea,” he continued.
“That is a potent, powerful message that we will send to those who seek to divide us.”
Birmingham is “England’s second city” – the largest metropolis outside London with 2.5m people.
It’s also Britain’s most culturally and ethnically diverse city. According to figures from the 2011 census, 57.9% of the population identified as White, 4.4% of mixed race (2.3% White and Black Caribbean), 26.6% Asian (13.5% Pakistani, 6% Indian, 3% Bangladeshi, 1.2% Chinese, 2.9% Other Asian) and 8.9% Black (2.8% African, 4.4% Caribbean). Less than 1% are Arab. Some 57% of primary and 52% of secondary pupils are from non-white British families.
The English Defence League is a far-right street protest movement which focuses on opposition to what it considers to be a spread of Islam and Sharia in the United Kingdom. Its ideology is the belief that the faith of Islam “challenges an English, Christian way of life”. In October 2013 co-founders Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll left the group, with Robinson citing concerns over the “dangers of far-right extremism”.