By News Desk
An image of an unfazed half-Pakistani, half-Bosnian woman standing her ground, smiling at an English Defence League protestor took social media by storm on Sunday.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, the woman of the hour, Saffiyah Khan said she ended up going to the EDL rally “because there is a history of harassment and assault of Muslims, vulnerable members of the public and people of colour at the the demos and outside of it.”
“I went with the intent of showing support for anyone who was assaulted or harassed by them.”
“I don’t like seeing people getting ganged up on in my town,” she said to the BBC.
Khan said she was not interested in getting involved but was left with no choice when she saw another woman who, shouted ‘Islamophobe’ at the protestors, was surrounded by EDL demonstrators. “A group of 25 quite big-looking EDL lads, they surrounded her,” she told BBC. “She was 360 surrounded… I stepped forward and identified myself as someone who supported her and contradicted them.”
According to the British broadcaster, Khan asserted that she “wasn’t intimidated in the slightest”, Khan added that the protestor [in the picture] “put his finger in my face. It was very aggressive. A police officer was there and the man took his fingers out of my face. I wouldn’t have responded violently”.
“Everybody lives alongside each other in complete harmony”, she explained to Buzzfeed. “You just have to walk into Birmingham city centre to see all people of different races, different religions living side by side”.
The woman whom Khan stepped in to protect, told the Independent that she heard comments painting Muslims and Islam as violent and “a threat of some kind that needs to be tackled” at the rally.
“Now me being a Muslim, I could not stay silent. I could not allow that narrative being thrown around in public in such a central location in the city of Birmingham. [It] is such a vibrant city with so many different races and we all live alongside each other really peacefully,” she said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the woman said she retorted with a “No to Islamophobia” “No to war” when the demonstrators rushed towards her. “It was like a swarm of them. They came at me so aggressively”, she said. “They had fully surrounded me and they were trying to get past the two or three officers who stood in front of me and the few counter protesters who were standing next to me”.
“These EDL members were trying to get past the police officers. They were shouting things like ‘you’re not English, this isn’t your country, this is a Christian country and go back to where you came from’”, she told the news daily.
She mentioned being intimidated by the protestors. “I was so scared and so threatened by these people. Prior to me even saying a word, when they saw me there… the sort of looks I was getting from them – they were staring right through me in a really angry sort of way. The way they were looking at me… it was like they wanted to eat me.”
But she was more grateful for those who came out to support her. “It was nice to see that there were some people who came and stood side by side with me and actually put their hands on my shoulders, giving me that support, saying ‘we are here with you’. I think maybe one of them was Muslim”.
Speaking to BBC, Khan expressed her surprise on her photo, taken at the EDL protest on Saturday afternoon, going viral. The photo had been shared by Piers Morgan, who called it “photo of the week” and Birmingham Labour MP Jess Phillips, among many others.