THE STORY BEHIND THE VIRAL PHOTO OF A BRITISH WOMAN WHO STOOD UP TO EDL
Issue Date 22 - 28 Apr, 2017 at 2:00 PM
Ihave had occasion before to mention the English Defence League in my despatches, albeit not with any great admiration for what it does or what it stands for. It is an organisation that is extreme right wing in orientation and under the garb of protecting basic English values, is steadily taking on an increasing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stance. In fact, in a recent report it was described by a respected publication as an ‘anti-Muslim organisation’.
A few days ago the English Defence League took out a march in Birmingham which has a very substantial Muslim population, mostly of Asian origin. The march was fraught with tension as there was every possibility of a strong reaction.
In the event it was only a small number that turned out for the League, no more than 50 or so by some counts. Even so, like the Viking raiders of more than a millennium ago, even a small band of these hoodlums can create a fair amount of damage if they decide to go that way. There was a police presence which was entrusted with the duty of keeping the two groups apart but given the small size of the two groups, perhaps some intermingling was inevitable.
Midway through the demonstration, the EDF demonstrators saw a young Muslim girl, readily identifiable because she wore a hijab. She was 24 years old and her name is Saira Zafar; she was at once set upon verbally by the EDF, who came close to her shouting slogans like ‘You’re not English,’ ‘This is a Christian country, not your country,’ and ‘Go back to where you came from.’ Saira was understandably alarmed and worried for her safety.
At this moment, seeing a young Muslim girl in trouble, the hero of the piece stepped in. She is another young Brummie (that is what people from Birmingham are called, but it is not meant to be a term of derision by any means) of Asian origin called Saffiyah Khan who stepped up and took the EDL demonstrator on – not by indulging in a counter verbal tirade against him but just by staring down at him with a look of quiet amusement and nonchalant contempt on her face. Saffiyah, much more self-assured than Saira and dressed like any young British, appeared to have no fear whatsoever and appeared to be as cool as the proverbial cucumber, as if to tell the EDF guy that his fire and verbal brimstone was all a bit idiotic and rather pointless, because people who had been here for five decades and sometimes even more, were not going anywhere.
That picture, of Saffiyah looking down with calm bemusement, was captured by a photographer and went viral on the British media. There was hardly a newspaper that did not carry it and hardly anyone who did not react to it giving full praise to Saffiyah and full condemnation to the EDF. Saffiyah was proclaimed as the ‘true Brummie’, nonchalant, self-assured, calm and unruffled, while her adversary was described as the one who needed to integrate into British society because the values he was representing were not British at all.
In fact, the Muslim community won this encounter by an innings and a bit and not just because of Saffiyah. While the EDF was demonstrating and shouting abuse, the local mosque invited all comers to that typically English afternoon refreshment, tea and cakes. People from all walks of life and all ethnicities were made welcome as the various features of the mosque were explained to them. There was friendship and geniality all around, in complete contrast to the atmosphere at the EDF march.
A day later, Saffiyah and Saira met formally for the first time. Saira, of course, was very grateful to Saffiyah for intervening at a time when things may have gone out of control while Saffiyah, in true Brummie fashion, felt that these things (like the EDF march) needed a reply and that it was not good enough to sit back and let people like the EDF have their way. The EDF marchers made an effort to muddy the waters by claiming that Saffiyah Khan had shown disrespect to a call for a minute’s silence for those killed in the terror attack at Westminster, but this was strongly denied by Saffiyah and shown to be completely false. In the end, even the EDF had to admit that this one picture had taken all the air out of their balloon. Not that this will in any way deflate or discourage them; people who perpetuate hate are never discouraged simply because they do not have the brains. If they had anything above, they would not make hate their business.
But if ever a picture was worth a thousand words, this has to be the one. •
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