We spoke to Saffiyah Khan about smiling in the face of hatred, and her inadvertent rise to fame
‘I have no respect for cowards’
Saffiyah Khan had no idea the international attention she would later gain, as she walked past a march carried out by the EDL at the weekend.
She saw a woman being “surrounded 360” by a number of male members of the English Defence League, and her photo was taken at the moment she stepped in to defend her.
The calm, and slightly amused expression on her face has been hailed as a symbol of stoney defiance in the face of aggression and prejudice. Even Tommy Robinson has said the photo is “embarrassing” for the EDL.
Since then her face has appeared in every national paper, all over twitter and even reaching the media in countries as far away as New Zealand.
We spoke to her to find out how things have been since her smile went viral.
So how’s the response been so far?
It’s been mainly good, there’s just been a bit of a rise in internet trolls. It’s confined to their little pages.
So just people being dicks?
You’ve been hailed as the face of Brummie defiance. Do you live in Birmingham?
Yeah, I’m from Birmingham, I’ve lived here for 15 years.
How did you end up at the protest on Saturday?
I knew it was on, but I didn’t go there to counter-protest.
When you saw the EDL members surrounding that woman, can you explain what their demeanour was like?
It was just aggressive and an attempt to intimidate her. A cowardly attempt to intimidate her.
Have you ever seen anything like this before? Or tried to step in?
I’ve never witnessed any Islamaphobia before in the past. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a situation where there’s been a confrontation.
And what was the group like?
There was a mix of people there, but their aggression is what really shone through.
If you could say anything to Ian Crosslands or those members of the EDL who were present, what would you say?
At the moment, allegations have been made that I went there to provoke the situation. Although Ian Crosslands is one of the leaders of the groups, I don’t think he represents the group as a whole. I’m not addressing him.
You’ve lived in Birmingham for a while, what do you love about it?
We have a lot of input from lots of different cultures, religions and time periods. It’s rich in history.
Did you feel like members of had come from outside of Birmingham and ‘failed to assimilate’, as put by Jess Phillips MP?
I’m sure there are were members of the group who were from Birmingham, but I think a lot of them were brought it. They simply don’t have that amount of support in Birmingham. We know for a fact that their numbers are dwindling since their last rally in Birmingham a couple of years ago.
And did you think at any point he would be physically aggressive?
You can’t be certain of anything in that situation. I wasn’t particularly prepared for it, I didn’t really have a developed plan of action at the point. It was very much just as it came. If he’d have become physical, there wouldn’t have been very much I could have done. The police were there.
Did you think he might hit you?
I guess he had the opportunity to hit me and he didn’t.
And was any part of it in you the fact it was a group of men against one woman?
I would have stepped in to help anybody, even if a member of the EDL had been surrounded, too – I just don’t think it’s right. But I think the fact it was a group of mainly men, it was just cowardly. I’ve got no respect for people who think they can justify that behaviour.
And how have things been for you the last few days since? Have you enjoyed it, has it been manic?
I mean it’s not particularly enjoyable, no. It’s taken up a lot of my time. It’s not something I would have wanted to do if I could have chosen. But the fact I’ve been put in the position means I had two choices, do nothing about it or use it as a platform.
Do you know if you’ll go anywhere with it? How things will go from here?
I’m just hoping the support won’t die and this won’t be the end of it. I want to direct the support away from me and more towards opposing the EDL.
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