BIRMINGHAM – The Muslim woman, who appeared smiling serenely in the face of an irate member of the far-right English Defence League in Birmingham demo, met the woman she defended after her image went viral on internet as a sign on defeating hate.
“I just want to say thanks a lot for your help and for stepping forward and supporting me in that situation,” said Saira Zafar, the woman on a blue hijab who was defended by Saffiyah Khan, The Guardian reported on Tuesday, April 11.
“It did really mean a lot. And together we defeated the EDL, I would say, at that rally.”
Zafar, 24, had been attending a counter demonstration “to show that [the EDL’s message] is not acceptable and that it will be countered” when she was cornered by the far-right protesters shouting abuse at her.
She said: “They were saying, ‘You’re not English,’ ‘This is a Christian country, not your country,’ and ‘Go back to where you came from.’ I was alarmed and worried for my safety.”
Khan said the police were not responding, so she stepped in: “I wasn’t going to let someone who was speaking the truth and being replied to aggressively be put in that position. You didn’t look like you wanted to be there and I have an intrinsic problem with that.”
Zafar said: “At the time, I did appreciate the support. But I couldn’t see exactly who was around.”
“Absolutely, it was complete chaos,” said Khan. “Can you vouch for me as well that they were 360 [degrees] around you? They were closing in.” Zafar agreed, saying: “Yeah, there were so many of them.”
Saffiyah Khan was pictured smiling at angry-looking Crossland as she faced him, with one hand in her pocket, at an EDL rally on Saturday.
She felt compelled to step in when more than 20 EDL supporters reportedly confronted a woman wearing a hijab who had been shouting at them.
The powerful picture, taken in Birmingham, has since gone viral, leading to Saffiyah becoming a hate figure of right-wingers on social media.
“There’s no excuse to be doing nothing really,” said Khan later.
“Even if it just means calling the police and saying I just witnessed this. Even if there’s no violence … just reporting it to the police means it comes up on their stats and they can look at it all and start working on ways to combat it.”
Tommy Robinson, the EDL’s former leader who now leads another far-right group, Pegida UK, tweeted that the picture was embarrassing.
“OK, just had confirmed by a friend who was at EDL demo, this lady was defending a woman in a navy hijab as she said to the papers,” he wrote. “[And] I don’t care how many people don’t like me saying that, the truth is the truth. [And] the picture is embarrassing.”
“I was a little bit confused about what he said because, as far as I’m aware, he was completely supportive of the exact narrative that the EDL preach,” Zafar said.
“The picture definitely is embarrassing for the EDL,” added Khan. “Personally I don’t know how much I agree with him, but that statement is bang on.”
“There’s no need for anything like this,” said Zafar, reflecting on the past two days. “I’m sure we’re more than capable of living together, united despite our differences.
“You just have to walk into Birmingham city center to see how diverse it is. People of different colors different religions. It’s an absolutely amazing city and such a beautiful city, and it’s nothing like the sort of message that the EDL came here to deliver.”