The woman who inspired the country with her defiance after a photo of her standing tall, fearlessly looking into the eyes of an EDL member and smiling with confidence, spoke to us about what was really going on when that photo was taken.
Saffiyah Khan, a Brummie girl, was not phased when a group of 30 EDL men stood around her shouting, and she said that ‘says a lot about them that a girl can stand there and not feel intimidated’.
Many people have shared the photo and called her strong and defiant, yet she explained that her expression was not the ‘fuck you’ that it seems, but that she was just listening to Ian Crossman, an EDL leader.
— Michael Cubey (@michaelcubey) April 9, 2017
Speaking to UNILAD, Saffiyah said:
It might be surprising to understand that I wasn’t intimidated. I think it says a lot about them that a girl can not be intimidated by 30 of them standing around.
I’ve had people telling me that I look like I’m smirking at him but I think I just have a resting face like that. I think I was just trying to understand him at that point. There’s no progress or dialogue between two groups if you’re just shouting at each other. So if he wanted to talk I’d let him talk, if he wanted to put his finger in my face, the police can deal with that.
I was there, it was quite a last minute decision because there’s a history of harassment and assault of Muslims, particularly women in headscarves and people of colour, at EDL demos and associated with members from there.
I’m a Brummie so I didn’t want anyone in my city feeling intimidated. I didn’t start anything until I saw someone else being intimidated.
Sadly it is exactly what I predicted. One I think she was Asian, a Muslim woman in a headscarf, she was quite petite, and lots of scary looking guys all around her. It’s really sad, but it’s exactly what I expected.
The EDL demo brought about 100 of its members to Birmingham, and as well as Saffiyah standing up to them, the community at the Birmingham Central Mosque organised a ‘Best of British’ tea party, open to all.
Saffiyah went on to explain why she was there:
My intention was to not involve myself unless I saw something like that happen. I understand the police are quite efficient at sorting stuff like that out, but I just think sometimes is more important just to see who has the same opinion as you, so you’re not on your own.
I was just observing the demo, I didn’t say anything, didn’t have any place cards, I just kept myself to myself and stayed put.
At one point, a very petite lady in a headscarf shouted ‘racist’ ‘Islamophobic’ etc and almost immediately a group of about 25 EDL members came running over, some of them quite big lads, really intimidating.
Even then I left it for two or three minutes for the police to sort it out but the sudden surge of it. The police weren’t expecting it because everyone had been quite calm. For quite a while she was being completely surrounded and they were telling her she wasn’t a Brit, she didn’t belong here, they didn’t want Sharia law, and basically using her as a bit of a scapegoat.
After realising the police weren’t doing a great job and she looked very intimidated and holding up place cards saying ‘no Muslims’ which is obviously not a great situation to be in, so I stepped in after a few minutes just to get a bit closer and offer her any kind of support whatsoever even if it was just verbal support.
When it climaxed, I was openly supporting her at this point and the EDL had identified me as someone who was counter-protesting, but I very much just went with it as it happened.
A powerful image of a young woman in control facing down a EDL thug in Birmingham! ?????? well done Girl ? pic.twitter.com/UZeKwygkCc
— Mikke (@Mikkesmodels) April 9, 2017
The EDL then identified Saffiyah as someone who was against their beliefs and so surrounded her instead, but she ‘wasn’t phased by it particularly’ and was trying to have discussions.
It was at this point that the police stepped in and the photo of her and Crossman, was taken, including one shot where he put his finger in Saffiyah’s face and the police had to remove it.
He put his finger right in my face and I was like ‘yeah come on, put it in my face’.
I had water thrown on me by and EDL steward, who was meant to be working directly with the police and they are supposed to be the most reliable of that group, and that says a lot about them really.
It might be surprising to understand because people on the Internet have found is surprising, that I wouldn’t be intimidated. I think it says a lot about them that a girl can not be intimidated by 25 of them standing around.
She described the EDL as a ‘group of people who are angry, but it’s misdirected anger’ explaining that ‘there are so many more productive ways we could be combating all the things which are really valid arguments like that grooming cases’.
Saffiyah was sure not to belittle the EDL’s opinion and expressed how their opinion was just as valid as hers, but made clear how cases such as the Rotherham grooming can not be put down to religion.
Saffiyah was there to give other ‘women of colour’ a ‘friendly face’ in the demonstration which can be very hostile by nature.
The EDL left their demonstration with negligible impact on anything, but the Saffiyah, though she didn’t mean to look so defiant, has inspired many people to not be intimidated.