Smiling as Protest: Viral Photo Reveals More Images of Unfazed Women at Violent Protests

Saffiya Khan’s improbably calm stance – smiling, hands in pockets – in the face of a right extremist’s violent anger prompted Twitter users to dig up pictures of other women and girls rendering male anger impotent with their unfazed attitudes.

Saffiyah Khan and Ian Crossland. Credit: Twitter

Saffiyah Khan and Ian Crossland. Credit: Twitter

It’s highly unlikely you haven’t seen 24-year-old Birmingham resident Saffiyah Khan’s face somewhere on the internet in the last 24 hours. A photo of Khan smiling, unfazed as she’s faced down by an irate member of far-right group English Defence League (EDL) with a shouting policeman behind the two went viral within hours of it being taken on April 9 or 10, several news organisations, including The Guardian reported.

Khan was at Birmingham city centre to attend a counter-rally to protest the EDL’s Islamophobic rally when she spotted a fellow protestor “being surrounded 360” by angry EDL members. When she realised that the police were not reacting to the developing situation, Khan stepped in, leading to the currently viral and likely iconic picture.

Saira Zafar, the woman that Khan was helping described the experience of being surrounded to the Guardian, saying she felt unsafe as the men around her shouted things like, “This is a Christian country, not your country” and covered her face and head with an Islamophobic banner.

Khan’s improbably calm stance – smiling, relaxed shoulders, hands in pockets – in the face of EDL protestor Ian Crossland’s violent anger has also prompted Twitter users to dig up several pictures of other women and girls from a wide range of countries rendering male anger impotent with their unfazed attitudes.

Twitter user @Xas started the trend by posting the picture of a black female protestor standing up to a group of white, stone-faced men.

When she woke up the next morning, Xas was surprised by the massive response she had sparked on Twitter.

In fact, filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry’s posted an entire photo series of black women in the US standing unfazed in front of the police, showing that Khan has joined the company of countless protestors before her.

Twitter wouldn’t be the social platform we know and love if it didn’t provide a certain amount of snark for the road. Several users could not resist drawing comparisons between Khan and the infamous, withdrawn Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner.

A quick scroll through these Twitter threads stands visual testament to the magnitude of the Pepsi ad’s ignorance of what goes into a protest.

For Khan and Zafar, the photo’s viral status has provided them with a platform to draw more attention to their efforts to counteract rising nationalist and anti-Islam sentiments in the UK. In the following interview, Khan can be seen describing the events leading up to the photograph and the importance she places in practicing solidarity, along with the care she exercised in keeping her hands in her pockets to avoid taking any action that could be seen as incriminating or misread as aggression.

The incident has not been devoid of controversy though, with Crossland and other EDL protestors accusing Khan and her fellow protestors of starting the confrontation by disrupting the EDL rally’s minute of silence in honour of the victims of the terrorist attack in Stockholm. The BBC reported Khan as saying, “I’d like to make it very clear that people who know me…. would tell you and vouch for me that a minute’s silence by either side – the EDL or UAF (Unite Against Fascism) – I would happily respect.” She added that video evidence from the day clearly proves that the EDL’s claims of disruption are false and indicate an attempt to malign her and other protestors.

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