News World Saffiyah Khan: the woman who defied far-right protesters in Birmingham
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Saffiyah Khan: the woman who defied far-right protesters in Birmingham

Saffiyah Khan (left) staring down English Defence League protester Ian Crossland at a Birmingham demonstration. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
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A young woman smiling in the face of intimidating English Defence League (EDL) protesters in Birmingham has become a symbol for the city’s defiance against the far-right.

The photograph depicts EDL demonstrator Ian Crossland staring down a young woman, identified as Saffiyah Khan, while appearing to be somewhat restrained by police.

Press Association photographer Joe Giddens noted that Ms Khan said she was “not scared in the slightest” during the tense confrontation.

The image has since gone viral on social media since it was captured during a demonstration on Saturday.

Saffiyah Khan (left) staring down English Defence League protester Ian Crossland during a Birmingham demonstration.
Saffiyah Khan (left) smiles at EDL protester Ian Crossland. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Ms Khan, whose family is of Bosnian and Pakistani background, told The Guardian the photo had been taken shortly after she had intervened when a woman wearing a hijab was shouted at and targeted by a group of protesters after the woman had accused them of being racist.

“She was quite a small woman,” Ms Khan told the newspaper.

“When I realised that nothing was being done [by police] and she was being surrounded 360, that’s when I came in as well.”

She described the man who confronted her soon after as “an angry man having a bit of a rant”.

The EDL demonstration attracted a heavy police presence, including riot vans, and was condemned by the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative leaders of Birmingham City Council.

Labour MP Jess Phillips for Birmingham Yardley tweeted her praise for Ms Khan’s courageous stand against the EDL protester.

An anti-extremist group Hope Not Hate shared a Facebook post allegedly from protester Ian Crossland’s account, in which he accused Ms Khan of disrupting a minute’s silence for terror attack victims.

“The dirty unwashed left-wing scrubber was grinning because she managed to disrupt a demo,” Mr Crossland’s post read.

“And the disrespectful witch chose the minute’s silence for the victims of the terror attack in Stockholm and Westminster.

“She’s lucky she got any teeth left.”

But Ms Khan rejected his claims.

“Anyone who knows me will agree that I would respect a minute’s silence for the death of innocent people, regardless of who was holding it,” she told Vice News.

“That is a matter of my conscience, and it is a powerful tool.”

Two days after the incident, Ms Khan was reunited with the woman she had defended at the protest, Saira Zafar.

“I just want to say thanks a lot for your help and for stepping forward and supporting me in that situation,” Ms Zafar said, as reported by The Guardian.

“It did really mean a lot. And together we defeated the EDL, I would say, at that rally.”

EDL former leader Tommy Robinson tweeted that he found the photo “embarrassing”.

Ms Khan told Vice about her ambitions to “fight against racism on the streets of the UK”.

“[I’ve] got big things planned, focusing on the bigger picture,” she said.

“Being viral is worthless if nothing helpful comes of it.”

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