Image of woman standing up to far-right protester goes viral

Photograph of Saffiyah Khan becomes symbol of Birmingham’s defiance of extreme right

A photograph showing a young woman smiling bemusedly at an incensed English Defence League protester has been widely shared as a symbol of Birmingham's defiance in the face of the far right.

The image, which has been shared thousands of times on social media, was captured during a demonstration by the far-right group in Birmingham city centre on Saturday. It shows a man, wearing an EDL T-shirt, staring into the eyes of the young woman, who is looking back at him unfazed. A police officer appears to be restraining the man.

The woman pictured has been identified as Saffiyah Khan, a Birmingham resident. She told the BBC that when the picture was taken, she had stepped forward to defend a friend who had been surrounded by a group of men.

“I don’t like seeing people getting ganged up on in my town,” Ms Khan said. She added that she was “quite surprised” by the reaction to the photograph.

The EDL demonstration attracted about 100 people, and was condemned by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative leaders of Birmingham City Council, who said the group was not and never would be welcome in their city.

The demonstration saw a heavy police presence, including riot vans. West Midlands police said two people, thought to be counter-protesters, had been arrested for alleged breaches of the peace.

Tweeting the photograph, Birmingham MP Jess Phillips wrote: "Who looks like they have power here, the real Brummy on the left or the EDL who migrated for the day to our city and failed to assimilate?" Her tweet had been shared and liked nearly 18,000 times by Sunday evening.

Journalist and television host Piers Morgan dubbed the picture “photo of the week” and shared it on social media with the caption: “Enraged EDL racist stared down by amused, contemptuous Asian woman.”

In an event organised to counter the EDL protest, Birmingham central mosque held a “Best of British” tea party , complete with Union Jack bunting, tea and cake.

Addressing the estimated 300 people who attended, local MP Liam Byrne said the event celebrated "the quiet miracle of a normal life and the things that we love most about our city and our country".

“Getting together as friends, getting together as neighbours, breaking a bit of Victoria sponge and having a cup of tea,” he added. “That is a potent, powerful message that we will send to those who seek to divide us.”

Guardian service