Maybe she should have handed the guy a Pepsi.
A Muslim woman who was pictured this weekend calmly facing down an anti-Muslim demonstrator with an expression of amused contempt has become a social-media phenomenon.
The woman was confronting a protestor from the so-called English Defense League, on the streets of Birmingham, England’s second largest city. The EDL is a far-right group that describes itself on its website as “a street movement from the English working class” that is “the forefront of the counter-jihad,” refers to Islam as a “barbaric evil cult,” and frequently organizes demonstrations to protest immigration and multiculturalism.
Tweeting the photograph, Birmingham Member of Parliament 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 reposted 10,000 times by Monday morning.
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 woman wearing a hijab who had been surrounded by a group of men.
She said she had initially been happy “to stay out of the way,” but “stepped forward” when another woman shouted “Islamophobe” at members of the EDL who had gathered in Centenary Square.
“A group of 25 quite big-looking EDL lads surrounded her,” she said.
“I stepped forward and identified myself as someone who supported her and contradicted them.”
Khan, who was born in the U.K. and is half-Pakistani, half-Bosnian, said she “wasn’t intimidated in the slightest.”
She added: “He put his finger in my face. It was very aggressive. A police officer was there and the man took his finger out of my face. I wouldn’t have responded violently.”
“I don’t like seeing people getting ganged up on in my town,” Khan said.
The EDL demonstration attracted around 100 people, and was condemned by political leaders of Birmingham city council. The city’s population is about 22 percent Muslim, in comparison to a national average of around 4 percent.
Birmingham’s central mosque hit back at the protest in truly British style by organizing a tea party.
Addressing the estimated 300 people who attended, local Member of Parliament Liam Byrne said, “Getting together as friends, getting together as neighbors, breaking a bit of Victoria sponge and having a cup of tea. That is a potent, powerful message that we will send to those who seek to divide us.”
The picture has drawn comparison with Hans Runesson’s 1985 shot, A Woman Hitting a Neo-Nazi With Her Handbag taken in Växjö, Sweden. The photograph was taken during a demonstration of the Nordic Reich Party supporters. It was named Picture of the Century by the magazine Vi and the Photographic Historical Society of Sweden.
The woman in the photograph was of Polish origin and her mother had been in a concentration camp during World War II.