The Woman Who Smiled at an EDL Protester

The Superiority of Non-Violent Resistance

The viral photo showing a young woman, Saffiyah Khan, smiling at an enraged English Defence League (EDL) protester that has been shared thousands of times on social media is recognised “as a symbol of Birmingham’s defiance in the face of the far right,” reports Frances Perraudin for The Guardian.

Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted:

The EDL demonstration took place last Saturday (April 8th) in Birmingham city centre and was organised by the EDL movement which describes the Islamic religion as “an authoritarian, political doctrine which imposes itself by force.” The Birmingham local said that the photo was captured when she defended a woman wearing a hijab, who had become surrounded by EDL protesters after she confronted them and called them racists.

Khan said, “When I realised that nothing was being done [by police] and she was being surrounded 360, that’s when I came in as well.” Furthermore, when asked about her recent ‘fame’ and praise on social media, Khan told Vice, “My aim right now is to just use [her online exposure] as a platform to do anything I can to reduce racism and Islamophobia in the UK.”

This act of defiance sends a powerful message to the alt-right and racist groups alike, as it depicts the simple nature of standing up to regressive acts and conservative modes of thinking. Saffiyah’s unadulterated reaction to the incensed EDL supporter reminds us that non-violent resistance is often superior to the oppressive and forceful nature of protests that have taken the world by storm. Non-violent movements and peaceful demonstrations maintain the power to unite, to re-establish solidarity and stand up for significant causes that affect aspects of our shared humanity.

Although the history books report on the numerous coups, rebellions and wars, it is the movements that employ non-violent resistance and support civil disobedience that gather people together and produce lasting results in unstable times.

In her book, Why Civil Resistance Works, Erica Chenoweth writes “For more than a century, from 1900 to 2006, campaigns of nonviolent resistance were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts in achieving their stated goals. By attracting impressive support from citizens…these efforts help separate regimes from their main sources of power and produce remarkable results.”

Saffiyah has kickstarted a movement, by proving that you can get your point across without the use of violent means and quietly face the far-right hatred and attitudes that pose threats to equality, acceptance and progression.

A smile has never been so outspoken.

The power of a smile gives power to the people.

Dominic is a Greek/American writer & editor; English and Theatre Studies Graduate

Article Discussion

  • Posted by Phil

    27 April, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    She was great to stand up to the kind of views the EDL hold. Later when being interviewed on TV she proudly wore a "Free Gaza" t-shirt. I could assume by this what her attitude to the regime outside of the Gaza walls would be. To be clear it is only an assumption. What I am having difficulty with is what her attitude might be to the regime inside of the Gaza walls? Would she stand up to them in the same way as she did the EDL? Perhaps we all need someone to hate and blame. Otherwise we would have to look at our own failings and take responsibility

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