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Checking in with Saffiyah Khan, the Woman Who Faced Down the EDL

I know Saf from punk gigs and the skate park; the world now knows her as the woman out of the viral photo from this weekend's far-right demo.

(Top photo: Saffiyah Khan faces down EDL protester Ian Crossland during a demonstration in Birmingham. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire/PA Images)

My friend Saffiyah went viral over the weekend when a photo of her smiling at EDL leader Ian Crossland was posted online. The story behind the photo is this: following the attack in Westminster at the end of March, the far-right group decided to head to Birmingham this weekend to "demonstrate", i.e. to drink publicly and shout about halal butchers. 

At one point, Ian Crossland and around 20 other EDL members confronted a woman in a hijab, who had been counter-protesting the demo. When police failed to step in, Saffiyah did instead, and the photo was taken. 

Crossland alleged that the real reason he confronted "the dirty unwashed left wing scrubber" was because she had disrupted a minute's silence for the victims of the recent Westminster and Stockholm attacks. However, even former EDL leader Tommy Robinson called bullshit, confirming that Saffiyah had stepped in to defend the woman and calling the picture "embarrassing". 

While I know Saf from going to punk gigs together in Birmingham, and for the fact she can skate while holding yoga poses, the rest of the world is now applauding her for, above all else, remaining chill. I spoke to her very briefly while she fielded calls from the world's media.

VICE: First off, how does it feel to be perhaps the only Brummie under the age of 60 on the front page of the papers?
Saffiyah Khan: It's an important moment for Birmingham.

That it is. So the fallout from this photo, then – I've seen some EDL supporters claiming that you were interrupting a minute's silence for victims of Islamic terrorism. What's that about?
Yeah, there's contradictory video evidence. 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. That is a matter of my conscience, and it is a powerful tool.

So you're not letting any of the backlash bother you?
Do I have worries? I guess not. We'll see how it plays out. I'm always chill; life's good. 

A selfie Saffiyah sent the author of her ruminating and remaining chill.

How would you like it to play out?
I'm waiting for it all to die down a bit so that I can start being productive in the fight against racism on the streets of the UK, beyond the crazy media interest at the moment. [I've] got big things planned, focusing on the bigger picture. Being viral is worthless if nothing helpful comes of it.

So how exactly are you going to use this newfound online fame?
My aim right now is to just use it as a platform to do anything I can to reduce racism and Islamophobia in the UK. It's really not about any personal struggle with fame; I'm hardly a celebrity – it's more about the symbolism in the picture than who I am.

Have Pepsi been in touch about their next advert?
Nope [laughs].

Cool, thanks Saf – good luck with the rest of those phone calls!

More on VICE:

How the Campaign for a New Midlands Mosque Was Hijacked By the EDL

What the Left Can Learn from the Alt Right

How the Far-Right Has Already Capitalised On the Westminster Attack