Frankly, it’s really rare for me to have anything remotely positive to say about anything to do with the English Defence League. But, looking back at their attempted ‘rally’ in Birmingham on Saturday (I say attempted because thankfully there weren’t actually all that many protesters there), there are a couple of good things that came out of it. And, to be fair, none of it is really anything to do with the EDL at all.
A photo of a young woman stood head to head with an EDL protester has been all over social media recently. And quite rightly so. It’s a bloody fantastic image that many of us didn’t even realise we really needed to see right now.
The young woman from Birmingham, Saffiyah Khan, is staring at a man in a black EDL t-shirt dead in the eye. The EDL man seems to be being held back/told off by the police officer in between them while Saffiyah, stood unnerved with her hands in pockets and a rather bemused smile on her face, stares on defiantly.
Sharing the image on Twitter, Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley wrote: ‘Who looks like they have the real power here, the real Brummy on the left or the EDL who migrated for the day to our city and failed to assimilate’.
People have compared this one to the now famous picture of Ieshia Evans in front of a line of armed police at a Black Lives Matter protest last year. And quite similarly it represents some sort of reassurance that in the fearful mess of what’s going on around the world, that there will always be people, real, normal people, willing to stand against injustice. Ground level resistance to the absurdity of the EDL does actually exist.
The beauty of these sorts of things, though, is that quite often the women who at the hand of social media become our heroines of the moment, are on a very basic level, just doing the right thing in situations that (understandably, of course) to many of us feel scary, overwhelming and really, really complicated. Saffiyah told the BBC that she was actually ‘quite surprised’ that the photo had gone viral. ‘I don’t like seeing people getting ganged up on in my own town’, she said. Simple.
Apparently, Saffiyah intervened when a woman shouted the word ‘Islamaphobe’ at the EDL and was subsequently surrounded by a group of about 25 men from the group, reports the BBC. So the men surrounded her instead. Not that it fazed her, though.
Elsewhere there was the 'best of British' tea party which was another little reminder of how, in the face of something really awful (the failed EDL rally), people can actually be really fucking fantastic. It was an event organised by a mosque in Birmingham in response to the 'hatred and division' of the EDL protest, reports the Guardian. We're talking union jack bunting, Victoria sponge and cups of tea enjoyed by an estimated 300 people (about three times as many as were at the rally, btw) at the Central mosque.
'We are just holding this even to show EDL that Birmingham is a peaceful city and we are all united irrespective of colour, race or religion', said Muhammad Afzal, chairman of the Central mosque.
Liam Byrne, a Labour MP who was at the tea party, described it as 'a potent, powerful message that we will send to those who seek to divide us'.
It's so easy to get lost in fear and frustration every time there's an attack, Trump does something stupid or an EDL demonstration. But what keeps me sane is knowing that resistance to what they represent is the only reason that EDL are being spoken about at the moment. It's the image of people like Saffiyah Khan and the country's overwhelmingly supportive response to a photo that was passed around on Twitter. That, and and the beautifully British prospect having a tea and a slice of cake while the idiots outside don't actually achieve anything.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.