One of the most striking photos of 2017 is currently making its way around the internet, and the photo depicts a woman smiling with defiance and her hands firmly in her pockets while standing directly in front of the leader of the English Defense League, or EDL. The EDL movement is a far-right or alt-right party that frequently protests the existence of Islam, calling it a political doctrine with authoritarian motives that only survives by forcing others to follow its will.
The photo in question was taken in the city of Birmingham in England, and in less than a week it has already gone viral. People all over social media have lauded the photo as a perfect representation of the appropriate response and resistance to racism. While the demonstration by the EDL was originally planned as a small event, it has since become one of the most discussed in modern society. The demonstration was allowed to proceed despite the condemnation of the event by several city council representatives for Birmingham. The event also saw the presence of a large police force, presumably to prevent any altercations between the demonstrators and the public.
At first the demonstration seemed as if it was going to run smoothly, and several of the group’s leaders and members got up to give talks to the crowd, including Ian Crossland, the primary leader of the EDL. However, minor scuffles in the crowd started to break out in response to protestors against the event infiltrating the scene, which was completely their right. The photographer who took the iconic photo, Joe Giddens, heard one such commotion near the back of the crowd, so he approached and found a young woman wearing a hijab who was shouting over the crowd. She compared the group to Nazis, and she defended the right to freedom of speech. She certainly wasn’t trying to hide her presence.
Another young woman, who was actually one of the subjects in the now-viral photo, began to draw attention away from the woman in the hijab. At one point, Giddens noticed that Crossland himself was pointing his finger right in the woman’s face while yelling at her from less than two feet away. The young woman, who was later identified as Saffiyah Khan, was a resident of Birmingham, and before she was escorted away by police attempting to protect her from the rough crowd, Giddens managed to take a photo of the exchange between her and Crossland.
Giddens filed the photo with the rest from the event, but it wasn’t until he looked it over closely later that he realized he had caught something special. Khan’s body language and unfazed expression scream that she is in no way intimidated by the angry man yelling at her, and it provides a deep sense of what it means to stand up to bigotry in a peaceful, mature way. He ended up sharing the photo online, not realizing how popular it would become. It wasn’t until Piers Morgan tweeted the photo that Giddens understood the true value of what he had photographed.
Giddens feels that the photo is by far the most popular picture he has ever taken, at least in terms of the credit given to him for it. Anyone who has seen the photo understands why it is so impactful. The image of a woman standing up to hatred is powerful because it shows that hatred truly has no power itself, especially if the subjects of such hate don’t allow it to. The bravery of this young woman will most likely be remembered for years and years to come.