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A Hero Stands in Defiance Of Hate: Witness The Most Powerful Photo From The Weekend

By Petr Knava | Think Pieces | April 10, 2017 |

By Petr Knava | Think Pieces | April 10, 2017 |

Amidst the tidal wave of vacuous effluence coursing through the veins of the internet, occasionally the really quality stuff breaks through and it delivers to us imagery for the ages.

That happened this weekend, when the internet saw fit to remind us that heroes walk among us.

Birmingham is a city in the UK’s West Midlands. It is Britain’s second-most populous city. In the 1960’s it was the industrial cradle from which heavy metal sprung.

Outside of London, Birmingham has the largest community of Muslims, Sikhs, and Buddhists in the UK. It also has the country’s second largest Hindu community; as well as the seventh largest Jewish community. It is, in other words, a remarkably and wonderfully diverse city.

That can make it a target for hate.

Look here: The English Defence League (EDL) is a haphazard collection of irrelevant, bollard-spanked racist nationalists. This Sunday just gone they decided to hold a march in Birmingham in order to [insert racist twattery]. About a hundred or so of them showed up. At the same time, a Birmingham mosque decided to answer this protest with one of their own.

According to The Guardian:

A Birmingham mosque answered the “hatred and division” of an English Defence League rally by hosting a “best of British” tea party, as the far-right group’s demonstration passed off without a major incident.

The party at the city’s Central mosque, for which the building was decked out with union flag bunting, was open to all and organised in direct response to the EDL event in the city centre on Saturday afternoon.

The mosque’s chairman, Muhammad Afzal, said: “We are just holding this event to show EDL that Birmingham is a peaceful city and we are all united irrespective of colour, race or religion.”

From this confluence of events, a hero arose.

I wrote once about how the greatest heroes can simply be those who refuse to kneel.

It was on this Sunday afternoon in Birmingham in early April, underneath a bizarrely clear and azure British sky, that Saffiyah Khan refused to kneel.

Witness her:

Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

According to the BBC:

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, they surrounded her,” she said.
“She was 360 surrounded… I stepped forward and identified myself as someone who supported her and contradicted them.”

After that, Ms Khan said, protestors gathered around her instead, which led to the scene captured by a Press Association photographer.

Ms. Khan, who was born in the UK 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.”

Look again at that picture.

To look at that picture is to see something poets would struggle to describe. In many languages the word ‘khan’ means ‘ruler’ or ‘conqueror’, or simply ‘leader’. What you see in that picture, writ large on Saffiyah’s face, is the embodiment of all possible manifestations of that title. It is nonchalance and contempt. It is straight-backed defiance. It is a lion trampling a gnat.

It’s the blazing flames of love chasing away the shadows of hate.

Fuck colorful capes. Real heroes wear hoodies and denim.

“I don’t like seeing people getting ganged up on in my town,” said Saffiyah Khan.

What more words could I possibly add to that except those that form a direct link from Saffiyah to heroes long gone:

Rise like Lions after slumber In unvanquishable number- Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you- Ye are many — they are few.


Petr Knava
lives in London and plays music

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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.