Hatred brings out the worst people.
When it slides out of the cracks and crannies it otherwise occupies for a bug-eyed break at the big time, those that oppose it – normal, everyday, decent people – rally together, arm-in-arm, to tell it where to go. It’s how we’ve always worked – and it’s wonderful. But, sometimes, the excitement that comes with doing what’s right can become a little problematic.
The thing with hatred – buck-toothed, bare-chested, beer-swilling hatred – is that it inspires retaliation of a similar vein. When fate plays it so that you come face-to-face with the world’s worst, it’s natural to want to sock it square in the teeth; when hatred showers you with its vernacular, it’s easy to respond with words of a similar, condemning potency. The thing with hatred – in all of its various, ugly, nefarious forms – is that it’s good at dragging you down to its level. It’s one of its more accomplished traits.
So, when the EDL marched on Birmingham on Saturday, you’d forgive Brummies – normal, everyday, decent Brummies – if they were to meet it head-to-head, toe-to-toe. When the enemy’s at your very own door, rarely will you greet it with a hug and a kiss. No, nada. You get out there, you show it that you’re not frightened; if it calls you a cunt, you call it one back. And that’s when it starts to get messy.
See, from a distance, when you’ve got two different parties, going at it with just as much excitement as each other, it’s difficult to work out who’s who. Most of us, at one point or another and for all of our good intention, will find ourselves treading precariously close to the behaviour we seek to deplore.
Not all of us, though.
This photo was taken in Birmingham on Saturday by Press Association photographer Joe Giddens. It shows a young woman and an EDL protestor, along with a police officer attempting to separate them. The woman’s name is Saffiyah Khan and she is a Birmingham resident. You do not need me to tell you that she’s awesome.
While the vast majority of us would have found ourselves falling victim to primitive, me-shout-louder-so-me-win tendencies, Saffiyah has no such trouble. Look at her, for god’s sake. She couldn’t look less ruffled if she tried. Then, look at him – one of three people to order the official brand EDL polo shirt – so riled that he’s about to self-induce a nosebleed. What Saffiyah Khan does – and does so brilliantly – is make it glaringly, painfully obvious who the moron is. She’s laughing at him, because he’s nothing. We should all be more like Saffiyah Khan.
When interviewed by the BBC the following day, she claimed that she was just stepping in to defend a friend who had been surrounded by a group of the protestors.
“A group of 25 quite big-looking EDL lads, they surrounded her,” she explained. “She was 360 surrounded… I stepped forward and identified myself as someone who supported her and contradicted them.”
“I don’t like seeing people getting ganged up on in my town.”
The photograph quickly went viral, with social media quick to comend the image. Tweeting the photograph, Birmingham MP Jess Phillips wrote: “Who looks like they have power here, the real Brummy on the left or the EDL who migrated for the day to our city and failed to assimilate?” It has since been shared over 20,000 times.
Saffiyah Khan, with all of her brave, bemusement, is exactly how we should be dealing with this kind of threat. People like the EDL aren’t clever enough to be truly dangerous, but left alone, they will – as is the way with bacteria – multiply. Rather than give them the excuse for a punch-up they oh-so-desperately crave, we must all channel our inner Saffiyah Khan. When hatred comes calling, let’s look it in the eye, give it a smile and say “Not today, lads. You’re all completely wrong.”
If we can look half as good as her while doing it, we’ve all won.
Get Volume #17 here.
Words by Niall Flynn