Sometimes a news photo so completely reflects the tenor of its time that it survives intact, becoming a bit of history itself: the Vietnamese children fleeing, naked and terrified, from the flaming horrors of war that pursue them. The mother in Minimata tenderly bathing her grown child, who was maimed, even before he was born, by industrial indifference. The man confronting a line of tanks in Tienanmen Square, and winning that battle if not the war. These pictures woke the world, and helped to make it permanently better. Joe Giddens’ picture deserves a place in this pantheon.
Let us never forget that resistance is not always a fist in the air. To resist evil requires us to show that there is a way to be something better, to go somewhere higher. Sometimes all that takes is a smile.
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Birmingham, UK – Saturday April 8 2017
When the English Defence League held a “non-violent” anti-Islam rally in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the tension in the air was palpable. For the EDL, “non-violence” does not preclude the use of intimidation; their rallies often end in physical strife. Police presence at such gatherings is routine.
The Birmingham Central Mosque responded to the event by opening its doors and inviting everyone, regardless of caste, race, beliefs, or role in life, to come in for tea. At the EDL demonstration, woman in a hijab was less accommodating. When she shouted “No more Islamophobia! No more wars!” from the periphery of the roiling crowd, she was immediately mobbed by 20 or more burly white supremacists.
That is when Saffiyah Khan stepped forward. Khan, 25, a Brummie by birth with Muslim family in Bosnia and Pakistan, came to the aid of the embattled woman, drawing much of the fury onto herself. When EDL leader Ian Crossland leaned in and shook his fist in Khan’s face, a policeman intervened, and both of them were led away. Khan maintained her calm, and her beatific smile, throughout the incident, despite all the bluster that surrounded her.
Press Association photographer Joe Giddens caught the moment that perfectly reflects encounter—the courage of a young woman and a police officer holding their ground in a bubble of hatred.
“It is more important to smile than to shout,” Khan later told reporters.
“The dirty unwashed left wing scrubber was grinning because she managed to disrupt a demo.” Crossland wrote on Facebook afterwards. “And the disrespectful witch chose the minute’s silence for the victims of the terror attack in Stockholm and Westminster. She’s lucky she got any teeth left.”
Ethnic problems no doubt plague the Midlands, just as they do the UK, Europe, the US, and the rest of the world. Honestly, though, whom would you turn to to lead us out of this quagmire, the calm brown woman and the stern white Bobbie, or the brick-faced pack of mad dogs that surround them?
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“Nonviolence means not only external physical violence but also violence of the spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr