Here’s a tip for radicals. If your protesting is fawned over by Trumpite oaf Peirs Morgan, and rapturously applauded by the painfully square Guardian, and cheered by Labour MP and darling of the Twitterati Jess Phillips — who’s never done anything edgier than tell Diane Abbott to fuck off — then you’re doing something wrong. Really wrong.
It’s like the time in 2010 when parents were dropping their kids off at protests against government cuts. Or when Plan B’s terrible protest song about the London riots was launched at an event organised by the Observer. No. Stop it. These people shouldn’t like what you’re doing. It’s time for a rethink.
And so it is with Saffiyah Khan, the young Birmingham woman who went insanely viral over the weekend after she was snapped smiling bemusedly at English Defence League protesters who were shouting at a woman in a hijab. Khan stepped between the EDL blokes and the woman in the hijab, which is a very nice thing to have done, and then a photographer captured her looking with a combo of haughtiness and humour at a grimacing EDLer.
But it’s what happened next that is extraordinary. The image of Khan’s fuck-you smile was shared hundreds of thousands of times. Morgan and Phillips and others went wild for it. The Guardian is treating Khan as a Brummie incarnation of Rosa Parks. Even tabloids — the Sun, the Mirror, Metro (which is basically Twitterati guff printed off for yawning morning commuters) — went in for some Khanmaina. She’s being hailed as a role model, an icon, a symbol of defiance against the new fascism, a living, breathing monument to the ‘possibility and dignity of resistance’, as one of the Guardian’s 7,000 articles about her put it. A statue can’t be far off.
I hope I will not detract from Khan’s friendly, comradely gesture in defence of the woman in the hijab when I say that this beatification of her, this transformation of her into a symbol of everything that is good about Britain, is utterly mad.