Fortune smiles

Is smiling the best way to tackle far-right hatred and bigotry?

19th July 2018

Last week saw a number of protests take place in the UK — most notably the anti-Trump protest, in which more than 200,000 people demonstrated in London alone alongside a giant balloon of Donald Trump as a large orange nappy-wearing baby (we can’t forget about the balloon).

Another protest that took place last week was the #FreeTommy march in Trafalgar Square. In May, the English Defence League (EDL) founder Tommy Robinson was sentenced to serve 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to contempt of court. The former EDL leader committed contempt of court by filming a Facebook live video outside Leeds Crown Court and discussing an active case which was also linked to two other ongoing cases, something the law forbids. While a judge had explicitly warned Robinson in advance that publishing details would affect the decisions made in the trials and could mean the victims would be denied justice, many of his supporters thought this ruling was unfair and called it censorship.

The protest inevitably turned into chaos with multiple arrests occurring — but that’s not what everyone on social media is talking about. During the protest, a group of protesters blocked a Muslim woman bus driver and started hurling abuse at her. One man can be seen swearing at the woman who was wearing a headscarf while others can be seen sticking #FreeTommy flyers at the windscreen of the bus. The bus driver held her composure during the whole ordeal and smiled back at the protesters.

It wasn’t long before pictures and videos emerged online and it had people up in arms about the whole situation (and rightfully so).

One Twitter user said:  

While another tweeted:

This is not the first #FreeTommy protest. Last month another one took place at Westminster which also turned into disarray this time leaving policemen injured and five arrests were made.

A similar situation took place last year when the EDL held a protest in Birmingham in response to the Westminster attack which killed six people including the attacker and left 49 people injured. During this rally, another picture went viral. This time it was of a young woman called Saffiyah Khan, who smiled in the face of adversity. In the picture, you can see another former EDL leader Ian Crossland saying something to Khan. Khan seems unfazed with her hands in pockets and smile on her face. What you can’t see in the picture is that Khan intervened when she saw EDL members circle around a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf (sound familiar?). Khan would later go on to say that she didn’t feel threatened during the stand-off and was only there to show her support for anyone that had been attacked and/or harassed by the EDL.

This whole situation, from the protests to Tommy’s arrest, has added to the discussion of what free speech actually is and many claim that their free speech is being censored. Earlier in the year far-right political activist Lauren Southern was denied entry into the UK because of her last controversial visit in which she handed out flyers in Luton which said: “Allah is a gay god”.

On denying Southern entry in the UK, the British Home Office said: “Border Force has the power to refuse entry to an individual if it is considered that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good.”

There’s a lot of power in taking the high ground

Southern and her supporters claimed her being denied entry into the UK was a form of censorship. While others believe that people like Robinson and Southern use free speech as an excuse to spread hate. These people believe Southern was trying to incite Muslims with these flyers rather than trying to help the LGBT community, as she claimed.

Bringing this back to the bus driver, it was evident that she was being targeted because she was a Muslim and it’s sad that racism is still such a big topic in 2018.

While it can seem like violence, aggression or simply just shouting is the best way to teach far-right protestors a lesson or beat them at their own game, there’s a lot of power in taking the high ground.

The unnamed woman was just trying to do her job but she ended up doing a lot more, just with a smile. She didn’t need to use her freedom of speech in that moment because her smile said it all. Love trumps hate.

19th July 2018