Last weekend, protesters from the right-wing Flemish party Vlaams Belang parked themselves outside the Muslim Lifestyle Expo event in Antwerp, which features discussion, stalls, performances, and workshops.
They held signs that said “Stop Islam” and "No headscarf". The protesters also tried to hand out pork sausages to Muslims passing by.
So 22-year-old Zakia Belkhiri and other Muslims decided to take selfies with them. Belkhiri told BuzzFeed News she took the pictures to show that "we can live together, not [just] next to each other, but with each other".
Her images went hugely viral. They were shared thousands of times across social media and republished by dozens of news sites, most of which hadn't spoken to Belkhiri.
In an interview conducted over email, Belkhiri told BuzzFeed News she hadn't expected that kind of reaction. She didn't think people would care about her selfie.
She said she was "confused" and "overwhelmed" by all the attention she has received over the last few days. At the height of it, she set her Twitter account to private.
However, she's now back on social media. "I was feeling insecure but then I saw all the positive reactions, [and] tweets, and they got me motivated to actually speak," she said.
"I didn't want to look like a girl who seeks attention so I thought why take the pleasure away from my fans," she said.
"I don’t really consider myself as a hero," Belkhiri said.
Although she added she was proud of what she has accomplished: "I’m so happy to see that so many people are thrilled by this."
"It's cool to see that I touched many hearts and inspired many people."
And perhaps her newfound fame might have some other bonuses. "I really hope one day I'll meet a celebrity like Zayn Malik or Leonardo DiCaprio, I always wanted to meet someone famous hahahaha. 😝"
Jürgen Augusteyns is the photographer who snapped Belkhiri in action. He told BuzzFeed News: "I knew the moment this happened the images would have ... impact."
"There's no violence nor insults involved, so she got her point across in a very effective way," he said.
Augusteyns said the picture made "a [strong] statement, especially for the Muslim community in Belgium".
He said Belkhiri told him "she wanted to [take the selfies] to show that the right-wing protesters were harmless".
"The beauty of it lies in [how] tongue-in-cheek [it is]," the freelance photographer said. "It's serious but humorous at the same time."
Victoria Sanusi is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Victoria Sanusi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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