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This Woman Took A Selfie With Anti-Muslim Protesters And The Internet Went Berserk

Zakia Belkiri told BuzzFeed News she was completely overwhelmed by the attention the pictures received.

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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.

Jurgen Augusteyns / Via jurgenaugusteyns.com

They held signs that said “Stop Islam” and "No headscarf". The protesters also tried to hand out pork sausages to Muslims passing by.

Jurgen Augusteyns / Via jurgenaugusteyns.com

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".

Jurgen Augusteyns / Via jurgenaugusteyns.com

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.

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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.

Jurgen Augusteyns / Via jurgenaugusteyns.com

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.

Zakia Belkhiri / Via Zakia Belkhiri

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.

Zakia Belkhiri is my hero today. #LoveNotHate https://t.co/tshyRheMlS

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Best selfie series ever from @rabiosaaloca 😂💪

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."

@whatkindafukery @rabiosaaloca what a badass!

"It's cool to see that I touched many hearts and inspired many people."

The only way to "hit" them is with peace. Epic move by 22yr old Belgian Zakia Belkhiri @rabiosaaloca #Islamophobia

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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."

Jurgen Augusteyns / Via jurgenaugusteyns.com

"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".

Jürgen Augusteyns / Via jurgenaugusteyns.com

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."

Jurgen Augusteyns / Via jurgenaugusteyns.com

Victoria Sanusi is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Victoria Sanusi at victoria.sanusi@buzzfeed.com.

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