Monday, July 7, 2014

At the Movies: Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story


Throughout the 1930′s, an unimaginable evil tore through Europe, as Hitler’s Third Reich terrorized its way to domination. During these tumultuous times, a young Muslim woman living in Paris found her calling. Noor Inayat Khan grew up in a home that fostered faith and hope. Leading with her heart, she overcame her quiet nature and joined Winston Churchill’s covert operation to give the Allies a new chance at victory. This is her story.

This fall, millions of viewers will learn the riveting story of how an unlikely Muslim woman of mixed Indian and American parentage came to serve as a British spy in Paris during World War II, as PBS brings to television the exciting true story of Noor Inayat Khan on Tuesday, September 9. This remarkable story is being brought to the screen in the docudrama “Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story.”

In August of 1943, the last surviving clandestine radio operator in Paris desperately signaled London for additional weapons and supplies for the French underground. The Gestapo was closing in and she knew her time was limited. Everything depended on her. How did a Sorbonne educated musician, a student of child psychology, and an author of a book of fairy tales become a daring spy who died fighting the Nazis?

There are countless stories of heroism from World War II, with seemingly every angle and every point of view represented. What has rarely been told, however, are the stories about the contributions of Muslims of all nationalities. Noor Inayat Khan, a proud Muslim woman whose faith guided her in her journey, is the type of role model that young women across the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have long sought out – a woman whose heroism was not defined by any other person but herself.

With an American mother and Indian Muslim father who was the founder of the Sufi Order in the West, Noor Inayat Khan was an extremely unusual British agent, and her life spent growing up in a Sufi center of learning in Paris seemed an unlikely preparation for the dangerous work to come. Yet, it was in this place of universal peace and contemplation that her remarkable courage was forged.

When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, she fled to England with her widowed mother and three younger siblings and could have waited out the war in relative safety. But, she felt compelled by the lessons of tolerance and inclusiveness of her upbringing and religion to take an active role in opposing the Nazis. She joined Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and was recruited as a wireless operator into Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive (SOE), secretly returning to Paris to support the French Underground as England prepared for the D-Day invasions.

After the penetration and arrest of her entire network by the Gestapo, Noor became the only surviving radio operator in Paris during four crucial months of the war, coordinating the air-drop of weapons, supplies and agents, and supporting the rescue of downed allied fliers. She was ultimately betrayed by a French collaborator and interrogated for months by the Gestapo. She never gave up any information, not even her real name, and she organized two breakouts from Gestapo headquarters. For this and the damage she did to the Nazi’s war efforts, she was executed in Dachau. 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of her birth. Narrated by Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren, the film’s Executive Producers Alex Kronemer and Michael Wolfe continue Unity Productions Foundation’s series of award-winning documentaries aimed at bringing less-known stories from the Muslim world to the greater public. The film was produced and directed by three-time Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee Rob Gardner. With a team of international scholars and two of her surviving family members, the documentary is produced as docudrama in a cinematic style.

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