MEHRU JAFFER | 30 JANUARY, 2020
Executed by Hitlers Army Noor Khan’s Last Word : Liberte (Azadi)!
A Gandhian in Europe
The story of Noor Inayat Khan is popular on European television to this day. The film was screened again this winter about an Indian Muslim woman who sacrificed herself so that countless European lives could survive the terror unleashed on the continent by Adolf Hitler throughout the 1930s.
Noor’s last word before her execution by the German military was azadi!
Noor had imbibed sufi values from her musician father Inayat Khan, and her American mother. Inayat Khan was founder of a sufi order in 1910. He was an Islamic mystic and a lover of peace. He was a follower of Gandhi and practiced non violence. He valued human life and enjoyed what is common to all cultures. He talked to Noor about Buddhists and their attempts to practice non-violence and compassion.
He admired Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Pashtun and an ally of Gandhi. Since 1912 Khan had talked about gaining independence from the British by participating in a non-violent movement called Khudai Khidmatgar, or the servants of god.
Inayat Khan died in 1927 but Noor must have known how hurt her father would be to see Hitler spew such hatred for other human beings. The mass murder of human beings at the orders of Hitler would have pained him no end.
The values she had inherited from her family of concern for others, of faith and patience surely inspired Noor to challenge divisive nationalism and ethnic genocide in Europe.
Born in Moscow in 1914, Noor’s family had fled Russia at the break of the first world war. She grew up in Paris and studied music. She wrote books for children, translating 20 Jataka Tales from the voluminous body of literature about the various births of the Buddha in human as well as animal form. From the life of the Buddha Noor learnt that challenging circumstances give rise to courage and the capacity to love conquers all problems. Her elders taught her that hope and patience have the power to open the way to solutions against impossible odds.
Noor’s world was shattered when Hitler marched his army into France, in 1940. She was 25 years old and her family was forced to flee their home once again. She moved to London and was hurt to see the Germans drop bombs on France. While in England she joined Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive and offered herself as a spy in Hitler occupied France. She worked with French resistance fighters against Hitler’s troops and as a wireless operator she passed on critical information back to Britain. Unfortunately she was betrayed by a colleague and imprisoned in Paris. She was later sent to a concentration camp in Germany where she was killed a year before World War II ended, in September 1945.
As she knelt on the ground, and before she was shot at the back of her head she had shouted, liberte in French or azadi!
This was the last word uttered by the 30 year old Noor before her death on a continent that had looked upon Muslims with suspicion.
Throughout the 19th century it was popularly believed by Europeans that Islam was spread by the sword and that Muslims preferred warring to peaceful co-existence. This impression was formed by groups of Muslims who challenged the invasion of their homeland by European imperial powers in different parts of the world. As far as European colonisers were concerned, the Muslim population behaved like warriors when it came to giving up their homeland. As a cover up of European economic ambitions in the Middle East in contemporary times that reputation of Muslims as warriors, or terrorists is deliberately kept alive.
Islamophobia is fuelled by those who allow irrational hostility, fear and hatred of Muslims to continue. The idea is to divert annoyance with non performing governments to a section of ordinary citizens. Minorities have always been made scapegoats by unimaginative politicians without talent in times of economic and political difficulties.
There are approximately 20 million Muslims living in the European Union today. Vested interests pretend that Muslims are a threat to the European way of life although they have lived in some parts of Europe for generations. It is in the interest of vested interests to keep myths alive that Europe will be Islamised. Any talk of invasion by Islam is enough to whip up xenophobia especially by populist political parties that have tasted success at the ballot box across Europe in recent times.
Most European governments do not see the disturbance they cause by meddling in the affairs of Muslim populated areas of the world. The chaos that they cause is not seen as something that merits local resistance. They look upon all resistance to their interference in local affairs as Muslims being inherently opposed to living peacefully with other human beings.
However lofty traditions inherited from her peace loving family inspired Noor to resist evil that was let loose around her. She could not sit in the comfort of her home and ignore what Hitler’s armed forces did to other human beings.
Therefore she chose to take sides in the last world war without fear of losing her own life.