J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Enemy of the Reich—Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan is a prime example why many consider Sufism the best hope for moderation in the increasingly radicalized Islamic world. Inspired by the values of her father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, an internationally respected Sufi teacher, Inayat Khan volunteered for the most dangerous duty possible with Britain’s clandestine service, the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her short but heroic career is chronicled in Enemy of the Reich: the Noor Inayat Khan Story (promo here), which premieres this Tuesday on PBS.

The average survival rate for SOE radio operators was a mere six weeks. The recruiters and organizers who dealt directly with partisans also faced considerable dangers, but it was always simply a matter of time before the feared German radio trucks eventually traced those who relayed and received communications with London. Inayat Khan would beat the averages, but she was nearly swept up in a massive Gestapo operation days after her arrival in France.

Of course, Inayat Khan had certain advantages for cloak and dagger work. Reportedly, the National Socialists were a bit slow on the uptake when it came to female agents. Evidently, they completely forgot Mata Hari. The fact that Inayat Khan was the Muslim daughter of Indian and American parents (born in Moscow) might have also been somewhat reassuring, considering the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose publicly sided with the National Socialists.

In contrast, Inayat Khan was a genuine idealist (and children’s book author), who was almost too principled to convince the SOE gatekeepers to send her into the field. Unfortunately, the inescapably inevitable ending will come as no surprise, especially for anyone familiar with the grim realities of resistance work.

However, director Robert H. Gardner and writer Carrie Gardner provide an intriguing look inside the SOE’s training, deployment, and service. Their combination of talking heads, archival images, and dramatic re-enactments does not exactly break new docu-ground, but Grace Srinivasan’s striking presence should be noted. Although she does not have much dialogue or even much traditional dramatic work, she still conveys Inayat Khan’s vulnerability and resoluteness quite directly.

Enemy is a nicely assembled package, notably featuring the always classy Dame Helen Mirren as its narrator. Altogether, it is another informative hour-long PBS WWII special that maybe does not quite reach the level of the better theatrical feature documentaries, but never outstays its welcome. Recommended for viewers interested in WWII and Sufism, Enemy of the Reich: the Noor Inayat Khan Story airs this coming Tuesday (9/9) on PBS outlets nationwide.

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