Category Archives: History

British Pathe

35,000 hours of video, 90,000 web pages, 75 years of British Pathe

Welcome to Version 3.2 of the world’s first digital news archive.

Now you are here you can preview items from the entire 3500 hour British Pathe Film Archive which covers news, sport, social history and entertainment from 1896 to 1970.

A friend writes:

I just wanted to share this great resource for teaching the history of the modern middle east:

There you can download British newsreels covering 75 years from 1894 onwards – for free. My students love it and I don’t have to talk: long live technology!


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Filed under Academe, History, Media, U.K.

Keeping a Moroccan Tradition Alive, One Tale at a Time

Keeping a Moroccan Tradition Alive, One Tale at a Time

Mohammad Jabiri, a storyteller for more than 40 years, at work in the Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh


February 27, 2006
Marrakesh Journal
NY Times

MARRAKESH, Morocco — It’s time for work and Mohammad Jabiri heads for Jemaa el Fna, the main square of Marrakesh, often called the cultural crossroads for all of Morocco.

Stooping a little, he weaves through the crowds, past the snake charmers and their flutes, the racket of drummers and cymbalists, the cheers for the acrobats and the shouting of the kebab vendors, until he stakes out a quiet spot for himself.

Mr. Jabiri is a storyteller, a profession he has practiced for more than 40 years. Every day, he conjures up a real or imagined past that is filled with ancient battles and populated with sinners and prophets, wise sultans and tricky thieves.

For this he needs few props: he puts down a small stool and some colored illustrations. The rest is performance. His eyes can grow large and magnetic and his voice booms or whispers, depending on the intrigue.

Mr. Jabiri, 71, is one of eight bards still performing publicly in the Marrakesh region of southern Morocco. But most, like him, fear that their generation may be the last in a line that is as old as this medieval city.

These men descend from the era — long before radio and television, movie theaters and telephones — when itinerant narrators brought news and entertainment to country fairs and village squares.

Yet somehow, Mr. Jabiri still manages to defy the formidable electronic competition.

“Some people feel that television is very far away from them,” he explained to a visitor. “They prefer making contact, they prefer hearing live stories.”

And so they did on a recent afternoon, as Mr. Jabiri called out a blessing, raised his right hand and began the tale of the young woman who fell in love with a saintly hermit. But the hermit rejected her as an envoy of the devil, so she decided to lie down with a shepherd who crossed her path, became pregnant and said it was the hermit’s child.

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Filed under Arabic, History, Middle East & Muslim World, Morocco, Society & Culture

In the Destruction of a Golden Dome, The Debris of Certainty

What Was and Never Shall Be
In the Destruction of a Golden Dome, the Debris of Certainty

The Askariya shrine in Samarra, one of the most revered Shiite sites in Iraq, after yesterday's bombing.

By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2006; C01

Again and again, it’s distressing how little we know about how Iraq looked before destruction became an everyday occurrence. And so the first glimpse, for many, of the Askariya shrine was not of a magnificent shining dome, but twisted metal and broken walls.

As the first images of a massive destruction at one of Iraq’s holiest shrines began coming in yesterday, it was hard not to think of the building, rather than what it stands for. How old was it? What was the architecture like? Was this another loss, like the Bamiyan Buddhas, needlessly destroyed by the Taliban? Is its destruction equivalent, say, to the bombing of St. Peter’s in Rome, or Chartres Cathedral? The mind grasps for an easy equivalence.

It was reassuring — in the rather heartless way that people in a secular society look at old religious buildings as mere relics or potential tourist destinations — to learn from the BBC, which quoted Robert Hillenbrand, a professor of Islamic Art at Edinburgh University, that while the shrine had immense religious and emotional importance to Iraq’s Shiite population, it was not of enormous architectural importance. Measuring religious importance seems to land us in the realm of the irrational; measuring architectural or historical importance is different, but ultimately leads us down all the wrong paths.

But there was hardly time for any of those fumbling efforts to find an analogue between the Christianity many Americans know and the Islam so many of us learn about only when violence brings it into view. And no sooner had the building appeared on our television screens than it was obscured by images of rage in the streets. Tens of thousands of Shiites protested the bombing, and Sunni mosques were attacked in Basra and Baghdad. The pundits chattered about civil war. A great golden dome, that most of us had never seen, came down, replaced by images we’ve seen all too often, proof that yet again the sum total of anger in the world had gone up a few notches.

“It is not a question of the date or the age of the structure,” said Professor Hamid Algar, of the University of California at Berkeley. Algar, who hadn’t yet heard of the bombing when a reporter called, sounded sad and weary as he explained the historical background to the Askariya shrine. It is the burial place of the 10th and 11th imams, revered by Shiites as the direct descendants and spiritual heirs to the prophet Muhammad.

Besides the obvious religious and historic significance, Algar explained, its location in Samarra, north of the traditional Shiite stronghold of southern Iraq, makes it particularly fraught with religious tension. It was here, in the late 19th century, that the great scholar Mirza Hasan Shirazi set up as the spiritual leader of the Shiites, making inroads into the Sunni north. He led a newly vigorous Shiite community, and one that was increasingly threatening to Sunnis and the Ottoman overlords, who controlled the country. Samarra was, in some ways, a line in the sand in a long-standing religious struggle. And it is a line in the sand again.

Was. Is. Terrorism functions by conflating the categories. Old grievances are renewed, old tensions rekindled. The past, filled with the sting of injustice — there’s always enough to go around, no matter what small niche of the human race you occupy — isn’t so much remembered as it is constantly relived. There’s no time for reflection, no time to come off the boil; humanity finds itself in a state of perpetual adolescence, short-fused and remarkably indifferent to whether it wants or expects to have a future.

Unlike so many images of terrorist destruction, the calculated demolition of the shrine in Samarra captures the “was” and “is” with rare power. When the twin towers came down, there was nothing left, just rubble and then, with astonishing alacrity, a sterile hole in the ground. In Samarra, they leveled the dome, destroying the visual focal point of the shrine, and one of the most distinctive features of the city of Samarra. There’s a bit of twisted metal left, and the shell of the building that held it. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of images of the old industrial hall that was left standing in Hiroshima after the atom bomb attack — the remains of which are now a memorial to the victims (was, is, was, is).

The before and after shots show the shell of a building stripped of its most magnificent feature. The attackers went for the surface, the showy, the part of the architecture that best expresses the daring and determination on the part of those who raised it. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, says that while Islamic architecture was originally very simple and plain, and while graves of ordinary people remain quite austere today, the mausoleums associated with imams, saints and early spiritual leaders developed a magnificence one saw plainly in the old, now destroyed dome. This wasn’t just an architectural nicety, but something that expressed “the wisdom of the community,” as manifested in the imams it honors.

And for a Shiite to see it destroyed?

“To see this before your eyes is like the world crumbling before you,” he says. In part, that’s because it was in Samarra that the last imam, the “Mahdi,” disappeared, leaving the world to await both his return and the restitution of justice and order that will come with it. Some interpreters of Islam associate dire apocalyptic events with his reappearance. Others, including Algar, dismiss the idea, arguing that even making predictions about the when of the return is religiously frowned upon. But seeing the destruction of a shrine raised in the city of the imam’s disappearance — or occultation — which contains the bodies of his forebears, brings with it profound eschatological resonance, according to Nasr.

“Nobody would think it is possible to destroy the most sacred objects,” he says.

The side-by-side photographs, the was and is, shatter that certainty. Again, with grim admiration, one confronts the profound methodology of terror: To attack certainty is to attack the very basis on which societies are built. Certainty that the bank where you place your money is secure; that the title to your home is valid; that elections will happen on schedule; that power will be transferred without bloodshed. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, New Yorkers were horrified by the fact that the simple, certain form of their skyline had been altered. That couldn’t happen. Now imagine that same wound to the orderliness of the world magnified by an overlay of religious disbelief.

It isn’t easy, which is why it was tempting to process the news, and the images, in other ways. On a right-wing Web site in this country, , people posting reactions under pseudonyms were often gleeful. “Isn’t pretty much every real or imagined location of every Imam’s spitoon a ‘Holy’ site?” wrote someone called “kwddave.” That post suggested the vicious cycle of miscommunication we’ve entered. Anger is no longer read, here, as a sign of great depth of feeling, or sincerity, or as a symptom of fear; it is now proof of the insignificance of what Muslims are angry about. Simply because they are angry, their shrines are no better than spittoons. Rhetorically, “kwddave” repeats the act of terror, diminishing the meaning of a building that terrorists, literally, have reduced to a gaping cavity open to the rain.

Images of a building are never as interesting as the dynamic, moving pictures of people in the streets. And that image, of anger and protest, has been seen so often that it’s become what we might as well just label The Blur — the loud, threatening tape loop of enraged people that blends together all distinctions about who they are, where they are and why they’re angry.

The first and most difficult fact of the bombing is its portent of civil war, and its most troubling message for Americans is its reminder of the degree to which we went to war, as a nation, ignorant of the basic sectarian rifts that we are now struggling to manage. But The Blur has a different message. Even when “they” are victims of internecine strife, the images seem to confirm that they are all the same in a particularly dangerous and hard to understand way. That has become our certainty, and one wonders what could possibly shatter it.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company


Filed under History, Iraq, Shi'i

The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Weapons Program

The Samson Option
The story behind one of the world’s worst-kept secrets: the Jewish state’s atomic arsenal.

Reviewed by George Perkovich
Sunday, February 19, 2006; BW03
The Washington Post


How Israel Went Nuclear and What That

Means for the World

By Michael Karpin

Simon & Schuster. 404 pp. $26

In 1958, an American U-2 spy plane flying over Israel spotted an unusual construction site near the small Negev Desert town of Dimona. The facility featured a long perimeter fence, building activity and several roads. Israeli officials initially called the facility a textile plant; they later changed their minds and described it as a “metallurgical research installation.” In September 1960, according to Israeli accounts, the United States got a better look at Dimona from a Corona reconnaissance satellite. By December, CIA Director Allen Dulles felt sure enough of what was going on to tell President Eisenhower that Israel was secretly constructing a nuclear reactor that would allow it to build the bomb.

Israel has never admitted that it has nuclear weapons, though it does not deny having them. As the Israeli journalist Michael Karpin suggests in his aptly titled The Bomb in the Basement , the United States has gone along with this charade because acknowledging the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal would incite futile demands by Arabs and Iranians to get rid of it. Still, this worldly winking rankles at a time when the United States and Israel are leading the charge to make Iran, North Korea and other threatening actors come clean about their own nuclear activities. Many developing countries resist the idea of holding Iran to account for breaking nonproliferation rules when Israel is given a pass. But there’s another way to think of the issue. Rather than pretend that Israel’s nuclear posture is irrelevant, perhaps it’s time to use Israel’s muted approach to its atomic arsenal as an example for the United States, Russia and other nuclear powers to follow.

Unlike its adversaries, Israel has a deep-rooted democratic government and does not threaten the existence of other states. It also has an obvious goad; David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, began the Jewish state’s nuclear quest in the 1950s with harrowing images of Dachau and Belsen still fresh in his mind. For him, the bomb was the ultimate guarantor of “never again.”

In scale and expense, however, a nuclear-arms program seemed out of reach for a tiny, poor and often friendless nation. Ben-Gurion and a handful of technical optimists quietly trained scientists, imported nuclear technology and solicited the aid of France. French cooperation was less a matter of state policy than of the determination of key individuals within the French nuclear establishment — many of them non-Jews — to rectify Vichy France’s complicity in the Holocaust. President Charles de Gaulle twice ordered a stop to French assistance between 1958 and 1960, but key nuclear officials ignored him. Finally a deal was struck: The French government would cease construction work on the Dimona reactor, but contracts with private French companies would remain in force. Meanwhile, President John F. Kennedy leaned hard on Ben-Gurion and his successor, Levi Eshkol, not to build the bomb, even sending U.S. inspectors into Israel’s Dimona reactor starting in 1961. But Israeli nuclear leaders outfoxed the inspectors, and Washington’s resolve faded with Kennedy’s death. By Nov. 1966, Israel had the capability to detonate a nuclear device.

Karpin tells this intriguing story through pithy accounts of the major events and profiles of the key actors, with the scene shifting from Israel to France to Egypt to Washington. His rendition is more entertaining than Avner Cohen’s seminal Israel and the Bomb (1998), even if it’s less cogent concerning the implications of the Israeli atomic project. As Cohen pointed out, something about the bomb invites opacity — not only to keep foreign adversaries from mobilizing but also to keep one’s own citizens from raising questions. Even among themselves, Israeli leaders did not refer to building nuclear weapons but to “Dimona,” “it” and “the big thing.” One of Kennedy’s advisers called it “the delicate matter.” As would happen in India, another democracy aspiring to get nuclear arms, many key decisions and activities went unrecorded. Costs were neither tallied nor debated seriously. Iran is probably doing much the same thing now.

Ironies abound here for today’s reader. Shimon Peres, who is now sometimes ridiculed for dovish flights of fancy, was the hard-driving CEO of the bomb project. Lyndon B. Johnson, a member of the Disciples of Christ, blessed the enterprise at least in part out of biblical appreciation of the covenant between God and the children of Israel. Karpin writes that Johnson was influenced by an inscription his grandfather wrote in the family photo album: “Take care of the Jews, God’s chosen people . . . help them any way you can.”

As it did in other countries, the Israeli pursuit of the bomb assumed sacred dimensions. “In Ben-Gurion’s eyes,” Karpin writes, “the nuclear project was holy.” Those who donated to it were “consecrators,” helping to build the Holy of Holies for modern Israel. According to Karpin, from 1958-60, the American businessman Abraham Feinberg led a secret fundraising campaign for the nuclear project that garnered about $40 million ($250 million in today’s terms) from “some twenty-five millionaires.” Karpin describes in new detail how Edward Teller, the monomaniacal father of the H-bomb, visited Israel six times between 1964 and 1967 — the period when Israel passed the atomic threshold — and unabashedly urged his friends there to build the bomb. All the while, Teller’s government was negotiating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Israel has never signed. Karpin intimates that Teller assisted Israel in designing sophisticated nuclear weapons. For the many people who want to equate Iran or Pakistan’s nuclear aspirations with Israel’s, the cooperation of Teller and French scientists and engineers with Israel will invite defensive equation with the notorious A.Q. Khan network, which helped spread bomb designs and know-how from Pakistan to Libya and Iran.

Meanwhile, the CIA and other agencies missed telltale signs of what Israel was up to. In 1967, shortly after the Six-Day War, Teller told a key CIA official that Israel probably had the bomb; the CIA relayed this information to President Johnson, but the secretaries of defense and state were kept out of the loop. Karpin also argues that domestic politics influenced the management of intelligence and nonproliferation policy. For instance, he shows how Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel’s ambassador to Washington, angrily outflanked Pentagon and State Department negotiators who insisted in 1968 that U.S. sales of Phantom fighter jets to Israel be conditioned on Israel’s signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and allowing American inspectors to visit every site in Israel associated with strategic weapons. Rabin “got Abe Feinberg and Arthur Goldberg, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to go and talk to Johnson.” In another channel, Rabin “peppered the heads of the Democratic Party with messages to the effect that it was worth their while before the [1968] elections to present the Jewish voter with a show of support for Israel.” Defense Secretary Clark Clifford and Secretary of State Dean Rusk did not know that Israel already had the bomb and that Feinberg and Goldberg already had the president.

Interesting as all this is, some flaws lurk in The Bomb in the Basement . Karpin badly botches his description of how nuclear bombs work. The difficulty of controlling nuclear reactions does not arise because “the uranium-235 and the plutonium isotopes are very sensitive to movement.” “A simple bomb” does not consist “of a container holding two pellets of fissile material that are pressed together by two springs and separated by a wedge.” Nor does Karpin prove his claim that, “if the Eisenhower administration had proposed that Israel swap Dimona for a security alliance, there can be no doubt that Israel would have happily accepted.” (Israel might well have preferred its own nukes to promises from Eisenhower and his anti-Israel State Department.) Most important, Karpin is so enthralled with the Israeli nuclear project that he avoids exploring its ramifications. He doesn’t ask how or whether nuclear weapons can be confined only to the “good guys” and kept forever away from the “bad guys.”

Even so, this is a worthwhile book, and it arrives when new thinking is needed about the global nuclear order. Here’s one heretical suggestion: Israel’s restrained management of its bomb could actually point the way toward abating global nuclear dangers. After all, Israel has never claimed to possess nuclear weapons and has never used them to enhance its prestige or browbeat its neighbors. For Israel, the bomb has never been something to brandish, never a shield behind which to hide while it annexes territory or undermines domestic or regional rivals — as was feared the bomb would be for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and, perhaps, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Iran. It is a shield against annihilation.

Today the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China, France, India and Pakistan are known to possess atomic arsenals. By treaty or declaration, these countries are formally committed to pursuing nuclear disarmament. But much of the world feels that, because these declared nuclear-armed powers refuse to take this objective seriously, they have no right to enforce nonproliferation rules on other countries. One way the Nuclear Eight could begin to show they are serious about disarmament would be to follow Israel’s example and lower the salience of their weapons — putting them at the bottom of their national arsenals, refraining from pointing to them during crises and declining to pull international rank because of them. Since such forbearance has not threatened the small, beleaguered Jewish state’s security, the United States, Russia, Pakistan, France and, increasingly, China have no excuse for relying as prominently as they do on nuclear arsenals. Karpin stops short of offering this implication, but the world might be a bit safer if all the nuclear powers put their bombs in the basement. ·

George Perkovich is vice president for studies of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of “India’s Nuclear Bomb.”

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Filed under History, Israel, Literature

Noor Anayat Khan: The Princess Who Became a Spy

Noor Anayat Khan: The Princess Who Became a Spy

She was a Sufi pacifist who fought for Britain and died at the hands of the Gestapo
by Boyd Tonkin

February 20, 2006
The Independent

This is the story of a young Indian Muslim woman who joined a secret organisation dedicated to acts of sabotage, subversion and terrorism across Europe. A fierce critic of British imperialism, she worked with passion and audacity to damage and disrupt the forces of law and order. Captured, she proved impenitent and uncontrollable. She died a horrific death in custody. And now, perhaps, is the right time to revisit the life of Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, George Cross, Croix de Guerre with gold star, MBE: the British secret agent who was kicked into a “bloody mess” on the stone floors of Dachau concentration camp through the night of 13 September 1944, and then shot with Noor Anayat Khan: The Princess Who Became a Spy . Yet Noor the spy became a tigress whose bravery and defiance startled – and outraged – her German jailers and torturers. A few responded differently. When told during his postwar interrogation about her death in Dachau, Hans Josef Kieffer – head of the Gestapo headquarters in Paris – apparently broke down in tears.

Controversies and rumours still abound. Noor’s posthumous career as a war heroine began in earnest in 1952, when her friend and comrade Jean Overton Fuller did her best to dispel the fog of confusion and misinformation left by her death in a book, Madeleine – Noor’s Resistance codename. Maurice Buckmaster, Noor’s colonel in SOE, and the top cryptographer Leo Marks both recalled her in their memoirs with an intense, possessive – but rather patronising – affection that often makes for more heat than light. Marks, briefed to expect as his latest apprentice a “potty princess”, typically begins his recollections of their first encounter by writing that “no one had mentioned Noor’s extraordinary beauty”.

From her spellbound SOE trainers at Beaulieu Manor to the governor of Pforzheim jail who came almost to revere the prisoner he kept in chains, Noor left no one unmoved. Yet her quiet charisma made fancy corrupt fact. In recent years, two colourful novels have embroidered her tale with the interests and penchants of their authors: the French writer Laurent Joffrin’s frankly romanticised All That I Have, and Shauna Singh Baldwin’s more politically engaged The Tiger Claw.

However, the recent declassification of personal files has allowed the always-murky deeds of SOE and its “F Section” agents who spied (and died) in France to emerge further into the light of history. Fresh material surfaced when, last year, Sarah Helm’s A Life in Secrets traced the biography of Vera Atkins: the SOE staff officer who, plagued by remorse at the hideous fate of so many of her F Section “girls”, made a secret postwar enquiry into their betrayal and capture. Now, Shrabani Basu – a historian and journalist based in London as correspondent for an Indian newspaper group – has pieced together Noor’s story more fully and reliably than ever before in a new biography, Spy Princess.

For Basu, “60 years after the war, Noor’s vision and courage are inspirational”. She has proposed to English Heritage that a blue plaque should mark Noor’s address at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, and a decision will be made in June. Thanks to her book, a new generation can grasp what Noor did, and how she did it, with much greater clarity. Yet the “why” remains, in some sense, as elusive as ever.

Noor Inayat Khan was the great-great-great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the Muslim ruler of Mysore whose celebrated military prowess stalled the advance of East India Company forces at the end of the 18th century. Ever after, the British in India treated the family with the utmost suspicion. Yet Hazrat, her father, turned his back on this rebel and warrior tradition when he became a Sufi teacher and founded an order to spread – via music – his peaceful, tolerant and non-dogmatic faith to the world. A gifted singer and instrumentalist from a family of virtuosi, he met his American wife on tour in California. By the time Noor was born, in January 1914, the Inayat Khans were living and performing in Moscow, and her mother, the former Ora Ray Baker, had donned sari and veil as “Amina Begum”.

After an infancy in the chilly wartime squares of Bloomsbury, Noor grew up in the suburbs of Paris, at “Fazal Manzil”: a much-loved house in Suresnes outside which a military band still plays in her honour every 14 July. The eldest child of four, seen by all as kind, vague and artistic, she suddenly had to take charge of the family when her father’s death on a visit to India in 1927 left her mother immobilised by grief. For the first, but not the last, time, crisis turned Noor the dreamer into Noor the leader.

In the 1930s, Noor studied music (especially the harp) at the Paris conservatory, and child psychology at the Sorbonne. She also became a talented writer and broadcaster of children’s stories. On Amazon you can find Noor’s Twenty Jataka Tales (1939): charming Buddhist fables in which, eerily, animals overcome their fragility to perform feats of bravery and sacrifice. At this time, she got engaged to a pianist of Jewish origin, one aspect – together with rumours of a later, wartime engagement to a fellow British officer – of a still-mysterious emotional life.

After Germany invaded France in June 1940, Noor the Muslim Sufi pacifist – and passionate believer in India’s right to independence from colonial rule – made the moral choice that fixed the course of her life, and death. She and her brother Vilayet decided, in the face of Nazi aggression, that non-violence was not enough. They jointly vowed that they would work – as Vilayat told Shrabani Basu in 2003 – “to thwart the aggression of the tyrant”.

Surviving the chaos of the mass flight from Paris to Bordeaux, they made a dramatic seaborne escape to England. There, Noor volunteered for the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and started on the long road of signals and wireless training that would lead her – a woman raised in France, perfectly bilingual, and with advanced radio skills – to recruitment as a secret agent in November 1942. Selwyn Jepson, the novelist-turned-spy who first interviewed her for SOE, later found himself remembering Noor with a “very personal vividness… the small, still features, the dark quiet eyes, the soft voice, and the fine spirit glowing in her”. No one ever forgot Noor, or ever felt indifferent about her, though some SOE trainers doubted her suitability for espionage and tried to block her progress into the field.

They failed, and within days of her arrival in France in June 1943 she had proved them wrong. As the broken Prosper network of Resistance cells collapsed, Noor dodged from safe house to safe house in Paris, outwitting the Gestapo and transmitting messages with immense speed and accuracy in hostile conditions. “Single-handedly,” according to Basu, “she did the work of six radio operators.” In London, code-master Leo Marks noted that “her transmissions were flawless, with all their security checks intact”.

With F Section still in disarray, but starting to rebuild thanks to her work, Noor was finally betrayed in October – probably by RenÈe Garry, sister of her first contact in Paris. Within minutes of being taken to the Gestapo HQ at 84 avenue Foch, she had climbed onto a bathroom window ledge in an escape attempt. Forced by the Germans to keep up radio transmissions (the “radio game” inflicted on captured agents), Noor duly sent the agreed 18-letter signal to alert SOE about her capture. It was ignored: one of a catalogue of SOE blunders. Later in her interrogation, she joined with other agents to plan another daring escape that involved loosening, and then removing, the bars on their windows. It almost succeeded – ironically, a simultaneous RAF air raid on Paris prompted a sudden security check.

Now viewed as incorrigibly dangerous and uncooperative, Noor was sent in November 1942 to Pforzheim prison in Germany, where – bound by three chains, in solitary confinement – she endured 10 months of medieval abuse. She ranked as a Nacht und Nebel (“Night and Fog”) inmate, earmarked only for oblivion and death. Shackled, starved, beaten, she never talked. Then, in September 1944, came the transfer to Dachau along with three other female agents, and the end of her sufferings.

Knowing the whole truth – or almost the whole truth – about Noor does not make her any less paradoxical. Basu, who quashes so many myths about this “Muslim woman of Indian origin who made the highest sacrifice for Britain”, also stresses that she fervently backed the struggle for Indian liberty. Indeed, Noor shocked – and maybe rather impressed – the interview panel when she went for an WAAF commission in 1942 by arguing that, after the war, she might feel obliged to fight the British in India. That makes her – although a commissioned British officer, and a holder of the George Cross – a curious national heroine. As for her Muslim identity, the Inayat Khans’ brand of all-inclusive Sufism would count as heresy or worse to the kind of hardliner who now presumes to speak for Islam in and to the West.

The key to her career may be that this child of a liberal, cultured home freely chose her fate. She chose to fight Nazism; she chose to do it alongside the British; she chose the risks of espionage; and she chose to stay in Paris when SOE ordered her home. At a memorial service in Paris, General de Gaulle’s niece summed up her achievement: “Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However, she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage.” When she died with “freedom” on her lips, it was hers. And it was ours as well.

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Filed under Europe, History

The Middle East and the West: A Troubled History

The Middle East and the West: A Troubled History

In a special six-part series, NPR’s Mike Shuster examines the long and turbulent history of Western inovolvement in the Middle East, from the Crusades to the wars in Iraq.

1098 – 1291

The Crusades: Two Centuries of Holy War

Saladin; Credit: © Bettmann/Corbis

Aug. 17, 2004 · In the late 11th century, the Pope of Rome declares a crusade to seize Jerusalem from the Arabs, who have held the Holy Land for centuries. In just a few years, European knights seize the city, slaughtering most of its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants and launching two centuries of holy war. | Map | Bios

1453 – 1683

The Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Suleiman the Magnificent; Credit: © Bettmann/Corbis

Aug. 18, 2004 · Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Ottoman sultans dominate the Islamic world — ruling over a region stretching from Iran to Morocco. The Ottoman Empire becomes the most powerful state in the Mediterranean, seizing European land in the Balkans and Hungary and twice laying siege to Vienna. | Map | Bios

1783 – 1912

Europe Carves Up the Middle East

Napoleon in Egypt; Credit: © Christie's Images/Corbis

Aug. 19, 2004 · In the midst of the French Revolution, Napoleon seizes Egypt in 1798, setting in motion century-long European scramble for the Middle East. Eventually, the British would take Egypt, Sudan and the small states of the Persian Gulf. France would seize Algeria and Morocco. And Arab resistance to European encroachment would prompt much bloody violence. | Map | Bios

1914 – 1936

World War I and its Aftermath

Lawrence of Arabia; Credit: © Bettmann/Corbis

Aug. 20, 2004 · World War I sees Europe complete the seizure of the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany, is crushed by Britain and France. The territories of Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine fall into European hands. The French and British draw the borders of the modern Middle East, and the League of Nations sanctions their domination of the region. | Map | Bios

1945 – 1973

The Rise of the U.S. in the Middle East

President Franklin D. Roosevelt meets with Saudi King Abdul Aziz in 1945; Credit: National Archives

Aug. 23, 2004 · As World War II ends, the United States becomes the great outside power in the Middle East, with three main concerns: Persian Gulf oil; support and protection of Israel, founded in 1948; and containment of the Soviet Union. The goals prove difficult to manage, especially through the rise of Arab nationalism, two major Arab-Israeli wars and an Arab oil embargo. | Map | Bios

1979 – 2003

The Clash with Islam

Osama Bin Laden; Credit: © Reuters/Corbis

Aug. 24, 2004 · In 1979, Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan foreshadow a rise in Islamic radicalism. Violence intensifies, with the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf war. By the mid-1990s, America faces a new enemy: Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. After the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. involvement in the Middle East is deeper than ever. | Map | Bios

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Filed under History, Middle East & Muslim World

Norman Finkelstein & Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami Debate

Norman Finkelstein & Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami Debate:

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Today, we bring you a discussion with two of the world’s leading experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both of them have new books on the subject. We’re joined by Shlomo Ben-Ami, both an insider and a scholar. As Foreign Minister under Ehud Barak, he was a key participant in years of Israel-Palestinian peace talks, including the Camp David and Taba talks in 2000 and 2001. An Oxford-trained historian, he is currently Vice President of the Toledo Peace Centre in Madrid. His new book is called Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy. President Bill Clinton says, quote, “Shlomo Ben-Ami worked tirelessly and courageously for peace. His account of what he did and failed to do and where we go from here should be read by everyone who wants a just and lasting resolution.

We’re also joined by Norman Finkelstein. He’s a professor of political science at DePaul University. His books include A Nation on Trial, which he coauthored with Ruth Bettina Birn, named as a New York Times notable book for 1998. He’s also the author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict and The Holocaust Industry. His latest book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. His website is Avi Shlaim of Oxford University calls Beyond Chutzpah “Brilliantly illuminating… On display are all the sterling qualities for which Finkelstein has become famous: erudition, originality, spark, meticulous attention to detail, intellectual integrity, courage, and formidable forensic skills.?

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