A campaign to make a female Muslim war hero the face of the new £50 note is gaining momentum.
Historians and politicians have backed the call to have Noor Inayat Khan front the note – reissued in plastic from 2020 – which would make her the first ethnic minority to be printed on British money.
Working as a spy for Britain against the Nazis, Noor became the first female radio operator to be sent behind enemy lines into Nazi-occupied France in 1943. She was just 29.
A Muslim Sufi pacifist who began her career as a children’s writer living in Paris with her family, Noor was an unlikely candidate to fight in World War Two.
But after escaping to Britain when the Nazis invaded France, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and went on to be recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a special unit set up by Winston Churchill.
She single-handedly ran a network of secret agents in France, despite the threat of being caught by the Gestapo, helping to save the lives of countless people across Europe.
She was eventually captured but despite repeatedly being tortured by Nazis, she refused to give up any information about Britain. It eventually led to her death at Dachau concentration camp.
Her apparent final word, after a savage beating, was ‘Liberte’.
Noor was posthumously awarded military honors by France and Britain – the Croix De Guerre and the George Cross.
The campaign to instate her as the face of £50 – kick-started by social activist Zehra Zaidi – has already had backing from prominent MPs and peers including Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and hate-monitoring group Tell MAMA.
So far, within 24 hours of launching, the online petition has had more than 900 signatures – almost reaching its target of 1,000.
It also has the support of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust which successfully raised funds for a memorial in 2012, the only statue of an Asian woman in the United Kingdom.
Zehra Zaidi writes on her petition: ‘Noor’s story resonates to this day. We see rising populism and division across Europe. We see an increase in antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred and intolerance.
Never has there been more of a need to bring communities together.
‘Let us recognize the positive contributions of Muslims in this country and this one remarkable woman in particular. She was a Sufi who believed in non-violence and religious harmony.
‘However, she volunteered to be on the front line because she believed in the fight against fascism.’
Zehra added: ‘Noor’s story is important as it also shows that in our complex patchwork of identities in Modern Britain: one can be proudly British and proudly Indian, Asian and Muslim; one can seek Indian independence but still fight for Britain and its allies; one can be a Sufi pacifist and still wish to fight fascism.
‘Equally, we can all be proud of British Muslim heroines like Noor Inayat Khan.’
Tom Tugendhat MP wrote online that ‘a national hero who reflects what we value most should be on the new £50, Noor Inayat Khan GC does that’.
The Bank of England said it was not limiting its pool of potential historical figures to women or people of color, and added that it was up to the public to nominate suitable people.