The killing of a relative,in certain cultures, especially a girl or woman, who is perceived to have brought dishonor on the family is called “honor killing”.
Banaz Mahmod was one of the victim of honor killing. She fell in love at 19, so her family killed her.
As one of five daughters in a strictly-traditional Kurdish family, Banaz Mahmod’s future was ordained whether she liked it or not.
She was kept away from Western influences, entered an arranged marriage at the age of 16 with a member of her clan and was expected to fulfil the role of subservient wife and mother.
But Banaz, a bright, pretty 19-year-old, fell in love with another man.
And for that, she was murdered by her father, uncle and a group of family friends. The very people who should have protected her from harm plotted her killing, garrotted her with a bootlace, stuffed her body in a suitcase and buried her under a freezer.
Banaz’s crime was to “dishonour” her father, Mahmod Mahmod, an asylum seeker from Iraqi Kurdistan, by leaving her abusive marriage and choosing her own boyfriend – a man from a different Kurdish clan.
Her punishment was discussed at a family “council of war” attended by her father, uncle Ari and other members of the clan. In the living room of a suburban semi in Mitcham, South London, it was decided that this young woman’s life was to be snuffed out so that her family would not be shamed in the eyes of the community.
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Banaz was only ten when she came to Britain with her father, who had served in the Iraqi army, her mother Behya, brother Bahman and sisters Beza, Bekhal, Payman and Giaband.
The family, who came from the mountainous and rural Mirawaldy area, close to the Iranian border, were escaping Saddam Hussein’s regime and were granted asylum.
But Banaz’s move to a western country changed nothing about the life she was made to lead.
She had met her husband-tobe only three times before her wedding day, once on her father’s allotment. He was ill-educated and old-fashioned but her family described him as ‘the David Beckham of husbands’.
The teenage bride, who was taken to live in the West Midlands, was to tell local police in September 2005 that she had been raped at least six times and routinely beaten by her husband.
In one assault, she claimed, one of her teeth was almost knocked out because she called him by his first name in public.
To leave the arranged marriage would have brought dishonour on the Mahmod family and Banaz’s parents apparently preferred their child to suffer abuse rather than be shamed.
But after two years of marriage, she insisted on returning home to seek sanctuary. It was there, at a family party in the late summer of 2005, that she met Rahmat Sulemani.
For the first time in her blighted existence, Banaz fell in love. She was besotted with Rahmat, 28, calling him ‘my prince’ and sending endless loving text messages. Her father and uncle Ari were furious; the young woman was not yet formally divorced by her husband and her boyfriend was neither from their clan nor religious. More importantly, perhaps, he had not been chosen by her family.
Mahmod became enraged when his daughter refused to give up her boyfriend and talked of being in love.
The threat to family honour was immense and made worse by the fact that Banaz’s elder sister, Bekhal, had already brought “shame” on the family by moving out of the house at the age of 15, to escape her father’s violence.
Bekhal’s defiance meant that Mahmod lost status in the community because he was seen to have failed to control his women and his younger brother Ari, a wealthy entrepreneur who ran a money transfer business, took over as head of the family.
It was he who telephoned Banaz on December 1, 2005 to tell her to end the affair with Rahmat or face the consequences.
The following day, Ari called a council of war to plan her murder and the disposal of her body. She was secretly warned by her mother that the lives of her and her boyfriend were in danger, and she went to Mitcham Police Station to report the death threat. But she was so terrified of her family’s reaction that she asked police to take no action and refused to move to a refuge.
The next day, an officer called at the family home but Banaz would not let him in.
She believed that her mother would protect her from harm but as an insurance against her disappearance, went back to the police station a week later to make a full statement, naming the men she believed would kill her.
One of the men was Mohamad Hama, who has admitted murder and two of the others named fled back to Iraq after the killing. On New Year’s Eve 2005, she was lured to her grandmother’s house in nearby Wimbledon for a meeting with her father and uncle to sort out her divorce.
When her father appeared wearing surgical gloves, ready to kill her, she ran out barefoot, broke a window to get into a neighbour’s house and then ran to a nearby cafe, covered in blood from cuts to her hands and screaming: “They’re trying to kill me”.
The officers who attended the scene and accompanied Banaz to hospital did not believe her story.
However, the distressed and injured victim was able to give her own testimony about the attack to the jury in a short video recorded on Rahmat’s mobile phone at St George’s Hospital, Tooting.
The terrified lovers pretended they had parted but they continued to meet in secret. Tragically, they were spotted together in Brixton on January 21 and the Mahmods were informed.
Mohamad Hama and three other men tried to kidnap Rahmat and, when his friends intervened, told him he would be killed later.
When he phoned to warn Banaz, she went to the police and said she would co- operate in bringing charges against her family and other members of the community.
The policewoman who saw Banaz tried to persuade her to go into a hostel or safe house but she thought she would be safe at home because her mother was there.
On January 24, Banaz was left on her own at the family house and her assassins, Hama and two associates, were alerted.
The full details of what happened to her are still not known but two of the suspects, Omar Hussein and Mohammed Ali, who fled back to Iraq after the killing, are said to have boasted that Banaz was raped before she was strangled, “to show her disrespect”.
There followed a “massively challenging” investigation into her disappearance by detectives, fearing the worst. The family’s appalling crime was finally exposed when, three months after she went missing, Banaz’s remains were found, with the bootlace still around her neck.
The discovery of her body provoked no emotion in her father and uncle. Even at her funeral, the only tears were from Banaz’s brother.
“She had a small life,” a detective on the case said. “There is no headstone on her grave, nothing there to mark her existence.”
Yesterday, her devastated boyfriend, who has been given a new identity by the Home Office under the witness protection programme, said: “Banaz was my first love. She meant the world to me.”
The dead girl’s older sister, Bekhal, urged other women in the same position as her and her sister to seek help before it is too late.
Even today she continues to fear for her life, lives at a secret address and never goes out without wearing a long black veil that covers her entire body and face apart from her eyes.
She strongly rejected the suggestion that Banaz had brought “shame” on her Kurdish family by falling in love with a man they did not approve of, saying her sister simply wanted to live her own life.
“There’s a lot of evil people out there. They might be your own blood, they might be a stranger to you, but they are evil.
“They come over here, thinking they can still carry on the same life and make people carry on how they want them to live life.”
Asked what was in her father’s mind on the day that Banaz died, Bekhal replied: “All I can say is devilishness. How can somebody think that kind of thing and actually do it to your own flesh and blood? It’s disgusting.”
Bekhal says she is scared whenever she sees somebody from the same background as her.
“I watch my back 24/7.”
Honor killings were almost unheard of in Britain until a few years ago but police and the Crown Prosecution Service now estimate there are about a dozen such murders a year.
Campaigners say that the issue was misunderstood and that the authorities had been unwilling to get involved in minority community matters for fear of being culturally insensitive.
Indeed, Banaz had contacted police a number of times before her death, saying she believed her father was trying to kill her, but no action was taken.
Hannana Siddiqui of Southall Black Sisters, an organization experienced in dealing with honor killings, said the authorities were worried about being seen to be heavy handed.
“That’s often been the reason why agencies like the police and social services have not wanted to get involved in cases of abuse within communities because they think it would be culturally insensitive to do so,” she told Reuters.
Mahmoud Mahmoud, Ari Mahmoud and Hama will be sentenced at a later date along with Pshtewan Hama, 26, who admitted perverting the course of justice.
A fifth man, Darbaz Rasull, 24, was cleared of perverting the course of justice.
The United Nations estimates there are 5,000 honor killings worldwide every year, many of them in the Arab world.
Jordan, with its strong tribal culture, has a high incidence of this type of killing. In an interview with Time Magazine in May, Jordan’s Queen Rania was asked what the kingdom was doing to eliminate the practice.
“As a woman, as an Arab, as a Muslim, I would like to state very clearly that this is a heinous and totally unacceptable practice,” she said. “It is not condoned by Islam, and honor killings are not limited to the Arab or Muslim world. In Jordan, we are challenging this disgraceful practice.
“Progress has been slow because we need to build awareness, and that takes time,” Queen Rania added.
Al Arabiyah News
Banaz: A Love Story (2012)
This is a documentary film chronicling the brutal Honour Killing of Banaz Mahmod, a young British Kurdish woman in London, killed by her own family for choosing a life for herself.
Documentary Shines a Light on Honor Killing
In 2005, after three years of abuse, Banaz finally left Ali and went to the police. In the extensive excerpts from the police video that are featured in the harrowing documentary about her short life and violent death, Bajaz: A Love Story,which won an Emmy earlier this month, Banaz described Ali’s mistreatment of her in detail, noting that one beating had dislocated her wrist and that after one too many kicks in the head she wasn’t able to “remember things so good.”
On the police videotape, we see her asking: “Now that I’ve given this statement, what can you do for me?” She was told that there’d be an inquiry. There never was. It took the police three months to write up her statement. She returned five times, to no avail. As officials admit in the documentary, the police committed a “landslide of mistakes,” missing “all the signs that she was in grave danger.” Banaz missed the signs, too – which, frankly, could hardly have been more obvious. Even after her father tried to strangle her – she managed to escape, scaling a fence, collapsing on the floor of a nearby café, and ending up at a hospital where doctors said they’d “never seen anyone so frightened in their life” – she was persuaded to return home, apparently still unable to fully process the fact that her father was determined to murder her, and assuming, in any case, that if he tried to do so, her mother would somehow manage to protect her.
After leaving her husband, Banaz found a boyfriend, Rahmat. They tried to keep their romance secret. But one day a fellow Kurd spotted them kissing on a street. A phone call was made; a family “council of war” ensued. And the family dishonor was dealt with in the usual fashion. Only a few months after her police interview, Rahmat reported Banaz missing. The police investigation was led by detective Caroline Goode, the documentary’s main talking head. Although over fifty people had been involved in Banaz’s murder, and although “dozens, if not hundreds,” of Kurds in London knew what had happened to her, “not a single member of the community helped us,” recalls Goode, who states flatly that there was a widespread conspiracy “to pervert the course of justice” by giving false testimony and providing false leads.
Despite the stonewalling, however, Goode had an important ally: Banaz’s sister Bekhal, who testified against her family and who appears in the documentary in a full veil – not for religious reasons, but for protection, because she now lives in hiding. Banaz had been strangled to death by three cousins, and at least one of them had also anally raped her – a fact about which he afterwards bragged in a phone call taped by the police. Banaz’s father, uncle, and the three cousins, including two who’d fled to Iraq (and who, according to the film, were the first Iraqi nationals ever to be extradited anywhere), were given life sentences.
The heroes of Banaz: A Love Story are the victim’s sister, Bekhal, who by testifying defied not only her family but the entire Kurdish community, and Goode, who was determined to put the perpetrators behind bars and who, during her investigation, came to feel she’d become a sort of surrogate mother to the slaughtered girl “because she wasn’t loved by her own parents” and because “someone should love her.” The other, unseen hero of this film is the filmmaker herself, another astonishingly beautiful young woman named Deeyah.
Born in Oslo to parents from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Deeyah, as I learned from a profile in Dagsavisen last weekend, started performing on Norwegian TV as a little girl – leading to “brutal threats” from other Muslims – and at age eighteen recorded a song that hit #1 on the Norwegian charts. Not long after that triumph, she was assaulted at a concert and fled Norway for Britain. But there, too, she was the target of Muslim threats. So she moved on to Atlanta, where she spent almost six years and found success as a music producer. (She only recently returned to the U.K.) The Dagsavisen profile is headlined “Betrayed by Norway” because, as Deeyah puts it, “My heart was broken by Norway.” Growing up, she was exposed to plenty of rhetoric about and examples of women’s equality and freedom of speech – but she also experienced firsthand the indifference of mainstream Norwegian society to the rights of women and girls in Muslim communities. This systematic refusal to challenge misogynistic Muslim norms – a refusal that she attributes to a terror of being called racist, but that, as she points out, is itself racist – was what set her on the road to activism.
For those who aren’t familiar with the basic facts about honor culture, Banaz: A Love Story is a useful primer. Like most such films, to be sure, it shies away from the words “Muslim” and “Islam.” When Banaz says on the police videotape, twenty-two minutes into the documentary, that “for a Muslim female it is very hard to get a divorce,” it is the first reference to her religion in the entire movie; in discussing the contexts within which honor killings take place, Deeyah’s talking heads prefer to use terms like “tribal,” “culture,” “village culture,” “Asian,” “Iraqi,” “Pakistani,” or “Middle Eastern” – anything but “Islam.” One of the interviewees insists that honor killing is “not an entirely Muslim phenomenon and it’s a danger to think so.” No, it’s notentirely a Muslim phenomenon – it occurs, though at drastically lower rates, in some non-Muslim cultures, mainly in the Middle East. But the overwhelming majority of honor killings are committed by, and in the name of, Islam – which, if you’re even remotely familiar with the views of women promulgated in the Koran, is hardly surprising.
In any event, Banaz is far more than just a primer on honor culture. It’s an emotionally wrenching piece of work that takes viewers far beyond the grim statistics. One would have to be less than human to watch it and not feel – even if it’s for the thousandth time – a raw, burning outrage at the whole sick concept of honor culture. Imagine a family having a “status” based on the “virtue” of its female members! Imagine a “community” in which every loser family is so obsessed with its “status” in the eyes of all the other loser families that that “status” needs to be maintained at any cost, including the death of its own supposedly beloved children. Imagine a “culture” in which a family’s “status” can mean so much and a loved one’s life so little! There’s a term, folie à deux, for a madness shared by two people, usually living together in relative isolation from others; I didn’t realize until I just looked it up that it’s an actual psychiatric diagnosis, and that the DSM also recognizes such broader variations as folie à trois, folie en famille, and folie à plusieurs. When entire communities, convinced beyond a doubt that they are doing Allah’s work, conspire without hesitation to enable and cover up the barbaric killing of an innocent girl, how much more does it take, one wonders, to justify labeling what they think of as their faith as a mental disorder?
Deeyah’s documentary can now be viewed online, as can a discussion of the film held in Oslo back in January, featuring Deeyah, Goode, and the always appalling Unni Wikan, a social anthropologist at the University of Oslo who has been showing up at these kinds of events forever and whose self-appointed role in them, it would seem, is chiefly to remind the audience, as she put it this time around, that we need to say “again and again” that honor killings “are not grounded in Islam.” When an audience member from a Kurdish background challenged her on this, she replied that “Islam can be used or misused for all kinds of purposes,” insisted (outrageously) that “in the Koran there is nothing to justify” killing women, and pointed to the lack of a tradition of honor killings “in some parts of Indonesia” as evidence that Islam has nothing to do with it. Contradicting Goode’s statement that Banaz’s parents had not loved her, Wikan insisted that the people who commit honor killings do so even though they love the victims deeply: “there is no discrepancy between, on the one hand, loving your daughter or sister and, on the other hand, feeling compelled by the community to kill.” Honor killing, she added, “makes victims of so many.” Meaning what, exactly? Well, on previous occasions, Wikan has stated categorically that the perpetrators of honor killings are themselves victims of the practice, in the same way as the people they murder; but on this occasion, apparently sensing that the audience and her fellow panelists would react to such a sentiment with outrage, Wikan refrained from spelling that opinion out explicitly. But she did go so far as to maintain that those who view perpetrators of honor killings as monsters are “feed[ing] racism.”
To be sure, Wikan was the outlier on a panel that was – to an extent that is unusual in the venues haunted by Oslo’s cultural elite – refreshingly non-PC. “Political correctness,” Goode pronounced, “is killing people.” Deenay didn’t hide her disgust with Islamic “religious and community leaders,” saying, to obvious audience approval, that government “needs to stop legitimizing these weird guys.” Still, there was a clear agenda on the part of all the panelists to try to keep Islam out of the picture as much as possible. (Honor killing, Deeyah claimed, isn’t about Islam but about “collective vs. individual” societies.) Yet the person who got the most applause of all was that audience member who went after Wikan, pointing out that Islamic texts and Islamic theological authorities alike are unambiguous in their support for violence against women. It’s a shame, but no surprise, alas, to see women like Goode and Deeyah making such heroic contributions to the fight against the evil of honor killing, yet hesitating to take the necessary final step of acknowledging that its prevalence in the Islamic world – and in the West’s Islamic communities – is no coincidence.
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