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Deeyah – WNN Features

#044-DEEYAH_BanazALoveStoryFilmPosterFuuse

(WNN) London, UNITED KINGDOM: In a personal and insight-filled essay filmmaker, human rights advocate and music celebrity Deeyah outlines the personal journey she has taken to bring the story of one special woman, Banaz, who’s voice was never heard as she was brutally cut down by family violence, in so-called “honour violence.”

Working to bring the voice of Banaz Mahmod out into the world for the first time publicly, Deeyah shares with us her process as a filmmaker, as a music producer and as a woman who has herself battled against repression.  As a Muslim woman and a music activist Deeyah has worked hard to bring a message of human rights to a global audience through music.

Bringing the voice of Banaz to the front of the message, Deeyah has tracked her own life-changing journey to create a film that shows the intricacies that surround the dark secrets families can hold, and the places where a woman can stay silent under her own suffering and poor self-image.

The story of Banaz is a difficult story. But it is the story of all of us, especially women, who have been left to defend themselves with little advocacy or protection. As research for the film expanded Deeyah began to know, love and respect Scotland Yard investigator Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode who worked on the case with dedication to get all the facts in the case for Banaz.

This was a case that could have been left without further investigation and forgotten. Today Goode and Deeyah have brought the voice of Banaz into the center so Banaz can finally speak for herself through film. Deeyah’s own words as a filmmaker, artist and musician, seen below, offers a map to begin the process of healing to stop violence against women worldwide.

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“I grew up in a community where Honour is a social currency that defines our lives from the moment we are born.

Having honour is often the most sought after, protected and prized asset that speaks to the status and reputation of a family within their community. The burden of honour is most often placed on the behaviour of women. This collective sense of honour and shame has for centuries confined the movement, freedom of choice and restricted the uninhibited expression of ourselves.

You can not be who you are, you can not express your needs, hopes and opinions as an individual if they are in conflict with the greater good and reputation of the family, the community, the collective.  If you grow up in a community defined by these patriarchal concepts of honour and social structures these are the parameters you are expected to live by. This is true for my own life and experiences as well.

Any strong expression of yourself, of autonomy, is not acceptable and can be punished by a variety of consequences from abuse, threats, intimidation, excommunication by the group, violence and the most extreme manifestation: taking someone’s life; murdering someone in the name of honour because their expression of the individual self was not in accordance with the group expectations.

Being silenced just because you want to be yourself and live your own life is something that has interested me through much of my life, especially because of my own experiences of meeting resistance and opposition for my expression and life choices which at the time strayed from the acceptable moral norms afforded to women of my background. I have addressed these honour concepts in various forms through the years but always wanted to do more, especially about the most extreme form of guarding, this “honour” which we know as honour killings.

The medium I felt would allow me the room to explore this topic most in-depth is the documentary film format. This is why I set out almost 4 years ago to make a documentary film about honour killings. My intent was to shed light on this topic and to learn through an extensive list of cases across Europe that could help us all understand the extent of this issue and it’s existence within the diaspora communities of Europe and the USA. The purpose of this project being to create a film that would serve primarily as an educational and informational piece to help us understand better what this issue is and what can be done to prevent or reduce these crimes.

As I started researching and delving further into various cases in detail, I came across the Banaz Mahmod story. It is then I realized that this was the case that would best illustrate the constructs of honour; the lack of understanding around this topic in the Western world; and the severe need to do more across social, political and community lines.

Banaz Mahmod’s life was full of betrayals. As a child she underwent FGM at the hands of her grandmother. At age 17 she was married off to a man she had met only once in order to strengthen family alliances. In her marriage she was abused, raped and forced to endure isolation. At age 19, she left her husband and returned to her family home hoping for safety and security, only to be betrayed again: first by the British authorities who didn’t take her pleas for help seriously when she suspected she was in danger; then by her family, who took her disobedience as an unforgivable act.

At age 20 she disappeared and was never heard from again until she was discovered buried under a patio, wedged in a fetal position inside of a muddy suitcase– a victim of so-called ‘Honour Killing’.

After her death, Banaz found another family in the unlikeliest of places: the Metropolitan Police. It took Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode and her team five years to find and prosecute the perpetrators of this brutal crime, which included her father, uncle and several male cousins. This case spanned two continents and resulted in the only extradition from Iraq by Britain in modern history. In death, Banaz found a family willing to do whatever it took to protect her memory and love her unconditionally.

Banaz’s life and murder is just one among thousands of stories around the world where families chose to obey their community and peer pressure instead of honouring their duty to love and protect their children. Through Banaz’s story, which covers many of the classic patterns of Honour Crimes and oppression, we explore the broader topic of honour killings that is becoming particularly prevalent within diaspora communities in Europe and the US.

Three thousand honour crimes were reported in the UK alone in 2010.  Despite these staggering figures being considered the ‘tip of the iceberg’, many young women like Banaz are let down by officials in the West because of their lack of understanding and training in identifying the signs of an honour crime as well as for fear of upsetting cultural sensitivities and at times from a sense of a general apathy surrounding violence against minority community women.

Honour Killings are an ongoing genocide and an argument that murdering girls and women is justified.

Although in Banaz’ murder investigation, as justice did eventually prevail, Banaz still ended up in the suitcase. Thousands more are in the suitcase and thousands more are heading for the suitcase. Caroline’s extraordinary dedication shows that something can be done, and that what is possible now has a new benchmark.

The story of Banaz is filled with so much darkness.

All of the honour killings I researched are horrifying, heartbreaking and awful, no one case is any less sad and tragic than the other.  The reason I ended up choosing the story of Banaz was not because of the horror but because of the love.  Banaz’s story was different in my eyes from most other stories because there was love in spite of the hatred she faced in her life, in her death someone loved her and someone cared about her, the most unexpected person I would ever imagine, of all people a police officer,  Caroline Goode.

The reason this story moves me so deeply is because it gives me hope and proves that something can be done about all of this, but first we must care.

Caroline Goode is the symbol of someone who cares so deeply, this is why I decided to tell this story instead of the thousands others, because of the love and care of Caroline Goode and the love and care of Banaz’s sister Bekhal.  The courage of Banaz’s sister Bekhal who I have the utmost respect for, she is honourable and she is a heroine in my eyes.  She has sacrificed her own safety and peace of mind for the sake of her love for her own sister.

What has upset me greatly from the very beginning of this project is how absent Banaz was from her own story.  What I mean by that is whenever you see a film or a piece on tv about someone who has passed you will always have family members, friends, people who knew the person sharing their love, their memories and thoughts about the person who has died, they often show family home videos, photos and other momentous.  In this film that was just not the case at all.

Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode symbolizes what can be achieved if we just simply care. Caroline went above and beyond the call of duty, she went to the ends of the earth to find justice for Banaz–not just to fulfill her obligation as a police officer, but from feeling duty bound and seeing Banaz from a mother’s eyes and a mother’s heart. Caroline is honourable. I am grateful to have found Caroline and Banaz through this journey. The core lesson I have learned is that it does matter and there is hope. But more has to be done – and I am committed to doing what I can.

If we worry about offending communities by criticising honour killings, then we are complicit in perpetuating this. Our silence provides the fertile soil and circumstances for this oppression and violence to continue. It’s not racist to protest against honour killings. We have a duty to stand up for individual human rights for all people, not just men and not just for groups.

Let’s not sacrifice the lives of ethnic minority women for the sake of so called political correctness. I’d rather hurt feelings than have women die because of our fear, apathy and silence.

We need to stand in solidarity with each other.

Deeyah with Chief Inspector Caroline Goode

Deeyah with Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, who lead the investigation to solve the crime of Banaz Mahmod’s ‘honour-based’ killing. Image: Fuuse

In order to create change we need first to care. We need authorities, decision makers and politicians to provide the same protections and robust actions for women of ethnic minority communities affected by honour based violence and oppression as they would for any other crimes in any other part of society.

It is not ok to shy away from abuses happening against women in some communities for fears of being labelled racist or insensitive– the very notion of turning a blind eye or walking on egg shells and avoiding to protect basic human rights of some women because they are of a certain ethnic background is not only fatal, but that is actually racist in itself.

We can not continue allowing this slaughter of women in the name of culture, in the name of religion, in the name of tradition and in the name of political correctness. If we allow this to continue we are betraying not only Banaz, but thousands of Banaz’ out there.  Surely we should fearlessly do what we can to protect all individuals in our societies regardless of skin colour, cultural heritage or gender…?

We must challenge these social structures and honour paradigms in every way we can.

Centuries old mindsets, gender roles and social construct will take time to change. But where we can make a real and immediate difference? To change the lack of awareness, of political will, of sufficient training and understanding when it comes to individuals at risk for front-line people who can help.  This ‘help’ includes members of the police, doctors, nurses, school teachers, social service workers and so on.

Banaz is among the people who dared to ask for help.  The majority of young people at risk under the various forms of honour based violence tend not to want to come forward at all.

The only person in the film speaking about Banaz and who had known Banaz alive was her sister, other than that everyone else in the film came to know Banaz after she had passed away. In the production of the film we even put out calls in local newspapers and reached out on Facebook and social media to find anyone who would have known Banaz and would be willing to share their memories of her.

No one came forward.

This hurt my heart throughout the making of this film until I came across the video tape with Banaz herself, telling us what her suffocating reality was like. Watching this tape for the first time was among the most difficult things I have ever experienced.  I had spent 3 and a half years working on this film, learning everything I could about this young women’s life and her death. We were in the final editing process and suddenly here she was on this tape since no one else would come forward to speak about her.

Here she was herself at the very very end of the making of this film.  It was a deeply emotional experience finally seeing and hearing her tell her own story. I found it excruciatingly sad to see her and at the same time I felt so glad and privileged to finally get a chance to see her and hear her.

No one listened to her in her life, so the least we can do is listen to her now.

As a society we let Banaz down. As her community we let her down.

At least we can now give her the courtesy to listen to her and to learn from her. To honour Banaz we can do our best to address this issue with complete honesty and fearlessness.

I am sorry she had to die for people to start the process of learning more about this problem, although measures have been taken to improve the understanding around this, in my humble opinion and the research I have done there is a very long way to go before we can adequately understand, protect and support women at risk.  We don’t need empty slogans or lip service we need real concise action on this issue.  Living in Western societies, we need our lives as “brown” women to matter as much as any white British, Norwegian, French, German, Swedish, American, European or any other woman and fellow human being.

It feels surreal and deeply satisfying to finally stand at the point of completion.  It has been a very long, hard and emotional difficult process to make this film. It’s my very first film ever and I feel proud to have had the chance to work on a project like this and honoured to get to tell the story of such remarkanble women like Banaz, Caroline and Bekhal.

One of the things that has been very moving about this project is although this is the hardest thing I have ever done, every single person who has been involved with the film has done so out of love for Banaz and for this project, this is something I am deeply grateful for.  Even though I did not have the budgets to make a film like this, the time and commitment of my team made it possible to do this — not only have people worked for significantly reduced rates but often they have also worked for free, for example this master musician played in the film because he believes in the story and the issue and wanted to contribute to it even though I was unable to pay him what he usually gets paid.  So the entire process of this film has been like this and I have nothing but gratitude for the hard work, care and passion of everyone involved.

I believe one thing we can do is hold remembrance dear, it is crucial.  I believe these girls are our children, our sisters. These women are our mothers and fellow human beings that we will mourn. We will remember. We will honour their memrory and we will not forget! We can claim them as ours and be their family.

In essence what the murderers have thought is that no one will claim these women as their own, no one will care and no one will stand up for them, so we must.

However small the action, the very least we can do is something, anything.”

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Banaz Mahmod was brutally murdered by her own family, in an honour killing. Deeyah’s film tells Banaz’s story, in her own words, for the first time — and tells the story of the extraordinary police team who refused to give up, and finally brought the killers to justice. This 1:25 minute video is a trailer production by Fuuse Films.

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Banaz A Love Story is now showing at festivals and events around the world. A shorter version has been adapted for TV and was shown on ITV on 31 October, under a different title of “Banaz: An Honour Killing,” through a partnership with Deeyah’s new film and music company Fuuse Films that works to document advocacy, human rights and social justice through film and music.

For more information on ‘honor-based violence’ go to Deeyah’s advocacy site which combines knowledge, resources, art, activism and action: HBVA – Honour Based Violence Awareness Network.  HBVA builds and promotes a network of experts, activists, and NGOs from around the world, establishing international partnerships to facilitate greater collaboration and education.  HBVA draws on the expertise of its international partners, collaborators and experts from Pakistan, Iraq, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, India, Norway, Denmark, Bangladesh, Jordan, Palestine, France.

See Deeyah’s online global memorial to women who have killed from ‘honor-based violence’ – MEMINI – Remembering Victims of Honour Killings Worldwide. “Memini is an online remembrance initiative set up to ensure that the stories of victims of honour killings are told, defying the intent of those who wanted to erase them,” says Deeyah.

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Filmmaker, human rights activist, advocate and musician Deeyah was born and raised in Oslo, Norway to Muslim immigrant parents (her mother is Pashtun of Afghan ancestry and her father is Pakistani). Immersed in music from an early age, Deeyah trained within the North Indian/Pakistani classical vocal tradition for more than fourteen years and had the rare privilege of being the only female ever to be trained by Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and one of very few females to be trained by Ustad Sultan Khan. Her personal story is a fascinating commentary on our modern times and the challenges facing women, especially Muslim women today.

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©2012 WNN – Women News Network
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