New film “Banaz: A Love Story” shows secret tragedy of ‘honour’ based violence

Leigh Cuen – WNN Reviews

Banaz Mamoud during her interview with the London police
A blurred still image taken during a London police interview of Banaz Mahmod, is part of the new documentary film “Banaz: A Love Story” by filmmaker, human rights activist and music celebrity Deeyah. It shows the stark vulnerability of a woman facing lethal ‘honour’ based violence alone without support of local authorities. In spite of her statements to the police, Banaz is one of the many casualties who have been killed by family members as their daughters ‘dared’ to go against their family’s precise and often difficult wishes. Image: Deeyah/Fuuse Films

(WNN) London, UNITED KINGDOM: The Honour Based Violence Awareness Network says today the UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund statistics estimates that 5,000 “so-called honour” killings are committed around the world every year. Across the Western world there are rising levels of ‘honour’ violence. This form of crime is distinguished from others by its collaborative and highly ritualized nature, typically involving members of the victim’s immediate family.

This kind of per-meditated violence inside a family may be unbelievable. But it continues to happen worldwide. and many of its victims belong to migrant families

A ground-breaking new film documentary, “Banaz: A Love Story,” produced by the prize winning human rights activist and critically acclaimed woman singer and composer from Norway known throughout the music world as Deeyah, includes a searing ‘inside look’ into the life of Banaz Mahmod who tried over and over again to get protection from the London police before her untimely death in an ‘honour’ killing. It includes never-before seen footage recorded by Banaz’s boyfriend Rahmat. The film also includes interviews with Banaz’s sister Bekhal, and an up-close look at the Scotland Yard detective, Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, who worked tirelessly to track down the killers of Banaz.

Today both Rahmat and Bekhal are hiding separately in undisclosed locations in Europe to escape the fate that haunted Banaz.

“Honour Killing is not really a crime of passion. It’s pre-meditated,” said Deeyah to London based human rights activist, publisher and founder Chris Crowstaff of The Safe World International Foundation in a 2006 interview as Deeyah was in the early stages of the film’s production. “And it’s not the crime of just one person. It’s typically planned by a number of people, and not something that happens in the heat of a moment of passion or insanity between one person unleashing violence against another,” continued Deeyah.

In 2006 South London, twenty-year old Banaz Mahmod’s uncles and cousins burst into her house early in the morning. They woke her by beating her, a beating which continued for several hours, with the consent and approval of her immediate family. Then they murdered her in a slow and gruesome manner adding rape to the crime. After the murder of Banaz, her parents removed all pictures of her from the family house. Years later they refused to cooperate with police investigations.

Although many people don’t know this, murder is only one of many other kinds of ‘honour’ crime. Other types include forced abortion, female genital mutilation known as ‘hymen repair’ by those families who inflice this on their daughters, abduction or forced marriage, forced prostitution, and lastly ‘honour suicide.’ According to Diana Nammi, the director of the IKWRO – Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation in London, an estimated 3,000 ‘honour’ crimes were committed in the U.K. during 2010. Activists and law enforcement agents agree that these statistics are gross under-estimates. Commonly ‘honour’ crimes are committed with the active participation of family and neighbors. Consequently such crimes typically go unreported.

Including raw footage from the London police video files, “Banaz: A Love Story” contains recorded statements and urgent pleas for help by Banaz that were made to the police. Contacting the police six times before she was murdered the police made no efforts to investigate Banaz’s case. No police help was offered even after Banaz was hospitalized after escaping from one ‘honour’ crime murder attempt that was made before her death.

In the footage from one of her visits to the police Banaz sits calmly in a red sweater, a glimpse of a delicate gold necklace peeks out from beneath her collar. She carefully describes abuse, a forced marriage, stalkers and threats against her life made by her own relatives. “When he raped me it was like I was his shoe that he could wear whenever he wanted to. I didn’t know if this was normal in my culture, or here. I was 17.” Banaz said describing the husband her family had chosen for her. When she finally left her husband, she said her family was furious with her.

“Now I have given my statement. What can you do for me?” she asked the police officer in attendance once the details of her story had been made ‘on-the-record.’ A chilling silence follows her question as the officer recording Banaz’s statements offers her no refuge.

For a moment, Banaz’s head hangs heavy. Before her statement to the police had been made, her sister Bekhal had also already been threatened by her family. Because of this Bekhal was now living in hiding, “If she was still alive,” said Banaz to the police. Her sister was estranged not only from her parents but from the entire community. Sitting at the police station in London, Banaz silently weighs her options and decides to go back home.

Shockingly this was the first of many statements Banaz would make to the police before her death.

Banaz Mahmod’s nickname was a Kurdish word that means tenderness, the softness of a new born lamb, that matches the soft voice of Banaz as she tells her story of abuse and fear at the hands of her tormentors. Exclusive first-time interviews in the film with Banaz’s sister Bekhal, who wears a black veil covering her face to protect her from retaliations, introduces us to Banaz through childhood memories.

Bekhal also shares her own memories as her family attempted to commit ‘honour’ crimes against her: forcibly circumcising her with a knife when she was a teenager, then later beating her and trying to kill her. She also describes how today she continues to live with what she calls an “omnipresent fear.” Her dark eyes swell with tears; “My only regret is I should have taken Banaz with me [when I fled],” she says.

In the making of Deeyah’s film, no friends or other family members would speak on camera about Banaz – even her boyfriend Rahmat, who contributed short videos of Banaz in the hospital and text message conversations to the film production. No one who knew Banaz when she was alive would speak about her to the production crew.

All of the film’s other interviews are from activists and law enforcement. All learned about the fate of Banaz after her death. The documentary features conversations with Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, who won the Queen’s Award in 2011 for her dedicated efforts in tracing and jailing Banaz’s murderers.

The publicity that surrounded this case, years after Banaz’s murder, brought harsh criticism against the British police, and a new awareness about ‘honour’ crime in Europe. But the Metropolitan Police in London still does not have a specialized unit dedicated to investigating ‘honour’ crime. Nothing was ever done to investigate or punish the police officers who failed to protect Banaz.

Memini - a new website about the victims of honour violence
Memini is an online project that was created by rights activist filmmaker, musician and celebrity Deeyah in 2011. It chronicles and gives dignity to the victims of ‘honour’ violence who now unable to speak for themselves. Banaz Mahmoud is only one of many of the faces included in this online memorial. Image: Deeyah

After the recent October 1, 2012 premier of the film at the Raindance Film Festival in London, the story of Banaz is now traveling the international circuit. “The country of origin of the film is Norway and England, which is why it is receiving it’s first ever screening in England.  The film is also being submitted to festivals in the US and internationally and will start being shown on tv in different countries later this year and early next year,” said Deeyah in a recent interview with WNN – Women News Network.

Deeyah’s film concludes with pictures of young British women who come from immigrant families, the names and photographs of dozens who have been murdered in ‘honour’ killings by their fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles and husbands. Most of these murders are still unsolved. In the U.K., many of the victims of ‘honour’ violence are women between the ages of 15 to 24.

So how can we stop the on-surge of ‘honour’ violence worldwide?

There are many challenges for those who are now working to stop the ‘honour’ killings. One major obstacle is the lack of education, training and/or networks within law enforcement that address the issues facing young women trapped by abuse and family hierarchies.

An attorney working for a United States based women’s shelter in Texas recently told CBS news about two U.S. cases: a stepmother trying to protect a child from mutilation and a 16-year old runaway whose parents were threatening to sue the shelter where she found refuge if it allowed her to remain there. International advocates working to stop the violence agree: Law enforcement needs education to help them recognize and identify these potential crimes. They also need to find resources to care for a victims who can’t return home.

Governments too have failed to protect their citizens from ‘honour’ crimes, either through official laws or the unwritten, common practice of denial say the advocates. Sometimes it is a deadly combination of the two. In 2011 international human rights monitor Human Rights Watch reported that the current Iraqi law “limits the prison sentence to less than three years for an honor killing of a wife by her husband.” It wasn’t until 2011 that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally declared ‘honour’ killings a crime in the West Bank.

In nations with clear laws against such violence, such as Israel or the U.K., the block to stop ‘honour’ based violence continues. Police departments are often reluctant to investigate crimes within minority communities that may be resentful and suspicious of authorities. These communities are already hypersensitive to racism and prejudice, which makes many political and government leaders reluctant to talk openly about the issue.

As a human rights activist of mixed Pakistani and Afghan descent, Deeyah does not accept such concerns as a valid excuse. “We shall not sacrifice the lives of ethnic minority women for the sake of so-called political correctness,” she outlined. “I’d rather hurt feelings than see women die because of our fear, apathy and silence,” she added.

British stop ‘honour’ violence activists have also accused British police officers of leaking information about a victim’s location to their perpetrators. Greater overall accountability among law enforcement is essential to resolving ‘honour’ crime around the world say the advocates. Although efforts to bring greater awareness to the police force in London on issues surrounding ‘honour’ based violence have occured, problems still continue. “We’ve had cases where police or social services have put victims in greater danger by letting members of their family know that they have sought help,” said the IKWRO in a May 2012 International Woman’s Day release.  “Some officers have even given a victim’s address to their family after they have escaped, plunging them back into danger,” continued the IKWRO.

Another major hurdle is the lack of public awareness and the grave misconception that ‘honour’ violence is committed only against women, not men, who live in Muslim countries or in immigrant communities. According to Amtal Rana, project worker at East London’s Kiran Asian Women’s Aid, local police figures reveal that 15 percent of those forced into marriage are men. British ‘non-Muslim’ South Asian and Orthodox Jewish communities also suffer from forced marriage. There have also been many reports of other kinds of ‘honour’ based violence from African-immigrant communities. British Hindu and Sikh families have also carried out ‘honour’ killings in the U.K.

‘Honour’ violence does not only affect those within a given community. In August 2004, a gang of Muslim men in the U.K. mistakenly attacked Major Singh Gill, a 45-year old male Sikh, because they believed – incorrectly – that his son was dating a Muslim woman. Armed with the wrong information, 6 Muslim men rushed into Gill’s shop in West Bromwich in the West Midlands and beat him to death with iron bars, clubs and hockey sticks.

Other experts say that levels of ‘honour’ violence does not have any proven correlation to a family’s economic situation, level of education or ‘integration.’ A 2008 report by a U.K. based CIVITAS sponsored project called the Centre for Social Cohesion says, “This is not a one-time problem of first-generation immigrants bringing practices from ‘back home’ to the UK. Instead honour violence is now, to all intents and purposes, an indigenous and self-perpetuating phenomenon which is carried out by third and fourth generation immigrants who have been raised and educated in the UK.”

The control of women against their will is a basic tenant of ‘honour’ based violence that lingers inside numerous communities today, the advocates agree. “The Jewish experience shows even members of the most prosperous and long-established immigrant groups in the UK can preserve their traditional honour-based value systems for centuries despite being exposed to a range of competing ideas and value-systems,” says the report study by the Centre for Social Cohesion.

Religion, race, nationality and culture are not causes of ‘honour’ violence; they are merely circumstances. ‘Honour’ based crimes are part of the landscape inside the United States also. The case in the 2009 death of Noor Almaleki after Noor’s father ran over her and her boyfriend’s mother in his car because Noor had become ‘too Westernized’ was highlighted again this year in an April 2012 report by Amnesty International USA. The boyfriend’s mother did survive her injuries, but Noor never could come out of the comma she went into after her spine was severely crushed by the weight of her father’s car.

These are just one of many other stories in the U.S. relating the tragedy of ‘honour’ based violence. The only solution across borders and generations is honesty, even in the face of fear, say those closest who are now working worldwide to stop all ‘honor’ crimes.

The film documentary about Banaz Mahmod is “a love story at its core,” says filmmaker Deeyah. Banaz’s sister Bekhal’s decision to come forward and speak about her sister, saturates the tale of violence with overwhelming love, bravery and strength.

Making the film has come with a dangerous price though. In the process of making the film Deeyah has received numerous threats for her work raising awareness about ‘honour’ violence. “That Banaz’s voice can finally be heard is far more important in the greater scheme of things than worrying about my safety,” says Deeyah. “Maybe in death we can give her the respect of finally listening,” she added.


Chronicling through documentary film an act of horror and a case that “shocked the entire world,” in the brutal ‘honour’ killing of Banaz Mahmod, a young British Kurdish woman in suburban London in 2006, was killed and ‘disappeared’ by her own family, with the agreement and help of the Kurdish community, because she tried to choose a life for herself. Until now, the voice of Banaz herself has never been heard. Four years of production work on “Banaz: A Love Story” by filmmaker, human rights activist, music composer and celebrity Deeyah reveals the secret trust Banaz gave to the police force in London. A trust that was never met before the end of her life. Despite the horror, what emerges is “a story of love…” says Deeyah as she chronicled Banaz along with the testimony made by her sister Bekhal – who spoke-out against her own community to stand against the atrocity. Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, a senior detective from Scotland Yard, found out through her investigations the dark root of injustice in this case where she traced Banaz’s steps and to, “love Banaz beyond the grave.”


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Currently based in Israel, Leigh Cuen, freelance journalist and reviewer for WNN – Women News Network, specializes in reporting on global human rights issues, the environment, identity, cross cultural communication, multicultural art and contemporary literature. In addition to WNN, she has written for the Earth Island Journal, San Francisco Public Press, Palestinian News Network, J. weekly newspaper and El Tecolote newspaper. She has also contributed research to the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute on the political culture of English-speakers from the Middle East and other topics, including the Muslim communities of Chechnya and China.

Additional edits and material for this story have been provided by Lys Anzia, Editor-at-Large for WNN – Women News Network.


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