Banaz: A Love Story captivates London audience
There was an air of importance at Free Word in Farringdon last night; women’s rights groups, the Metropolitan Police, councillors and members of the public came together to remember Banaz Mahmod. In association with Article 19 and Fuuse Films, the venue showed Banaz: A Love Story, as part of a series of Freedom on Film screenings. There was a subsequent panel discussion about the subject at the documentary’s centre: “honour killings” (a murder practice in some cultures), and how Western society has failed to handle such cases.
In 2006 Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year old Kurdish girl, was raped and killed by gangs of her own family from Mitcham, Surrey. Five of her family members were eventually jailed for arranging and performing the honour killing. Banaz had met and fallen in love with a family friend after divorcing her abusive husband (whom she was forced to marry at age 17; he consequently raped, beat and isolated her) – so her father and uncle wanted to erase her existence and her “dishonour”.
In this documentary Banaz has become the voice of the voiceless – children who are erased by their own tight-knit communities for not following the code.
Banaz: A Love Story explores the complexity of discovering and punishing this type of crime. It has been nominated for the Royal Television Society (RTS) Journalism award and was described by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News as “a completely shocking, revealing and timely insight into the scourge of honour killing”.
The panel included the Norwegian director/producer Deeyah Khan, who suffered “honour abuse” and death threats from her community when she gained success as a pop star. She has made it her mission to inform, educate and train front-line organisations (police, doctors, schools) on this practise in order to help prevent this type of crime in future. She explained: ““Honour” is a form of social currency in some communities and this burden weighs most heavily upon women’s behaviour. This collective sense of honour and shame has for centuries confined our movement, freedom of choice and restricted our autonomy”.
According to the BBC, 3000 honour crimes were reported in the UK alone in 2010, and these figures are considered the “tip of the iceberg”, as the killings also happen in families that don’t report them. “Many young women, like Banaz, are let down by officials in the West,” said Deeyah, “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”.
The powerful film leaves no horrifying detail out. Harrowing footage shows Banaz predicting her own murder to the police, whom she visited five times to plead for help. The police would not have even known to investigate her death if her boyfriend Rahmat (whose life was also threatened) did not report her missing. It took DCI Caroline Goode and her team five years to find and prosecute the perpetrators of this brutal crime. Goode, who attended last night and appears in the film, made it her mission to bring all of Banaz’s killers to justice, and this meant securing the first ever extraditions of suspects from Iraq, as three of Banaz’s male cousins involved in her murder fled there.
Deeyah said: “For me, Caroline’s dedication and integrity, her compassion and her professionalism, represents the highest expression of truly honourable behaviour”.
The documentary illustrates the lessons that must be learned from Banaz’s tragic death. The panel agreed that by challenging the lack of awareness, of political will, of training and of understanding, they can engender hope for making a difference.
As Deeyah aptly put it: “It is not racist to protest against honour killings. We have a duty to stand up for individual human rights for all people. We shall not sacrifice the lives of ethnic minority women for the sake of so-called political correctness. I’d rather hurt feelings than see women die because of our fear, apathy and silence”.
For further information about Free Word and future events visit here.
Deeyah Kahn set up Memini, to commemorate the victims of honour killings and shame their perpetrators. For further information visit here.
For further information about the HBVA (Honour Based Violence Awareness) Network visit here.
Watch the trailer for Banaz: A Love Story here: