Monday, July 15, 2013

Documentary: Banaz: A Love Story (2012)

"I think the fact that honour is a total misnomer. There's no honour in any of this. The law has a word for it - it's murder."

Banaz: A Love Story is a documentary produced and directed by Deeyah about the 2006 honour killing of Banaz Mahmod in Britain. Honour based crimes are not new to many cultures, but have been going on for centuries and span various cultures and religions. This documentary tells the story of one victim of an honour killing in London, England, using some of the police video footage and as such it is Banaz's story in her own words.

Banaz Mahmod was born in 1985 in Iraq. She had one brother and four sisters. Her family immigrated to Great Britain in 1995, as refugees from Saddam Hussein. Banaz was ten years old. They lived in a flat in Mitcham, south London. Banaz's teachers spoke highly of her, saying that she often mothered younger children.

Problems with assimilation soon made themselves evident in the Mahmod family. The family was very isolated and after Banaz's disappearance it became evident to investigators that she had no friends and no social network. They tried appealing for friends to come forward on facebook, but received no response. Diana Nammi, Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organization indicated that in this society, the control of women and of their sexuality is paramount.

Banaz's older sister, Bekhal ran away from home when she was fifteen years old. Bekhal who testified against her family in her sister's murder trial, told how all the older sisters suffered through genital mutilation at the hands of their grandmother while living in Iraq. (Female genital mutilation is done to prevent women from experiencing any sexual pleasure.) For Bekhal, she began to run into serious conflict with her father over small things that teenage girls are interested in; long painted nails, plucked eyebrows and the use of perfume - all of which were banned by her father. She left home several times and suffered through many beatings.

Joanne Payton of the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network explained that for men, coming over from these cultures entails a loss in social status. Bobbie Cheema, Prosecutor explained that because of this the men take refuge in cultural morality which they use to control their women.

Mahmod soon lost control of his daughters and therefore lost face. In 2002 the family tried to restore its lost honour with an attempt on Bekhal's life. Bekhal survived and went into hiding.

Into this background, the tragedy of Banaz played out. She was married at age 17 to an illiterate immigrant from Iraq. After two years of marriage Banaz went to police and told them in a taped interview how her husband, Ali, abused and raped her. In an attempt to document her abuse, Banaz took pictures of her injuries and kept a diary - all of which were destroyed when Ali learned of their existence.

Despite pleading with her family to let her out of the marriage she was sent back time and again to be a "better wife".  Finally Banaz decided to leave the marriage after a severe beating. She returned home.

In 2005, Banaz met Rahmat. What was initially a friendship turned into a romantic relationship where they would text every morning and evening. Banaz felt she was being followed so she went to the police. When she asked police what they would do she received an vague indication that they would act on her case. They never followed up.

Banaz and Rahmat attempted to keep their relationship a secret, however, the two were seen kissing in December 2005. This triggered a family council in which Banaz's uncle, Ali, who was the strong personality in the family, ordered the murder of Banaz.

After a first attempt on New Year's Eve did not succeed, Rahmat reported Banaz missing on January 25, 2006. Not a single person in the Kurdish community helped police, despite, as lead investigator, Caroline Goode indicated, literally hundreds of people knew what had happened to Banaz. Goode indicated that at least fifty people were involved in the murder in some way. All reminders of Banaz's existence were removed from the family home and not one family member showed concern or called police to learn about the status of the investigation.

However, two things helped police in their investigation of Banaz's disappearance; they learned of Bekhal and Banaz sent a letter to police in December of 2005 naming the three men, cousins who were prepared to do the job of murdering her.

Caroline Goode and Andy Craig, a detective with the Metropolitan Police were able to locate Banaz's body. Both her father and uncle were arrested and one cousin, Mohamed Hama were arrested, tried and sentenced to life. However, the other two cousins, Mohamed Ali and Omar Hussein, fled to Iraq. Determined not to let these two men go free, especially after they were seen bragging about raping and murdering Banaz in Iraq, Goode was able to see justice done.

Today Bekhal remains in hiding and Rahmat is under the witness protection program.

Banaz: A Love Story is so titled because of Caroline Goode and her staff's desire to become surrogate parents to Banaz and to love her and honour her memory. "We loved her and we still do." Goode stated in the documentary. Goode was relentless in pursuing Banaz's killers and her work led her to receive the Queen's Police Medal in 2011. Caroline's narrative in the documentary was extremely touching. It was evident that she was profoundly affected by the murder of Banaz Mahmod. At the beginning of the documentary, Caroline Goode expresses how these honour based murders make her feel:
"...I just find that I love these women. I don't know them. But I loved them. And because they haven't been loved by the people that should have loved them, should have cared for them, should have protected them, I feel that I want to take the place of whoever should have done that."
Banaz: A Love Story was produced and directed by Deeyah Thathal, a Norwegian artist/singer/director who has been at the forefront of raising awareness about honour based violence. Deeyah founded Memini, which is Latin for remembrance, a digital remembrance webpage that honours the memory of those who have lost their lives to honour based violence. You can read Banaz's page on Memini here. In 2012, Deeyah cofounded the Honour Based Violence Awareness network with Joanne Payton. "A one of a kind international digital resource centre, HBVA is a learning, information and training tool created for front-line professionals, from teachers, health workers, social services to police, politicians, and others who may encounter individuals at risk. HBV estimates that there are a minimum of 5000 honour based killings worldwide each year. Honour based violence has been going on for centuries and across the world in various cultures and religions.

The entire documentary has been placed online and you can watch it here:

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