“They’re following me. If anything happens to me at any time it’s them.”
Last night, twitter feeds blew up in reactions ranging from disgust, outrage and heartbreak, in response to the ITV Exposure programme broadcast on the painful life story of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod.
Banaz, who moved to Surrey when she was 10 with her Kurdish family fleeing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime, was a brave young woman.
She was the victim of an abusive marriage and of a controlling family who she trusted to help her through a divorce and accept Rahmat –a suitor she chose herself and she was fatefully the victim of an “Honour Killing”.
Her father Mahmod Mahmod and uncle Ari Mahmod were convicted of her murder in 2007, her relatives Mohammed Ali and Omar Hussain, were extradited from Iraq three years later to be prosecuted for their involvement. The men believed she had brought “shame” on the family by choosing a new suitor, Rahmat, during her divorce proceedings and her father and uncle held a meeting which determined her fate.
The trial which put away five of Banaz’s killers and brought the horror of “honour killings” to the consciousness of the British public, caused a wave of criticism toward the police forces that failed in saving her.
“Now I have given my statement. What can you do for me?”
The powerful yet painful film, leaves no horrifying detail out. It chronicles the circumstances leading up to Banaz’s brutal death, how authorities ignored her five pleas for help and the Detective who made it her quest to find Banaz’s body and bring her killers to justice. Chillingly it was Banaz’s own letter to police that helped solve her murder with its accurate predictions.
There is a debate in the UK, noticeably by twitter reaction to the film, as to whether it is appropriate to label such a murder as an “Honour Killing”, as there is no honour in murder.
What that title does do though, is distinguish it away from crimes of passion, where murderers can claim their rage took over and they didn’t know what they were doing. An “honour killing” is one which is conspiratorial and takes place in families with a system or culture of controlling people, especially women.
These types of murders are difficult to uncover and expose, which is why the documentary, which was an edited version of a film premiered at the Raindance Film Festival 2012, is such an eye-opener.
Deeyah spent four years creating this labour of love. The Norwegian musician and human rights campaigner says she was determined to give Banaz a voice with the documentary because: “No-one listened to her in her life.”
The film speaks to experts in honour killings and the police team who managed to extradite two of the killers who had fled to Iraq.
“If Rahmat hadn’t reported her missing, we wouldn’t have known.”
Det Sup Caroline Goode of the Metropolitan police who is featured in the film came into her position only after Banaz went missing. She states on camera her belief that more people than those convicted may have plotted and covered up her murder.
The police speak on film about how they usually do everything to help a murder victim’s family but in this case, the family showed no sign of caring about the investigation. They did not report Banaz missing, they did not assist the police and they did not even have photos of her in their home.
Deeyah has gone on record saying: “Whenever you see a film about someone who has passed you will always have family, friends, people who knew the person, sharing their love, their memories and thoughts about the person who has died – they have home videos, photos. That was just not the case here at all. The only person speaking for Banaz who had known her alive was her sister.”
Banaz’s sister who testified at trial and helped jail members of her family, appears in the film in a burkha, not for religious reasons but in fear for her own life. She can disguise herself, but Banaz’s boyfriend Rahmat cannot and so he does not make an appearance to speak in the documentary. His mobile phone footage of a hospitalised Banaz recounting her father’s attempt to kill her was played at the trial and is shown in the film.
It is thanks to him that Banaz eventually received justice but it is estimated that only around 12 honour killings are reported to the UK police each year. The number of victims is thought to be much higher because many are too frightened to come forward.
The film also highlights countless other unsolved UK “honour killing” victims. It serves to bring women going through the same fate of being “erased” within their communities worldwide to light.
Deeyah’s mission is to create awareness for the sake of prevention.
She set up http://memini.co to commemorate victims of honour killings and shame their perpetrators.
She also set up http://ava-projects.org/ which is an arts and multimedia based educational organization created to work for freedom of expression and human rights. The primary goal of AVA is to support and encourage voices from the margins while addressing the forms of oppression and the solutions needed and to provide public education, research, new media outlets and artistic tools in order to increase global action in identifying honour threats and supporting people in need to know they can get help.
Like in cases of domestic abuse in the past when police did not interfere, authorities have been slow to protect women from communities who are at risk of being “honour killing” victims.
“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.”
Throughout Deeyah’s career she has been subject to “honour abuse” and threats. Thankfully, her family support and protect her and she has chosen not only to fight for women’s rights globally, but highlight vulnerable people at risk and artists who are jailed for their political opinions.
- AVA PROJECTS is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) registered public charity founded by Deeyah.
- LISTEN TO THE BANNED is a compilation album co-produced by Deeyah featuring banned, censored, and imprisoned artists from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
- HONOUR BASED VIOLENCE AWARENESS network (HBVA) co-founded by Deeyah is an international digital resource centre working to advance understanding and awareness of Honour Killings and Honour Based Violence internationally.
- MEMINI | Remembering Victims of Honour Killings Worldwide.
- SISTERHOOD Empowering self-expression for young Muslim women across creative disciplines.
- I HAVE A VOICE a grassroots campaign committed to the struggle for human rights, equality, freedom of expression and peace. A primary focus of I HAVE A VOICE is violence against women.