To “get to the root cause of an emerging pattern of criminality” precludes “vague terminology,” states a December 18, 2013, petition by British Hindu and Sikh organizations concerning Muslim-dominated child molestation gangs in the United Kingdom. Yet precisely vagueness plagues not only this ongoing controversy, but also the British honor killing documentary Banaz: A Love Story, demonstrating the difficulties of openly discussing all matters Muslim.
An International Emmy Award winner, this 2012 documentary recently posted online examines the 2006 London murder of Banaz Mahmod, a young woman whose family immigrated in 1998 from Kurdish Iraq. Banaz’s dissolution of her arranged marriage and relationship with another man had provoked her father and male relatives into murdering Banaz. “In the countries that we are from, a woman has absolutely no rights,” declares Diana Nammi from the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization (IKWRO) early in the film.
With only her eyes appearing through a black niqab, Banaz’ sister Bekhal elaborates in the film via a disguised voice how her family forbade her things like long nails. Bekhal’s disobedience brought beatings from male relatives and flight from home. Like Banaz, Bekhal suffered Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) from family members, something “you wouldn’t wish on your enemy.” “My life will always be in danger,” Bekhal states given her cooperation in solving Banaz’s murder and film appearance.
A 17-year old Banaz herself had an arranged marriage with a man recently arrived from Iraq whom she had only met once. This illiterate individual had “absolutely nothing in common” with Banaz, observes prosecutor Victor Temple, and was “strongly adherent to that Kurdish culture” according to Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode. This husband “kicked my head in,” Banaz states in a previously videotaped police interview while describing bleeding lips and ears received for offenses like mentioning her husband’s name before guests. “He wouldn’t take no for an answer” to sexual advances and “would just start raping me,” Banaz added. Afterwards “he just acted like nothing has happened…I was his shoe and he would wear it.”
“For a Muslim female like me it’s very hard to get a divorce,” Banaz complained to the police with reference to religion, not ethnicity, pace Goode. “Leaving my husband in my culture is not allowed.” The marital breakdown ultimately led the father to arrange with Banaz’s uncle her strangulation by three male cousins. Banaz’s case demonstrates the “very collaborative nature” of honor killings, Joanne Payton from the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network (HBVA) discusses in the film. “Verily we belong to Allah,” Banaz’s tombstone reads in the film.
A “landslide of mistakes flowing from…a lack of understanding” hindered authorities in protecting Banaz and investigating her subsequent murder, prosecutor Nazir Afzal criticizes. Fear of being “branded racists” makes people “wary of stepping into this minefield” of culture-based gender violence. Afzal similarly wrote in 2014 about accusations of having “given racists a stick with which to beat minorities” for leading the 2012 child molestation gang prosecution of 47 men, mostly from Afzal’s own Pakistani background.
Banaz director Deeyah Khan concurred in an interview that “many young women, like Banaz, are let down by officials in the West.” A “lack of understanding and training in identifying the signs” of honor killings as well as “fear of upsetting cultural sensitivities” are problems. Not letting the “issue get swept under the carpet in the name of political correctness” also worries Goode in the film, who calls for specific police honor killing training.
Banaz, though, seems to practice its own political correctness in never directly discussing Islam, a faith omnipresent in the film. The overwhelming majority of British honor killing victims cited in the film credits, however, are from Muslim backgrounds. This reflects a 2010 study showing Muslim perpetrators in 91% of 230 surveyed honor killing cases worldwide.
HBVA itself estimates an annual average worldwide of 5,000 honor killings, with 1,000 each in majority-Muslim Pakistan and a much larger, Hindu-majority India. Additionally, Muslim-majority Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries have a “high recorded level of HBV.” “India is indeed a striking exception to Islam’s near monopoly on contemporary honor killings,” Phyllis Chelser, the 2010 study’s author, concludes.
“Perhaps the most striking characteristic of Hindu honor killings,” Chelser elaborates, however, “is the fact that Indians abandon the horrific practice when they migrate to the West whereas many Pakistani Muslims carry it with them.” “Although Islam does not specifically endorse” honor killings, Chelser observes, “some…involve allegations of adultery or apostasy…punishable by death under Shari’a.” That “women who stray from the path can be rightly murdered” is therefore “consistent with such Islamic teachings.”
Read more at Religious Freedom Coalition