“If anything happens to me, it’s them”
Deeyah Khan's Emmy award-winning documentary film centers on the tragic story of Banaz Mahmod and her honour killing in 2006 as ordered by her family. The powerful drama lifts the lid on one of Britain's most prolific honour killing cases.
Banaz was a 20-year-old Kurdish woman living in South London with her family. They had come to Britain as refugees against Saddam's regime. At school, she had been a quiet student, but whose kindness was recognised by her peers. Banaz was murdered by her uncle and cousin because they felt she had bought ‘shame’ on the family as she had left her abusive husband and fell in love with her boyfriend; Rahmat.
The film explores Banaz’ life primarily through the voice of sister Bekhal who gives insight into their childhood, Banaz’s forced marriage, and the violence that ensued. Bekhal is anonymised for her safety. The narration of Banaz’ life is through her sister. Further into the film are narrations from people outside of Banaz’s community who chronicle her life.
At SAHR, a core philosophy in our work is that we provide a safe space for clients to self-advocate. This means that we realise how important it is for individuals to tell their own stories, experiences, and lived realities in their own words, at their own pace and on a platform they are free to choose. This is how we hope to support autonomy in the human rights movement and in our work. We feel it is imperative that people are given the space to be advocates for their own causes, should they wish. For far too long, people outside of a community have been advocating to “be our saviours”. This is one way we hope to subvert that dynamic. With this in mind, we found that, while the film did give space for opinions and commentary from various individuals of colour, notably Prosecutor Nazir Afzal, PC Palbinder Singh, and Dianna Nammi; Director of the Iranian Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, the perspectives presented were still somewhat skewed towards those outside of Banaz’s actual community. This limited the way we understood Banaz and her killers. The film didn’t allow us to dig deeper in order to understand why systems of honour exist in the first place, what institutions and systems prop them up and what we can do to break them down.
We imagine this was at least partially due to challenges with access to the community and privacy concerns. However, despite this, the film did successfully draw attention to systems of honour practiced in various communities. It also explored how these honour codes police the behaviours of individuals, particularly women. At SAHR, we try to understand the underlying systemic issues that lead to gender-based violence in order to better inform our responses. Patriarchy is one such system which underlies the honour codes. The film does address this, as well as societal pressures that fuelled Banaz’s murder.
Honour killings occur because we live in a deeply ingrained patriarchal society which is systemically embedded across various cultural terrains. Conceptual ideas of ‘izzat’ and its synonyms also play a role in maintaining the stratification of society. Author Amrit Wilson states the concept of reputation, prestige, and good name (izzat, badnami (loss of reputation) is prevalent in South Asia. Similar parallels can be made to the case of Banaz and her Kurdish upbringing which contributed to her tragic loss of life.
“Being a woman is a provocation, it's a bigger provocation than anything”
- Deeyah Khan
Deeyah must be commended for producing an incredibly powerful drama on a highly sensitive issue. The film has been used as an educational resource to train police officers on the complexity and the phenomenon of honour killings and honour-based cultures in the UK and continues to be a relevant insight into the practice.
Amrit Wilson, “Dreams, Questions, Struggles: South Asian Women in Britain”, Pluto Press, London, 2006.