Sunday, October 13, 2013
Deeyah Khan’s film about an ‘honour’ killing won an Emmy. Now it’s being used to train police. She hopes her documentary about the murder of Banaz Mahmod can help to highlight the social pressures behind such crimes and help bring change
The Guardian – The Observer
Amid the glitter and glamour of this month’s Emmy awards in Los Angeles, one winner dressed in a sober black suit and polo neck looked more than a little dazed as she collected her statuette.
“I had to be pushed out of my seat when they announced that Banaz had won. I just sat there,” said Deeyah Khan, a music producer and former pop star who picked up the Emmy for best international documentary. “I was perfectly happy just to be there and proud that a clip was being shown. I was really pleased but utterly shocked to win.”
It was a remarkable accolade for a low-budget first film that was not only an outsider among other big-budget documentaries on the shortlist, but was also heavily based around poor quality police video footage of a young woman talking shyly and sometimes inaudibly to officers at a London police station.
Banaz: A Love Story is the account of an “honour” killing in south London in January 2006 when Banaz Mahmod, aged 20, was murdered by her family, Iraqi Kurds who felt she had dishonoured their community by deserting her abusive rapist husband and later falling in love with a man of her own choosing.
Banaz went five times to the police to ask for their help and tell them she believed her life was at risk. She even named her future killers on videotape with the words: “If anything happens to me, it’s them.”
She was raped and strangled and her body was buried in a suitcase.
The Emmy has made Khan a new force in documentary-making but what has made her proudest is the news that it is now to be shown as part of the UK’s police training programmes to educate officers on the real threat that face many young women trapped inside honour-based cultures in Britain.
In so doing they will be bringing full circle a case that brought reprimand from the Independent Police Complaints Commission for the way officers failed Banaz Mahmod in life, as well as praise for the Scotland Yard team who secured justice for her in death, travelling to Iraq to capture the murderers.
“You cannot celebrate an award when a girl is dead,” said Khan. “My friends all said what dress will you wear to the ceremony? But I went in black, how could I think about a dress?
“But I hope that if Banaz’s story has done anything, it’s made more people realise that this can happen, it exists. Now that it is to be used by police for training is extraordinary. That is one step, they have implemented more tools for frontline officers and crime investigation teams. There is a flagging system now in some parts of the UK.
“I’m pleased because I didn’t want the film to be an excuse for people to justify their prejudices, against Muslims or against immigrants. ‘Honour’ killings and forced marriages are not a Muslim thing, they happen in Sikh, in Hindu, even in Christian societies structured so that the rights of the group are enforced at the expense of the individual.”
Banaz’s father and uncle were jailed for life for murder in 2007. Two other men, who had fled the country after the murder, were brought back, the first ever extradition from Iraq to the UK, by Detective Inspector Caroline Goode and jailed for more than 20 years each.
“I only intended the film to be something for women’s groups and maybe a few film festivals. I was active in women’s rights and I was following my heart in doing this film on ‘honour’ killings. But when I sat down to talk to Caroline, everything changed,” said Khan.
“She told me that she felt that the people who should have loved Banaz didn’t, so she had decided she loved her. The fact that this white woman, a policewoman, carries such love for this Asian girl – it was extraordinary. If you cut out Caroline then you feel nothing but disgust and tremendous sadness. But you add her in and you have real hope.
“People do the most remarkable things in the most difficult of circumstances. That’s why this case was so important. It has all the failings but also all the lessons.”
Khan, 36, born in Norway to immigrant Punjabi and Pashtun parents, was a successful singer, dubbed the “Muslim Madonna”, until constant threats and attacks led her to give up the stage for her own safety. She moved to London and became a music producer and an activist, working alongside several women’s rights groups including the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, which says the number of incidents of this type of crime being recorded in the UK is rising.
The charity Karma Nirvana, which helps young women facing forced marriage, is so concerned at the unchecked prevalence of forced marriage it is presently campaigning for headteachers to face reprimands for failing to report any child who disappears from their school registers.
“It’s hard to explain the nuances of the rigid patriarchal structures of social cultures like Banaz’s and mine,” said Khan. “Our young people are suffocated and suppressed. Banaz is the most extreme outcome, but many, many other girls like Banaz are still walking around among us facing the abuse meted out on women in these honour-based social structures.”
Khan’s next project is looking at the radicalisation of British young men. “I know some women’s rights activists have seen so much abuse that they can’t stand men but I have a sense of empathy with the men. Without excusing the abuse they are capable of, many of them are trapped within these communities and bound by expectations they didn’t necessarily ask for.
“There are men who suffer different types of abuses, where can they get help? I don’t think men such as Banaz’s father should get more lenient sentences. In countries like Germany they are trying to understand perpetrators as victims of their own culture and sentencing accordingly. We need to understand, not excuse,” said Khan.
She believes Britain needs to focus less on what may or may not be racism and more on ignorance.
“Maybe there’s racism, but at heart it is ignorance. How many generations have brown people been here? For the burdens and the benefits, we have to understand each other’s stuff.
“The answer isn’t that they can just all go home. We have to learn about each other. We need to claim girls like Banaz as our own. We need to move beyond cultural sensitivity and let people ask questions. The moment people feel they can ask the silly or awkward question that they haven’t dared to ask, the layers start to come off.
“There’s a lot of work to be done. Old, deeply engrained systems take time to change but we can’t leave it to time. People – police, teachers, health workers or in the media – are in a position to help. When there is as much outrage when a young Asian girl disappears from the school roll as there is when a white girl runs off to France with her teacher, we can move on to have gender equality. But we have to be equal to white women before we can be equal to men.”
Khan had almost finished making her film when she was given the two hours of police videos. She said: “I didn’t know Banaz in life and seeing her in the interviews, a girl so shy it pains her to say the word penis, it’s so courageous. Imagine what it must have taken for a girl like her to ask the police for help: she did as much as she could to save her own life.
“The majority do not ask for help. They compromise for the sake of community honour, and sacrifice themselves, not contributing to our society. There is a sickeningly large number of kids in the UK suffering a living death.”