Documentary Shines a Light on Honor Killing

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book "The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind" is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.


NRK-Emmy-til-DeeyahIn the low-quality police video that shows her giving a statement about her husband’s brutal, chronic physical abusiveness, she looks more beautiful than any movie star. Born in 1985, Banaz Mahmod was a Kurdish Muslim whose parents, having been granted asylum by the U.K., took her from Saddam’s Iraq to a pleasant-looking neighborhood in London. The usual “cultural clash” resulted. In 2002, when Banaz’s older sister, Bekhal, started acting like an ordinary English girl, her brother lured her to a remote location and tried to strangle her to death. When she freed herself with a good kick and challenged him – saying, “Look what you’re doing, you’re trying to kill me!” – he “started to cry like a woman” and explained that their father had put him up to it. Bekhal, taking the hint, cleared out, cutting off all ties to her family and community.

Banaz wasn’t so lucky. At age seventeen, her parents married her off to an illiterate chap, Ali, who was “literally just off the plane from Iraq” and whom she’d only met once. From the beginning, he routinely beat and raped her. When she complained to her parents, they took his side. (Her father loved Ali, considering him “the David Beckham of son-in-laws.”) In 2005, after three years of abuse, Banaz finally left Ali and went to the police. In the extensive excerpts from the police video that are featured in the harrowing documentary about her short life and violent death, Bajaz: A Love Story, which won an Emmy earlier this month, Banaz described Ali’s mistreatment of her in detail, noting that one beating had dislocated her wrist and that after one too many kicks in the head she wasn’t able to “remember things so good.”

On the police videotape, we see her asking: “Now that I’ve given this statement, what can you do for me?” She was told that there’d be an inquiry. There never was. It took the police three months to write up her statement. She returned five times, to no avail. As officials admit in the documentary, the police committed a “landslide of mistakes,” missing “all the signs that she was in grave danger.” Banaz missed the signs, too – which, frankly, could hardly have been more obvious. Even after her father tried to strangle her – she managed to escape, scaling a fence, collapsing on the floor of a nearby café, and ending up at a hospital where doctors said they’d “never seen anyone so frightened in their life” – she was persuaded to return home, apparently still unable to fully process the fact that her father was determined to murder her, and assuming, in any case, that if he tried to do so, her mother would somehow manage to protect her.

After leaving her husband, Banaz found a boyfriend, Rahmat. They tried to keep their romance secret. But one day a fellow Kurd spotted them kissing on a street. A phone call was made; a family “council of war” ensued. And the family dishonor was dealt with in the usual fashion. Only a few months after her police interview, Rahmat reported Banaz missing. The police investigation was led by detective Caroline Goode, the documentary’s main talking head. Although over fifty people had been involved in Banaz’s murder, and although “dozens, if not hundreds,” of Kurds in London knew what had happened to her, “not a single member of the community helped us,” recalls Goode, who states flatly that there was a widespread conspiracy “to pervert the course of justice” by giving false testimony and providing false leads.

Despite the stonewalling, however, Goode had an important ally: Banaz’s sister Bekhal, who testified against her family and who appears in the documentary in a full veil – not for religious reasons, but for protection, because she now lives in hiding. Banaz had been strangled to death by three cousins, and at least one of them had also anally raped her – a fact about which he afterwards bragged in a phone call taped by the police. Banaz’s father, uncle, and the three cousins, including two who’d fled to Iraq (and who, according to the film, were the first Iraqi nationals ever to be extradited anywhere), were given life sentences.

The heroes of Banaz: A Love Story are the victim’s sister, Bekhal, who by testifying defied not only her family but the entire Kurdish community, and Goode, who was determined to put the perpetrators behind bars and who, during her investigation, came to feel she’d become a sort of surrogate mother to the slaughtered girl “because she wasn’t loved by her own parents” and because “someone should love her.” The other, unseen hero of this film is the filmmaker herself, another astonishingly beautiful young woman named Deeyah.

Born in Oslo to parents from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Deeyah, as I learned from a profile in Dagsavisen last weekend, started performing on Norwegian TV as a little girl – leading to “brutal threats” from other Muslims – and at age eighteen recorded a song that hit #1 on the Norwegian charts. Not long after that triumph, she was assaulted at a concert and fled Norway for Britain. But there, too, she was the target of Muslim threats. So she moved on to Atlanta, where she spent almost six years and found success as a music producer. (She only recently returned to the U.K.) The Dagsavisen profile is headlined “Betrayed by Norway” because, as Deeyah puts it, “My heart was broken by Norway.” Growing up, she was exposed to plenty of rhetoric about and examples of women’s equality and freedom of speech – but she also experienced firsthand the indifference of mainstream Norwegian society to the rights of women and girls in Muslim communities. This systematic refusal to challenge misogynistic Muslim norms – a refusal that she attributes to a terror of being called racist, but that, as she points out, is itself racist – was what set her on the road to activism.

For those who aren’t familiar with the basic facts about honor culture, Banaz: A Love Story is a useful primer. Like most such films, to be sure, it shies away from the words “Muslim” and “Islam.” When Banaz says on the police videotape, twenty-two minutes into the documentary, that “for a Muslim female it is very hard to get a divorce,” it is the first reference to her religion in the entire movie; in discussing the contexts within which honor killings take place, Deeyah’s talking heads prefer to use terms like “tribal,” “culture,” “village culture,” “Asian,” “Iraqi,” “Pakistani,” or “Middle Eastern” – anything but “Islam.” One of the interviewees insists that honor killing is “not an entirely Muslim phenomenon and it’s a danger to think so.” No, it’s not entirely a Muslim phenomenon – it occurs, though at drastically lower rates, in some non-Muslim cultures, mainly in the Middle East. But the overwhelming majority of honor killings are committed by, and in the name of, Islam – which, if you’re even remotely familiar with the views of women promulgated in the Koran, is hardly surprising.

In any event, Banaz is far more than just a primer on honor culture. It’s an emotionally wrenching piece of work that takes viewers far beyond the grim statistics. One would have to be less than human to watch it and not feel – even if it’s for the thousandth time – a raw, burning outrage at the whole sick concept of honor culture. Imagine a family having a “status” based on the “virtue” of its female members! Imagine a “community” in which every loser family is so obsessed with its “status” in the eyes of all the other loser families that that “status” needs to be maintained at any cost, including the death of its own supposedly beloved children. Imagine a “culture” in which a family’s “status” can mean so much and a loved one’s life so little! There’s a term, folie à deux, for a madness shared by two people, usually living together in relative isolation from others; I didn’t realize until I just looked it up that it’s an actual psychiatric diagnosis, and that the DSM also recognizes such broader variations as folie à trois, folie en famille, and folie à plusieurs. When entire communities, convinced beyond a doubt that they are doing Allah’s work, conspire without hesitation to enable and cover up the barbaric killing of an innocent girl, how much more does it take, one wonders, to justify labeling what they think of as their faith as a mental disorder?

Deeyah’s documentary can now be viewed online, as can a discussion of the film held in Oslo back in January, featuring Deeyah, Goode, and the always appalling Unni Wikan, a social anthropologist at the University of Oslo who has been showing  up at these kinds of events forever and whose self-appointed role in them, it would seem, is chiefly to remind the audience, as she put it this time around, that we need to say “again and again” that honor killings “are not grounded in Islam.” When an audience member from a Kurdish background challenged her on this, she replied that “Islam can be used or misused for all kinds of purposes,” insisted (outrageously) that “in the Koran there is nothing to justify” killing women, and pointed to the lack of a tradition of honor killings “in some parts of Indonesia” as evidence that Islam has nothing to do with it. Contradicting Goode’s statement that Banaz’s parents had not loved her, Wikan insisted that the people who commit honor killings do so even though they love the victims deeply: “there is no discrepancy between, on the one hand, loving your daughter or sister and, on the other hand, feeling compelled by the community to kill.” Honor killing, she added, “makes victims of so many.” Meaning what, exactly? Well, on previous occasions, Wikan has stated categorically that the perpetrators of honor killings are themselves victims of the practice, in the same way as the people they murder; but on this occasion, apparently sensing that the audience and her fellow panelists would react to such a sentiment with outrage, Wikan refrained from spelling that opinion out explicitly. But she did go so far as to maintain that those who view perpetrators of honor killings as monsters are “feed[ing] racism.”

To be sure, Wikan was the outlier on a panel that was – to an extent that is unusual in the venues haunted by Oslo’s cultural elite – refreshingly non-PC. “Political correctness,” Goode pronounced, “is killing people.” Deenay didn’t hide her disgust with Islamic “religious and community leaders,” saying, to obvious audience approval, that government “needs to stop legitimizing these weird guys.” Still, there was a clear agenda on the part of all the panelists to try to keep Islam out of the picture as much as possible. (Honor killing, Deeyah claimed, isn’t about Islam but about “collective vs. individual” societies.) Yet the person who got the most applause of all was that audience member who went after Wikan, pointing out that Islamic texts and Islamic theological authorities alike are unambiguous in their support for violence against women. It’s a shame, but no surprise, alas, to see women like Goode and Deeyah making such heroic contributions to the fight against the evil of honor killing, yet hesitating to take the necessary final step of acknowledging that its prevalence in the Islamic world – and in the West’s Islamic communities – is no coincidence.

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  • Alvaro

    “But she did go so far as to maintain that those who view perpetrators of honor killings as monsters are “feed[ing] racism.””

    If murdering your own family members doesn’t fit in the “monster” category, I don’t know what does.

    Wikan speaks as if the perpetrators of such heinous crimes should be somewhat excused, and that “racism” – whatever that means these days – is the real threat. That woman is immoral. It is that simple.

    • defcon 4

      If anally raping your own cousin (to the evident approval of your family) doesn’t brand you a monster what does?

      • bjedwards

        Oh come now, anally raping your own cousin is perfectly normal. Just ask any muslim.

  • Chezwick

    One of your best offerings yet, Bruce. Well done.

    As for the older sister, Behkal. She left her family and went into hiding in Britain. And what happens on that day when Muslim immigrants and their descendants are so numerous that there is simply no place left to hide?

    And what of the film’s producer, Deeyah. She fled Oslo for Britain….and then fled Britain for America. What happens when America begins to resemble Europe and it too is no longer safe? I’ll tell you what happens: Not only would she NOT become a music producer, but this film would never be made. And that’s the future we have to look forward to, folks.

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ Jason P

    Notice the song and dance: when a hideous practice is wide spread among Muslims, Western apologist say it is not part of Islam because it is not in the Koran. When we point out the viciousness in the Koran, we are told that those passages don’t count because they are inoperative in the Muslim community.

    How about sticking to the facts. The Koran inspires atrocities and many Muslims take it from there.

    • Demetrius Minneapolis

      There are two qurans – a Mecca and a Medina. One talks of peace, the other of jihad. That is how they get away with this trash.

      • defcon 4

        Of course they leave out the islamic concept of abrogation, because that’s the only way the lie flies.

  • Pedro

    Will Peter J show up and support mass immigratin?

    • Pedro

      What, no Peter J?

      He came on so strong disputing Bawer’s article and the readership of FPM. Now he is MIA.

      • Drakken

        Funny how communists like ole Pete are silent when it comes to the muslims killing their own isn’t it?

  • snaphanen

    Moving film. In it, it says that honour kilings are not only muslim. Well, according to Phyllis Chesler and others, its almost entirely muslim – more than 90 % of the cases.

    • James Lovelace

      One thing people miss, over and over again, is that contact with islam corrupts. For example, the resurgence of slave-trading by christian europeans began in Iberia, after shaking off 700 years of islamic domination. The christians had been islamised, i.e. corrupted. The Crusades, the Inquisition — all stemmed from the toxic effects of islam on european christianity.

      Thus, one ought to expect to find Hindus also had been islamised, indeed far more extensively corrupted by contact with islam than had christian europe, as the islamisation of India went on for 1000 years not just 700.

      Of course, it may well be that Hindus were doing these dishonorable killings before Islam. The Roman pater familias could kill his family members.

      • nafia

        In Quran or saying of Holy Prophet thr is no were written to do honor killing .It is forbidden to kill innocent .
        Its better to read QURAN and other reliable sources . Islam is just an excuse people use .

  • v

    It’s not a Middle Eastern or Asian or cultural act, it is purely an Islamic one. In the areas mentioned, there are Jews (Israel and in other countries), and Christians and neither of those religions practice honor killing of their families.

  • jewdog

    Thanks, Bruce.
    No, there is no explicit support for honor killing in Islamic law; it is rather a result of contributing factors:
    1) According to Umdat al Salik, or “Reliance of the Traveler”, the official manual of Sunni law from Al Azhar in Cairo, there is no penalty for a parent killing a child.
    2) The phenomenon we call “Westernization” means that a woman has adopted un-Islamic practises, thereby making herself vulnerable to the charge of apostasy or blasphemy, both capital crimes in Sharia.
    3) The low status of women under Sharia and in Islamic culture makes her expendable.
    These are some of the distinctly Islamic ingredients for honor crimes.

  • defcon 4

    The only honor killing I’m familiar with that wasn’t committed by muslimes, was one committed by a Sikh on his daughter. I think it may have happened in the UK.

    • 1Indioviejo1

      A long time ago I read a book by a Jordanian Christian girl who fled Amman, Jordan after her father and mother murdered her sister because she had an American boyfriend. The surviving girl fled with the help of friends because she was to be killed for abetting the friendship. An Arab is an Arab.

  • georgejochnowitz
  • 1Indioviejo1

    The fact that western societies overlook this monstrous crime is racism in itself. Westerners, American included, feel that they should not criticize third world religions or cultures because they can’t help themselves. So if we don’t criticize Muslims it is because we really think they are inferior to us and they can’t live up to our standards of civilization. It is true and there’s no racism in saying so.

    • bjedwards

      No, “progressives” overlook it because of cognitive dissonance.

      To attack any ignorant muslim practice, would be to attack progressives’ own holy belief in multiculturalism and its included arguments of moral relativism. Progressives are ignoring the truths about Islam for the sake of their own progressive beliefs.

      In other words, progressives are just nasty stupid people.

  • 1Indioviejo1

    Although it would be strategically beneficial to have a Kurdistan opposing Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, we must never forget that these low-lifes are Muslim. That says it all.

  • Jakareh

    Muslim are not refugees; they are what the civilized must seek refuge from.

  • Walter Sieruk

    On this subject, Brigitte Gabriel ,who is the founder of actforamerica.org in her book THEY MUST BE STOPPED wrote on pages 175,176 “Honor killings are executed by slitting the victim’s throat. hatching them, stabbing, burning them to death, decapitation, bullets to the head and chest, or any other means imaginable.” and “Honor killings have also come to the West thanks to the rise of Islamic immigration.”

  • Nostradamus_i_norr

    Prof. Unni Wikan is mentioned in a discussion related to the documentary. Her claim that Islam has little to do with ”honour killing”, is false.

    A handbook in islamic law, certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by al al-Azhar university in Kairo, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, defines that “retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a person intentionally and without right.” However, “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) may not be subject to retaliation for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” (Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2). In other words, anyone who kills her child do not bring down upon themselves any legal penalty under Islamic law.

    In non-Muslim cultures, there is virtually never a whole family or part of a family, where as many as 10-15 members join together to eradicate a young and mostly female deviant, or for that matter, also a senior. Muslims account for 91 percent of all the “honor killings” in the world http://www.meforum.org/2646/worldwide-trends-in-honor-killings The residual 9 percent are among Sikhs and Hindus, but only in India.

    Honour killings are thus more closely connected with Islam itself than with a local Muslim culture, such as Phyllis Cheslers research has shown http://www.meforum.org/2646/worldwide-trends-in-honor-killings and as she speaks about in this interview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4Zj1J01z6s
    She has written the autobiography ”An American Bride in Kabul” http://nypost.com/2013/09/21/my-life-of-hell-in-an-afghan-harem /

  • Lee

    The idea that just because not *every* honor murder is committed because of Islam, then somehow Islam has *nothing* to do with honor murder is a pathetic and illogical attempt at diversion.

    Moreover, the collaborators with Islam who cry “racism” to defend it from critique are shown up as liars and con-artists when they care *nothing* that Islam’s victims around the world are predominately non-white.

    As for Unni Wikan’s claim that for the men who abused and anally raped Banaz, and boasted excitedly about it “there is no discrepancy between, on the one hand, loving… and, on the other hand, feeling compelled by the community to kill”
    - it’s incredible she has any standing among decent people.

    The failure of the elites to deal with Islam, and moreover their protection and promotion of it – no matter how many victims pile up – will stand in history as the greatest indictment of humanity ever. The fact that they have freely chosen to do this *without* being forced to at gunpoint, and in fact take satisfaction in their efforts – marks out a significant minority of humanity as the most vicious of psychopaths.

    • James Lovelace

      In europe we are working up to the biggest and most violent clash in the continent’s history. WW2 is going to look tame by comparison.

      If we survive it, we need to be preparing a Nuremberg Mk2 for the elites who pursued the process of islamising europe. Mind you, what comes out of this gigantic clash will probably not be the liberal democracies of post-WW2 europe.

  • Viking.

    Well done Bruce. We are a fragile beacon in a violent storm.

  • Anonymous

    This article is so full of Islamaphobia. What happened to Banaz is tragic and extremely sickening. There is a reason why Deeyah and the rest stay away from connecting ‘honour killings’ with Islam. These murderers are not following Islam, they are succumbing to the pressures of their culture. They are illiterate and uneducated and probably don’t even read or understand the Quran and are not worth being called Muslims. 1000′s of years ago before Islam, babies were being buried alive due to the fact that they were female. Looks like history is repeating itself, or does that blame go to Islam as well? Islam brought civilisation into a community filled with discord and havoc. Why don’t you seek knowledge and read before spewing hate. These murderers are not Muslim, they are simply ruthless pigs without morals and ethical values. RIP Banaz :-(