“He put something in my drink and told me to drink it”
Those would be one of the last things Banaz Mahmood would say. Banaz Mahmood was taken to hospital after her own father attempted to take her life. She was released and later found by police dead in a suitcase, buried 6-feet under a patio about a hundred miles away from her house. It was labelled a crime of honour.
How can there be crime for the sake of honour?
Banaz Mahmod was from a strict and traditional Kurdish family who came to the UK as asylum seekers. Banaz had already been entered into an arranged marriage to another member in her clan at the age of 16, expected to fulfil the role of a traditional submissive wife and mother. But as time went on, she could not stand her abusive husband, and much to the chagrin of her family, she was allowed to leave him and come back to her original home.
But before she could be formally divorced, she met another man who she fell deeply in love with. As leaving the house of a husband was already considered a ‘disgrace’ to her family and clan, it apparently was the last straw for her family when she was seen kissing her new boyfriend of a different tribe outside a tube station. She was warned to break up with him or face the consequences. She had taken action by writing to the police, naming the people who would eventually kill her, and also reported death threat. However, she was afraid of familial retaliation, and told the police not to take action.
“He put something in my drink and told me to drink it”
“He came at me with a kick, a kick.”
These were the words of the injured girl recorded in her boyfriend’s mobile phone in a hospital on New Year’s Eve after smashing the window and running from her grandmother’s home screaming bloody murder, describing her father’s first attempt at her life.
The police officers who were with them simply could not believe their story and wanted to charge her with criminal damage instead for breaking the window of her grandmother’s house.
To make a long story short, the couple pretended to part ways but were discovered still meeting in secret. When they were spotted being together again, it was the incident that would seal Banaz’s fate.
The couple found out about their assailants’ plan to kill them for bringing shame to the family. Banaz went to the police station this time, agreeing to bring charges against her family and any other accomplices, but she opted to stay home despite persuasion to live elsewhere because she thought having her mother there would be safe for her.She was wrong.
On January 24 2006, Banaz Mahmod, 20, was raped and strangled in her home in London and buried in Handsworth Birmingham. It would be 3 months later before police would find her body. The assailants not only showed no remorse for her murder, they even bragged about raping and killing her ‘to show her disrespect’. It took a lengthy period of time and complicated court proceedings to extradite the killers from Iraq, where they fled, to answer for their crimes in the UK.
What is the so-called honour killing? It is a crime where a person is murdered because he or she is deemed to have brought shame or dishonour upon the family or community. IKWRO.org.uk has conducted a research that led to the conclusion that victims of honour-related crimes are more likely than not, to be female, and the perpetrators of the crime are usually male members of the victim’s own family or community. Honour crimes mostly occur in South Asian and Middle-Eastern communities, more prevalent in Muslim, Hindu, and sometimes Sikh communities. Reasons for these crimes are often because of girls refusing arranged marriage, embracing too much of western culture, acting too far from what is expected of them, considered promiscuous because she was seen talking to a male stranger or having a relationship with one, and seeking a divorce, among other things. For men, it is mostly for being homosexual or being with another woman from a different clan that the girl’s family does not approve of that they are killed to ‘preserve’ honour and reputation of the family and community.
For Banaz Mahmod, she divorced her husband, which was dishonour because in Islam, or to the people who are practising this in the strict sense, a woman is honourable when she stays in her husband’s household as his wife until she dies, and dishonourable when she does not do so. Banaz has not been reprimanded for that, but when it came to her new boyfriend who her family did not approve of because of his different background, her father and uncle were furious and eventually it was this relationship that killed her. According to IKWRO.org.uk, honour crimes have risen over the years, the top five worst areas are (in order): London, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Lanchashire, and finally, Manchester.
What went wrong? The police who interviewed her after her father first tried to kill her simply could not comprehend the concept of honour crime, as do most of the United Kingdom. This is especially true before the asylum seekers boom from the conflicts in the Middle East. Banaz Mahmod, like so many other victims, also feared retribution from her family and community if the police are to take action in this, therefore she told the police not to take action despite having reporting the perpetrators for death threats. Victims who are in the countries that still practise such concepts are even more unfortunate as the authorities may not only help them, but ridicule and even punish them because they think they deserve it. Furthermore, they may hand the victims back to their families and the victims will face even harsher consequences. In fact, some perpetrators of the honour killing will surrender themselves to the police and announce what they have just done with pride.
“Retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right.” However, “not subject to retaliation” is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” (‘Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2)
In other words, the parents have the right to kill their children and will incur no penalty in Islamic law. Some countries who are still under influence that honour crimes are tolerated, accepted, or even encouraged, impose very light sentences in comparison with the crime. Syria, for example, still has a law that says a man’s case of homicide can be mitigated if it was a crime of passion or honour, “provided he serves a prison term of no less than two years in the case of killing.”
As a result of this, many crimes of honour go unreported and abuses go unknown.
Another issue is that she was persuaded to live away from her family for a while but she refused. This was the decision that would be her demise, but one can also argue that the authorities did not recognise the seriousness of her decision and forced her to live away from her house. After all, it was the members in the same house who was trying to kill her. But then again, one can also argue the freedom of choice, and if the authorities were to detain her, it would hamper her human rights.
The UK, whether they like it or not, has experienced more immigration of Middle Eastern and South Asian peoples than ever before. The country should start being alert in recognising the signs of a victim seeking help and not dismiss them as fantasy. The authorities should also be vigilant in spotting these kinds of crimes when they arise and react efficiently to them. Fortunately, there is law to counter death threats in the UK, the new Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 streamlining the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 for the specific crime of forced marriage, and more. This being said, the victims of such crimes must also be brave enough to report such crimes and making the right decisions, especially when they have the benefit of the country’s laws on their side. After all, they are human, and they have human rights. And all of us who are not aware of this should educate ourselves to such an issue, and make crimes of honour obsolete as it clearly is the epitome of what human rights are not.
On 10 December 2007 in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a father called 911 to turn himself in for killing his daughter. Aqsa Parvez died from being strangled by her own brother. She had told her friends that her father had sworn on the Koran to her that he would kill her, but her friends, who did not understand this at the time, thought it was just an expression of language that her father was very cross at her. Nothing was done and Aqsa Parvez had stayed away from home by staying at whoever that would let her stay the night.
The reason for her murder? Aqsa Parvez was ‘too western’ and refused to wear the religion’s headdress called the hijab. Does this sound familiar? Do these cases all have a similar pattern to them? Did they perform an act pleasing to Allah? Did they save the family pride?
The answers to these questions may be different to different people, but it is up to you to decide if these are acceptable contradictions to the Human Rights Act 1998.
One thing is certain: Honour crimes are very real, and there are words in print and a history of consistency to support them. But the other thing is uncertain, because, it is again, up to you to decide: Will you accept it?
By Judy Wong