Banaz: A Love Story

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Raindance 2012

Released: 2012
Director: Deeyah
Starring: Caroline Goode, Bekhal Mahmod

A heartbreaking expose of the horror of “honour” killings

Have you heard of a girl called Banaz Mahmod? I hadn’t until I saw the documentary Banaz: A Love Story screening at this year’s Raindance Film Festival. Now I want to tell everyone I meet about Banaz and I want them to tell everyone they meet about Banaz, what happened to her and the story of the people who loved Banaz.

Banaz Mahmod and her family of Iraqi Kurds fled the regime of Saddam Hussein and found refuge in Britain when Banaz was just 10 years old. Banaz grew up with the pressures of two different cultures – the strict Kurdish regime and the more liberal British life that she saw her school mates live. Banaz and two of her three sisters suffered female genital mutilation and Banaz’s older sister Bekhal left home and went into hiding after being brutally attacked by her own brother, who had been paid by their father to kill her. Banaz was married at the age of 16 to a stranger from Iraq who abused her. When she tried to leave her husband and fell passionately in love with a young man (Rahmat) who returned her love, her father attacked her. When she sought help from the police, she was taken home to her parents. Banaz wrote to the police several times naming the men who would kill her, she was filmed by Rehmat predicting her own death. Banaz Mahmod was raped and murdered on January 24th 2006 by three members of the Kurdish community in London, the attack orchestrated by her father and uncle as punishment for bringing shame upon her family and community. This was a so-called “honour” killing.

It may seem counter-intuitive to call a documentary about the brutal rape and murder of a young woman a love story, but that’s what this film is. It’s about the love that Banaz had for Rahmat, the young man she risked her life to be with; it’s about the love of Bekhal for her sister and the regret she has that she didn’t take Banaz with her when she left and perhaps most movingly of all it’s about the love felt for Banaz by a small group of police officers led by the brave and heroic DCI Caroline Goode, who investigated the disappearance and murder of Banaz and who refused to give in until those responsible for her death were brought to justice. Within seconds of meeting Caroline Goode, who leads a unit investigating “honour” crimes, we see how emotionally invested in the victims she is – she loves these girls she tells us because the people who are supposed to love and protect them don’t. In a climate when we hear very little good news about the police Caroline Goode should be held up as a shining example of what the police should be.

By using the story of Banaz Mahmod, director Deeyah offers an insight into the insidious, evil world of honour killings. This was an organised crime in the truest sense of the word. When it was discovered that Banaz was in a relationship with a man who was not her husband, members of the Kurdish community gathered around a table to discuss and meticulously plan how she would be killed. Caroline Goode estimates that over 50 people were involved in the case both directly (taking part in the murder) and indirectly (contacting the police to say that they had seen Banaz to put them off the track of the killers). Younger members of the community were prepared to lie to the police in order to enhance their standing within the community. Within certain communities – not just the Kurdish one – there is clearly a problem with protecting women’s safety and Banaz’s story helps to highlight this in the most horrific way possible.

Feminist website The F Word has an excellent article on honour killings in the wake of the murder of Banaz Mahmod, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Banaz: A Love Story felt more like a television documentary than a feature film, the style was very pared down and the budget was clearly low. That matters very little, however, compared to the importance of the story and it’s impossible to judge the film other than by the fact it brings the story of Banaz and the horror of honour killings to public knowledge.

A theme that ran through the film was that not only had Banaz’s family killed her, they had tried to erase all memory of her. Very few photographs remain and when the film-makers requested information from friends no-one replied. It’s going to be easy to make sure that this evil plan doesn’t succeed in its entirety. We can all make sure that she is remembered and that at least one more person will hear of this beautiful, bright and loving girl called Banaz Mahmod.

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