You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 3, 2012.

Yesterday’s post examined cultural and moral relativity in a Canadian school using a severe case of Afghani marital abuse involving maiming.

Today’s looks at a case which occurred in the UK mid-decade, which I read about in the papers. It is the astonishing story of Banaz Mahmod, mentioned in the first comment on JuliaM’s post at Orphans of Liberty, my initial source for yesterday’s entry about Canada.

In that comment, Woman on a Raft calls our attention to Ms Mahmod’s torture and death at the hands of her own family (emphases mine):

The award for police investigation a few weeks ago went to the team which finally nailed the other killers of Banaz Mahmod, the primary ones being her father and his relatives, who raped her first.

While I appreciate that the investigation clarified things for officers when investigating status-murders in ethnic communities, let’s not forget that it wasn’t that difficult to solve since Banaz had appealed for police help about five times and was videoed on a hospital trolley the first time she was duffed up, giving a statement as to who had done it and predicting they were going to kill her.

The officers who failed to respond before the death – particularly a woman officer – were given words of advice. Their careers was not delayed much by the mistaken reading of the situation. However, without wishing to sound unsympathetic, the risk for officers every single day is that an accusation of racism can see them booted out no matter how ridiculous the assertion is. It is easy to imagine a situation where an officer is inclined to dismiss a complaint as amateur dramatics when their own job could be compromised by taking it seriously.

The first lesson to take away from Aisha’s face and Banaz’s death is that this is done as a public act and that means the people do know who did it – they have to, because it is the visible exercise of capricious physical power which restores the status of the family. Just like any other group of thugs.

Here is a video of the senior police officer explaining the case and expressing her thanks in being recognised with a medal from the Queen.

Woman on a Raft directed us to Banaz’s case which a feminist blog, the F Word analysed in more detail. Fionnuala Murphy writes:

She was in love with her boyfriend Rahmat Sulemani and looked forward to beginning a new life with him. Then her father and her uncle decided that she had to die.

On 24 January 2006, Banaz Mahmod was raped, tortured and strangled with a shoelace in the sitting room of her parents’ house in Mitcham, South London. Three months later, police discovered a suitcase containing Banaz’s naked body buried under a patio in Birmingham.

Banaz Mahmod’s story is the story of countless women and girls who are murdered each year in the name of so-called honour. As in Banaz’s case, their ‘crimes’ – having a boyfriend, refusing a forced marriage, wanting to make their own choices – are deemed to have brought shame on their families. Their families sanction the murder and then carry it out in cold blood, often with the support and collusion of the wider community. These two characteristics of honour-based violence – it is pre-planned and collective – are what distinguish it from other forms of domestic violence such as intimate partner violence or ‘crimes of passion’.

I use the word ‘honour’ with difficulty, because there is nothing honourable about any of the crimes that have been committed against the women and girls I have met through my work with the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation. At the same time, it is the term that is best understood by the communities that IKWRO works with, and so we continue to use it.

As in yesterday’s Canadian example, we in Britain are often reluctant to say anything or help because of cultural relativism and accusations of racial insensitivity, as Murphy explains:

It takes many forms other than murder, including forced marriage, forced suicide, acid attacks and mutilation, beatings, rape, imprisonment and denial of access to the telephone, internet or friends. While many of these represent serious crimes, in the UK the authorities can sometimes be reluctant to intervene out of a mistaken perception that honour-based violence is a ‘cultural’ practice and is therefore somehow acceptable. Not only does this view stand in the way of progress on the human rights of women from ethnic minorities, but it is also extremely naive. In reality the concept of honour is more about convenience than culture.

In communities where honour-based violence occurs, marriage is generally not a matter of personal choice based on compatibility but rather a system through which families enrich themselves. Women are the currency in this system and are exchanged by male members of their families in return for financial or social benefit. Marriages can enable families to protect or strengthen their ownership of property, to pay off a debt, to deprive women of their inheritance, to build alliances and to strengthen family and tribal ties ...

When a woman’s honour becomes damaged through ‘inappropriate’ conduct (real or alleged) she not only loses her value as an asset but also undermines her family’s ability to participate in the system. Violence is then considered the accepted means through which the family restores their ability to participate. At the same time, by refusing to conform to the values accepted by the family and community – for example by engaging in sexual activity or choosing her own partner – the woman has called the very basis of the exchange system into question.

When I read this story in the newspapers, the most incredible aspect of it concerned a woman police constable to whom Banaz reached out for help. Murphy recounts the story:

Before her death Banaz had told police four times that her father was planning to kill her. She even gave them a letter naming those she believed would murder her but this didn’t save her life. On one occasion, a police constable named Angela Cornes was called to attend to a bleeding and distressed Banaz. Banaz’s father had made her drink alcohol, which she had never done before, and had told her to turn her back to him. Banaz noticed that he was wearing gloves and fearing for her life, she ran out the back door and into the garden of the house next door, where she smashed a window to attract attention. The house was empty so she jumped over the back fence and ran to a nearby café

Rather than investigating Banaz’s claims that her father had tried to murder her, PC Cornes dismissed the young women as drunk and melodramatic. She concentrated on the window that Banaz had broken and threatened to charge her with criminal damage. She refused to go with Banaz to hospital and went against police guidelines by approaching Banaz’s father about the incident. Within a month, Banaz had been brutally murdered.

An investigation into the death of Banaz Mahmod by the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that the conduct of PC Cornes and her supervisor was sufficiently poor to warrant a disciplinary hearing. Unfortunately, disciplinary proceedings were called off after one of the witnesses, Banaz’s boyfriend Rahmat Suleimani, decided not to testify. In fact the IPCC could have continued with the proceedings as there were several other witnesses, and a number of women’s organisations including IKWRO publicly challenged them on their decision. Unfortunately they would not reconsider. No disciplinary hearing took place and PC Cornes was promoted to the rank of sergeant. IKWRO wanted to apply for a judicial review of the IPCC’s decision but was deterred by costs and the difficulty of proving the necessary ‘significant interest’ in the case.

Murphy’s article says that, after Mahmod’s murder, police training programmes were pledged but they do not appear to have been rolled out to the force. Awareness programmes among other public sector workers are nearly non-existent:

In February, my colleague spent a day walking around a South London borough visiting clinics, housing offices, libraries and other public buildings, asking staff there to display a poster advertising the help that we offer to victims of honour-based violence. Several people said that they did not know whether they could put the poster up. A receptionist in one GP’s surgery said it wouldn’t be possible to display information about our services. When asked why, she said that it might “offend men”. 

I can well imagine that happening.

Murphy provided statistics on honour killings:

The UN estimates that there are 5,000 such murders each year, although the real figure may be much higher. In the UK, the Home Office estimates that there is one honour killing each month, although it is unclear where this figure comes from. Certainly, what is known is that a much larger number of women and girls face other forms of honour-based violence, including imprisonment, abduction, beatings, mutilation, forced marriage and forced suicide. From April to October 2009 police recorded 211 honour-related incidents in London alone, 129 of them criminal offences.

Reading about these cases makes one wonder how someone can brutally torture and even kill anyone, especially a family member. It would seem that materialism is more important than a daughter’s happiness and personal fulfilment.

Currently, Banaz’s killers — some of whom are family members — are in prison serving life sentences.

However, there are many other cases not only in the UK but in other countries around the world which go ignored.  The authorities — and even those of us reading about these cases — rationalise them. Sometimes we even blame the victim saying that she must have done something very bad, indeed, and that a father or a husband is always correct. This is an extreme example of the fundamentalist notion of ‘federal headship’ and should not be tolerated in Western society.

It’s ironic that secularists harp on about missionaries bringing — or ‘imposing’ — Western and Christian values in faraway countries in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Yet, many of them turn a blind eye to barbaric familial practices brought by immigrants to the West in the 21st century.

The cultural relativism of many ‘character development’ and ‘diversity training’ programmes has deadened our sense of right and wrong, good and evil.  Essentially, when everything is right, then nothing is wrong.

Clearly, that is truly wrong.

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