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 UK: Bekhal Mahmod says my family killed my sister, I could be next

 Source : Times
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UK: Bekhal Mahmod says my family killed my sister, I could be next  17.6.2007 


Bekhal Mahmod tells of her life in hiding to avoid the fate of her sister, victim of an ‘honour killing’ after one kiss in the street

June 17, 2007

London, UK, -- Bekhal Mahmod, older sister of the “honour killing” victim Banaz Mahmod, stands very silently in the middle of the room and takes off the black veil that covers her face to reveal jet-black hair and hazel-col-oured almond-shaped eyes which are lively yet so sad they are startling. You know they belong to a young woman in fear of her life.

Suddenly, out pours a torrent of words, fierce, thoughtful and articulate and all voiced in a south London accent that belies her Iraqi-Kurdish roots. Bekhal has come from a strict Islamic upbringing but she is clearly now a thoroughly modern young London woman. The transition, however, has been rough and dangerous. At times she has contemplated suicide.

“Don’t get me wrong, I have come close to ending it,” she says. “I have been very close. When the police told me my sister was dead, my heart was shattered. I was praying that she was paralysed. Anything but be murdered. The only reason I didn’t do something stupid was to have her living still in my heart.”

Bekhal, 22, is speaking out because of the murder of her 20-year-old sister Banaz in the name of family honour. Last week, her father Mahmod Mahmod, 52, and uncle Ari Mahmod, 50, both of Mitcham, south London, were convicted of her murder at the Old Bailey. Across Europe and increasingly, it seems, in Britain, as Muslims become more conservative and religious funda-mentalism strengthens its grip, growing numbers of women are being killed or mutilated in the name of family honour.

In Banaz’s case it happened because in an extraordinary act of defiance against her Kurdish family – welcomed into Britain in the 1990s as victims of Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Kurds after the first Gulf war – she had walked out of a miserable arranged marriage with an older cousin and fallen in love with another man, thereby bringing “shame” on the family.

Her fate was sealed when she kissed her boyfriend in a Brixton street. The men who had been tasked by her father and her uncle, who was the senior head of the family, with following her photographed this small sign of affection with a mobile telephone.

“It was a kiss on the lips. No, not a snog,” said Bekhal. “But they took a picture of her and gave it to my uncle and that was it. It was all over for Banaz just because she really loved that man.”

Still angry and grieving, Bekhal is trying to make sense of the crime and stay alive herself as well. She knows that she, too, is at risk because she had angered her family before Banaz’s revolt. In 2002, aged 17, she fled home after being beaten and threatened by her father for refusing to accept a marriage with a cousin twice her age. Since then she has insisted on leading her own life.

A striking young woman, Bekhal would turn heads in the street if she could be seen. But she does not dare. Being in fear of her life from her family, she never goes out in public without covering her entire body and face, apart from tiny slits for her eyes, in a long black cloak and veil.  

Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha, Found dead The daughter,  who had left her husband

A combination of undated handout images showing (L) Ari Mahmod and Mahmod Mahmod, released to Reuters on June 11, 2007. Mahmod Mahmod was convicted in a London court on Monday of murdering his 20-year-old daughter in a so-called "honour killing" because she had left her husband and fallen in love with another man. Reuters

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Even now she is not sure that the veil and hiding – she has lived in more than 30 places in the past five years – will save her despite the conviction of her father and uncle, who will be sentenced on July 28.

“Nothing can ever be the same again. All I can do is try and keep myself safe. And that is the hardest part, because I cannot dare have many close friends because I am afraid I will drag them down with me.

“If, for example, I am staying at my friend’s house they might come into the house and try and kill me and harm them as well. It is hard, really hard, to let myself get close to people.” Her sister was strangled with a boot-lace and her body stuffed in a suitcase buried in a garden in Handsworth in Birmingham. Her father and uncle ordered the deed. But the two men they had hired from Iraqi Kurdistan to carry it out returned there afterwards, boasting they had raped Banaz as well, and are unlikely ever to be arrested.

“They are the devil’s children. They are nothing made by God’s creation,” Bekhal says.

“One of them is nicknamed ‘Soorer’, which means red, because his skin is red, and his speciality is killing people. Quite recently I found out that my uncle had wanted someone dead in Kurdistan and had got ‘Soorer’ to do it.

“I just can’t get it out of my head, especially the raping of my sister. It has made things worse. I will never stop thinking about it. It will be on my mind 24/7.

“It is not easy for me. I have nightmares. You hear noise at night and you pick up anything and go to the door because you think someone is there. It is terrifying.

“The way the family thinks is that I am dirty, just because I am not with them. But all I ever wanted, really, was to be an ordinary person, just a normal young woman.

“I wanted to have a life, holidays, travel the world, have a good job, have kids, have a family, get married. But families like mine are very strong and go back generations and generations. The family is all mixed blood of cousins to cousins and nephews, and becomes so deep and so intimate and incestuous that the members of it lose themselves.”

But still, how is it that such things happen in modern, liberal Britain? Banaz’s murder is a headline-grab-bing case but it is, in fact, one of many of these distinct crimes that Aisha Gill, a senior lecturer in criminology at Roe-hampton University and a Scotland Yard adviser on violence against women, honour killings and forced marriages, says is one ghastly crime in a worrying trend.

A study of the figures indicates that one woman a month is the victim of an honour killing in Britain. Police across Europe have noticed a rising trend, too, and prompted by activist groups have come to recognise it, as Scotland Yard has, as a distinct crime.

In the past, cases were largely hidden from public view because they occurred in minority groups, but in 2004 police announced new research into the culture surrounding honour killings and a review of suspicious cases.

The review was opened after the conviction of Abdullah Yones, also a Kurdish immigrant from Iraq, who had held his 16 -year-old daughter Heshu over a bathtub and slit her throat after discovering that she was writing and receiving love letters from a boy in her class at their London school.

In court, Yones said his daughter had brought her death on herself. On the day he was sentenced to life imprisonment, dozens of Kurdish men came to court to show solidarity with him.

Gill said it was “disgusting” that Banaz’s father and uncle had shown no remorse when they were convicted. What made it even more sad, she said, was that there had been a “deafening silence” from the Kurdish community and religious leaders about the case.

It could not be denied, she said, that there was a failure of the Metropolitan police to act adequately in Banaz’s case – she went to them four times and it was obvious that she was in a dangerous situation – but the Kurdish community was not free of blame either. It needed to respond with conviction to such crimes. The community needed to address the violence against women in their midst, help bring the perpetrators to justice, not to protect them or give them respect for such heinous crimes as honour killings.

Historically, Gill said, the authorities in Britain had hesitated about interpreting the cultural norms in minority communities like the Kurds and had assumed that conflicts could be resolved within the community itself.

The police and the courts had lacked understanding of the issues, even sometimes blaming the victim in a violent and abusive relationship. As a result, women did not have the confidence that the police would protect them when they reported it.

A lot has changed, despite the tragic failure to keep Banaz alive, and the police themselves have been at the forefront, particularly since the Yones case, of making violence against women a priority.

But despite this improvement there has been no consistency in approach, and how violence against women is dealt with by the police is often a lottery.

As well as being fearful for herself, Bekhal is also now concerned for the safety of her mother and her other two sisters Giabame, 16, who is traditionally the age to be married off to a cousin, and Payman, 20, who is also unhappily in a forced marriage.

“God knows what will happen to them. But I seriously believe that because there is no man around now they are in great danger, not from the immediate family but from the men in the Kurdish community.

“They will look upon them as if there are no men around, to do whatever they want to. So they will, I fear, be targeting them in a sexual way. They will be harassing them and abusing them, looking upon them as unworthy and of no value because of what has happened to Banaz and me.

“As for me, it does not stop me marrying. But it is hard when you know someone might be following you.”



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