February 2, 2008
Back in London she fell in love with another man, Rahmat Sulemani, an Iranian Kurd who her family said was not a good enough Muslim. One day she kissed him on a street. A Kurdish bystander photographed the kiss on a mobile phone and showed it to her uncle, Ari Mahmod. He called a family meeting where it was decided the couple would be murdered.
Three months after she disappeared, Mahmod’s naked body was found in a case buried in a Birmingham backyard. The gang of young men her uncle had recruited to kill her had also raped and tortured her, and left the bootlace they used to strangle her around her neck.
Sentencing Mahmod’s uncle, father and one of the killers to a collective 60 years in jail, the judge told them Banaz had been an admirable woman who had made one mistake: she fell in love “with an accomplished man that you and you family thought was unsuitable. So to restore your family honour you decided that she should die.” The men’s standing in their community, the judge said, had been “more important than the happiness of your flesh and blood”.
The Banaz Mahmod case horrified Britain. It also showed how far the country has come in fighting the extraordinary phenomenon of honour killings – and how far it has to go.
Police say 12 or 13 Britons – mainly women but very occasionally men – are the victims of honour killings each year. Activists say the figure dramatically understates the true number, and police agree: they are reviewing 117 cases of women who died in mysterious circumstances over the previous 15 years, many of which are thought to have been honour killings. (Police and activists dislike the term honour killings because it appears to excuse the crime, but it remains official use.)
The fact that young British Asian women (from Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi backgrounds) kill themselves at three times the national average for women of their age is also being studied. Could some of these deaths be hidden murders, or suicides imposed on a woman to restore her family’s honour?
While precise figures do not exist for the perpetrators’ cultural backgrounds, Diana Nammi of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation says about two-thirds are Muslim. Yet they can also be Hindu, Sikh and even eastern European.
The issue is acutely sensitive among British Muslims, already feeling embattled since the September 11, 2001, and July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks. Reported levels of domestic violence in British Asian communities are lower than the national average, according to The Guardian. But for a small minority of families, the British judge Marilyn Mornington has said: “Honour rests with the chastity and obedience of women in the community. If that is transgressed then the woman must be punished, ultimately unto death.”
Britain is not alone: 47 Muslim women were killed in Germany between 2000 and 2006. The UN estimates that 5000 women and girls are victims of honour killings each year. But the British example illustrates how a culturally relativist form of multiculturalism can clash with women’s rights and how honour crimes, far from disappearing as migrants settle over generations into new countries, may even be on the rise.
In 2006 one in 10 of 500 young British Asians told the BBC that honour killings could be justified. Nazir Afzal of the Crown Prosecution Service and a leading prosecutor of honour crimes says that when he began work on such cases, “I thought it was an imported practice that would die out when the elder generation [of a migrant community] died. But many of the young people tell me shocking things.”
For example, a young Sikh man told Afzal: “A man is a piece of gold and a woman is a piece of silk. If you drop a piece of gold into the mud you can polish it clean. If you drop a piece of silk into mud it is stained forever.”
Nammi has heard worse: she and her volunteers have had many phone threats in their small east London office. But their main callers are frightened women. Nammi takes them to the police. She has 285 clients, 46 of whom are thought to be at high risk and are in hiding. The youngest is a 13-year-old girl hiding from her father, who believed she was chatting to boys on a mobile phone.
At that time attitudes to forced marriages and honour killings were more negligent than they are today. Only one in five homicide cases led to a conviction for murder; the rest for manslaughter. But in 2000, a spate of high-profile forced marriage cases led the Blair government minister Mike O’Brien to say “multicultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness”. Then came the murder of Heshu Yones.
She was a 16-year old Kurdish girl in London, whose father hated her Western dress and Lebanese Christian boyfriend. For 15 minutes, Abdullah Yones chased his daughter from room to room with a kitchen knife, stabbing her repeatedly and finally slitting her throat over the bath.
The judge sentenced Yones to a minimum 14 years but appeared to mitigate the crime’s savagery by calling it “a tragic story arising out of irreconcilable cultural differences between traditional Kurdish values and the values of Western society”. It was arguable, he added, that “Heshu’s conduct provoked her father”.
Sitting in court, Nammi felt angry. “So-called cultural sensitivity is a way of letting women down,” she says. “Why should any woman not have the same rights as a British woman? Murder is murder.”
Afzal also cites the judge’s comments and the fact that Yones was jailed for only 14 years, as evidence that reforms were needed. Now, judges are imposing terms of 25 to 27 years, he says. “In the past six years there has been a sea change in the way all of us – judges, prosecutors and investigators – approach the crime.”
Nammi agrees the law has improved, but says police must change more. Banaz Mahmoud approached them several times and even provided an accurate list of who would murder her. Police offered her access to a refuge but made the mistake, Nammi says, of visiting her in her home, where she could not speak.
Both in Muslim countries and diasporas, as communities feel under pressure and want to protect their identities in the face of modernisation, traditional views of women are revived.
But Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, of the Muslim Parliament of Britain, says the issue is “not about Islam but about a tribal, rural mindset that says women belong to men and men must at all costs be obeyed”.
Afzal, a practising Muslim from a Pakistani family, agrees, saying nothing in the Koran supports honour crimes: “It’s the exact opposite”. But he says some families will use Islam to justify their authority, telling a daughter that having a boyfriend is un-Islamic.
Britain’s response to honour crimes may be evidence of a maturing multiculturalism, in which no cultural practice is tolerated or swept aside simply because it comes from a disadvantaged ethnic group. Afzal says more people are reporting crimes, extraditions of suspected perpetrators who flee the country are being pursued, some community leaders have become “champions” of change.
Yet the killings go on. Just last month a coroner ruled that 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed of Cheshire had been murdered after she had defied her parents. They wanted her to marry a man in Pakistan; she wanted to study law. Just three days ago, Nammi received a text message that said: “I am an Iranian woman who needs confidential information. Please help me.”
Afzal says communities must respond to such calls. “I have heard people say to me, ‘Don’t talk about this stuff because we are under attack. Don’t wash our dirty linen in public.’ But I have talked to loads of Muslim women and I can tell you that the greatest fear they have is not Islamophobia or being attacked by racists or being arrested on suspicion of terrorism. It is from within their own family.”
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/02/01/1201801034293.html
|E-Mail Ballots for Military QuestionedThursday, November 02, 2006WASHINGTON — A New Jersey congressman raised questions Thursday about a new military voting program that lets service members request and submit their ballots by fax or e-mail.The Defense Department, however, said the program is as secure as possible, and any risks are detailed for the military members when they access the e-mail system.In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Democratic Rep. Rush Holt said the electronic registration and voting service is well-intentioned, but could expose troops to identity theft, or allow hackers or others to tamper with the ballots when they are in transit.“After the Defense Department was stopped from implementing a program like this two years ago because it was full of security holes, I’m angry and astonished that they’re doing it again without review, scrutiny, and oversight,”said Holt.He said that while U.S. military personnel should participate in the political process,”no one is served by introducing possibilities for error, insecurity, and fraud.”Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the Defense Department has set up a secure absentee voter program that will allow military members to request and receive absentee ballots. The new program, she said, lets people vote without relying on the regular mail system.As part of the program, many states allow military members deployed overseas to return their completed ballot via fax or the Internet. Those ballots, Smith said, will not pass through the hands of any government officials until they are received by a local election authority.“The e-mail-to-fax operation does have risks, but we have taken every precaution to limit those risks,”said Smith. She said U.S. service members have been told of the potential privacy concerns with the system, so they can make an informed choice about whether to use the program.___On the Net:Federal Voting Assistance Program:http://www.fvap.gov/Defense Department:http://www.defenselink.mil|