If ever a crime was misnamed, it's surely "honour killing". One understands the thinking behind the description, of course, but it's hard not to feel that allowing the word "honour" to be attached to such cruelties is an unnecessary concession to the killers. It marries a perfectly understandable human instinct – the desire to be respected by the people you live with – to a crime that overrides an even deeper one, the instinct to love and protect your children.
There's nothing of honour about these brutalities at all. They're "shame killings", provoked by a twisted sense of smirched dignity (usually male and abusive) but also bringing shame on the communities in which they occur. And if you doubt it, or if you think that saying so is a form of cultural insensitivity, I suggest you watch the Exposure report on the murder of Banaz Mahmod by her close relatives.
One of the early contributors to the film was in full burka. And it wasn't because this was a devout Muslim wishing to speak out against a pathological form of male pride. It was because she was the sister of the murdered young woman and in danger herself, since she'd testified against the people who'd murdered Banaz. Five of the men who'd colluded in her sister's killing and then carried it out are now in jail serving life sentences. But the detective who'd led the investigation estimated that at least 50 had known enough to prevent it and no one had bothered. "There are many people in the Kurdish community who are against honour killing," someone said at the end of the programme. But there were barely any who had come forward to help the police track down the guilty men. Nobody knew anything, though many of them knew everything.
Banaz's crime had been to run away from the abusive, illiterate man she'd been married to – against her will – at 17. Her uncle and her father felt she would shame them if she divorced the brutal rapist they'd picked for her, and they felt no shame at all in repeatedly sending her back to suffer his assaults. When she finally demanded a divorce – and fell in love with a young man they did not approve of – they plotted to kill her, exploiting her own family loyalty to lure her back to her place of execution. One of the men who actually did the deed boasted of raping her before strangling her to death. His honour, he presumably felt, had been restored by this atrocity. And although the police had let Banaz down originally, failing to take her fears seriously, the policewoman who investigated her disappearance showed real tenacity in bringing some of the guilty men to justice.
This wasn't a story that hadn't been reported before, but it was told very powerfully here and with the very painful addition of footage of Banaz herself, essentially predicting her own murder. A letter she'd addressed to the police, identifying the men she'd overheard plotting her killing, was instrumental in solving the crime. One brave woman went on camera to denounce the idea of "honour based violence" and her courage went a little way to wiping away the stain of association these vile men had inflicted on their own community, but it would take a lot more like her to erase the shame entirely.
It was perhaps bad timing that Tales from the Wild Wood should have been about felling an ash tree this week. Looking on the bright side, though, there seem to be a lot of uses for the wood, and the hole it left behind made way for some new oak saplings. "We hear a chain saw and that sounds like a demonic sound, the clarion call of destruction," said presenter Rob Penn, making the point that when one comes down another one generally goes up again eventually. It's a bucolic, amiable programme this, and not a man in it worrying about his honour.Reuse content