CRIME CULTURE: The Mother Wound

BOOK REVIEW: Amani Haydar’s surging, award-winning memoir, The Mother Wound, is a powerful symbol of hope and change but also a tragic reminder that family violence is an all-too-familiar tale that follows a similar pattern regardless of religion or culture, writes Irfan Yusuf.

In August last year, we brought to you the dual memoir of Nina and Denise Young. Denise was the partner of a man who had been extremely violent toward her and to other women. Nina is her daughter, the offspring of that violent relationship who grew up to become a journalist. The book is the result of an award-winning podcast in which Nina investigates her father’s violent past including his murder of a woman in outback Western Australia.

It’s no surprise that a man with such a violent criminal history might also be violent to a partner with whom he has fathered a child. At least, that’s our conventional wisdom. So why can’t we imagine an articulate educated father with no criminal record also have the capacity to murder the mother of his children?

Amani Haydar’s memoir The Mother Wound is in many ways the memoir of two other women.

Haydar’s mother was brutally murdered in Sydney by the man she was married to. Haydar’s maternal grandmother was brutally murdered trying to flee her village in south Lebanon during brutal Israeli airstrikes. Two generations of women who met violent deaths. Just as the atrocities of allegedly civilised armies against women and children are too often ignored, so too are atrocities of allegedly respectable men against their family members.

RELATED – CRIME CULTURE: My Father The Murderer

But the violence of two generations in Haydar women wasn’t all that affected the author of this beautiful memoir, which recently won the prestigious Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Prize for Non-Fiction. Amani Haydar also experienced shared by millions of other Western Muslims from the 9/11 Generation. On page 152, she writes:

“I had only recently changed my Twitter profile picture to one of my hijab and had never mentioned my trauma there before. I’d forgotten that my appearance would affect my right to participate in conversations on gender-based violence. How could I have forgotten?

People were so accustomed to correlating Muslims with violence that I wasn’t allowed the compassion that might be extended to other victims. I wasn’t even allowed an opinion about my mother’s death.”

The phobia and resentment this Lebanese-Australian-Shia-Muslim-woman-lawyer-artist-victim-of-gender-violence experienced meant that, in the eyes of the broader community, the only defining feature that mattered about Amani Haydar was her “Muslim” bit.

In such an environment, the prejudice took on a violence of its own. Haydar had to find a way to carve out a feminism from her personal grief and from her own a cultural and religious heritage. And separate from a xenophobic environment that treated her as the Other.

Amani Haydar: Lawyer turned award-winning artist and writer after the murder of her mother (Image: Supplied)

But one need not be a Lebanese-Australian-Shia-Muslim-woman-lawyer-artist-victim-of-gendered-violence to be at risk of experiencing family violence. The scourge of intimate family violence exists across cultures, languages, religions. Amani Haydar speaks lovingly of her husband Moey, who she met at law school. But notwithstanding the love and support she received from him since the day they tied the knot and especially when she faced the events of her mother’s murder, Haydar writes these troubling and realistic words:

“I climb into bed knowing that my husband, who is kinder to be than anyone, who I love down to my bones, is statistically the most likely person to harm me”. Indeed, to be a wife / partner and / or mother is itself an occupational hazard.

RELATED – CRIME CULTURE: Banquet – The Untold Story of Adelaide’s Family Murders

Violence against women, whether at home or in Parliament House, is not exactly a biggest priority in our community. One need only see the treatment of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame by certain so-called leaders in politics and media.

Back in 2019 I found myself in a Perth conference with domestic violence workers from across the country. We had just listened to a heartfelt address from Rosie Batty, a former Australian of the Year who had witnessed her son murdered by her partner and spent much of her grieving time campaigning against family violence. At the time, I imagined this must be the crescendo of action when we can rid the world of this scourge once and for all.

It was the feeling I also had years before as a White Ribbon Day male ambassador at a fundraising dinner as a stood applauding speeches by senior and prominent male ambassadors.

Today, a number of these ambassadors have been charged and convicted of physical and sexual crimes against women and children.

How many Rosie Battys and Amani Haydars and Brittany Higgins and Grace Tames will it take before Australian women will feel safe?

About Irfan Yusuf 26 Articles
Irfan Yusuf grew up in Sydney and has worked as a lawyer in NSW, QLD, Victoria, Tasmania and WA. He is an award-winning author and has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, NZ Herald, Crikey and ABC The Drum.

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