Feminist Writers Festival – Q&A with Shakira Hussein

We’re thrilled to be supporting the inaugural Feminist Writers Festival, taking place in Melbourne from 26-28 August this year. We’ll be featuring interviews with several artists and Committee members over the coming months in the lead up to the event.

Our Editor/Founder, Zoya Patel, will be speaking on a panel during the Networking Day on Friday 26 August – to find out more, and see all of the amazing events programmed as part of the festival, head to their website.

Our next Q&A is with Shakira Hussein, writer and researcher at the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies of the University of Melbourne. She is the author of From Victims to Suspects: Muslim women since 9/11 (2016). She is also a regular commentator on issues of gender, Islam and multiculturalism in Australia.
Your writing often encompasses activism – why do you think public commentary is important for raising the profile of issues around race, religion and identity? 
I’m reading Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race at the moment, as are friends from a range of different racial and religious backgrounds. It’s resonated very deeply among those readers who have had similar experiences but also among many who have not. Victimisation is a very solitary experience, even when a very large cohort of people is being victimised. So the jolt of recognition when you read someone else’s description and analysis is very important, as are the conversations that arise from it.
You have really put yourself in the public eye through your writing on topics relating to Islam and identity – does this ever make you feel vulnerable, and how do you approach the impact of your writing on your personal life? 
Abusive responses make me feel angry rather than vulnerable, although I suppose that anger could be seen as a symptom of vulnerability. It was a mistake to read the comments on an Andrew Bolt blog about my work while hooked up to an intravenous drip in the neurology ward. It made me feel as though I was physically tethered down while an angry mob had gathered to lynch me. I’m more careful about going online during hospital appointments now.
What are your writing plans for the next year? Is there anything exciting on the cards you’d like to share? 
I’ve been writing an essay about the heightened visibility of the far right (Reclaim Australia, Pauline Hanson et al), as well as writing about Muslim women and violent extremism. My friend Alia Imtoual and I are in the early stages of writing a book about Muslim women and sexuality. And I want to write further about the issue of disability.
You’re speaking on a panel about feminism and motherhood at FWF – what are you looking forward to exploring through the discussion?
I’m often struck by how despite high profile changes in gender norms, societal concepts of motherhood and family still seem to be stubbornly based around the image of a heterosexual couple who belong to the same ethnoracial community raising their children together. Fewer and fewer people live like that anymore and yet if you step outside it, you’re still expected to smooth away the rough edges to somehow make it fit that archetype. I’m interested in talking about why forming certain types of families is seen as a statement in itself, rather than just living our lives.
Find out more about the Feminist Writers Festival and register to attend here.

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