Australia’s first Muslim MP, Anne Aly, is a likeable, down to earth, high-achiever, her book, Finding My Place, fascinating, but bloody hell, she’s packed so much into her life it makes you feel like a massive time-waster. On the other hand, it’s also a giant reminder life is ripe with possibilities, if only we’d go after them.
For sure, Anne Aly is one person who’s never going to look back with regrets about not following up an idea or inspiration. She’s a pocket-rocket, fuelled by passion, energy and determination. When life knocks her down, as it does on more than one occasion, she gets right back up and she writes about it all with great candour in Finding My Place, never shying away from her failings and vulnerabilities.
That’s one of the great things about this book: like all of us, she’s stuffed up royally and admits it, making her story all the more relatable and engaging.
Finding My Place is an entertaining and illuminating story of Australia in the 1970s and of Azza Mamoud Fawzi Hosseini Ali Al Serougi who arrives here aged two, eventually becoming Anne. She lives a double life in a way, ‘dancing the divide between the expectations and values of her parents’ culture and that of her adopted land.’
Take Anne’s marriage in the early part of her life to a man she barely knows. To understand why a young, ambitious, talented woman would do that, you have to understand the pressures on her. Her Egyptian parents, writes Anne, ‘believed that the traditional values they had imported from their home country would be lost to their offspring. They believed these values were morally superior to the values of their adopted land. They feared their daughters would become too Australian, which meant they would defy their parents, run away from home, have multiple boyfriends and a string of children out of wedlock.’
So while your head tells you to reject all the old-fashioned claptrap from the homeland, your heart wants to please your parents. You want them to be proud. In Anne’s case, she writes, hers was an ‘insatiable need’ to have her parents’ approval.
Like many Australian women not that many generations ago, Anne viewed marriage as an escape: ‘I was desperate to leave my parents’ home and finally have some independence and freedom.’
Once married Anne continues to study but her grades ‘fell victim’ to her ‘newfound role as Betty Baker Perfect Homemaker.’ She attends cooking classes, mastering complicated Egyptian dishes ‘with 869 ingredients.’
When violence (among other serious problems), rears in her marriage, finding help is hard. When she applies for a violence restraining order, the judge looks at her ‘like he was examining a dirty nappy,’ and precedes to talk her out of it. Wherever she looks, she has little or no support. ‘So I stayed. I stayed because like so many other woman, I had nowhere else to go.’
Anne tried following her mother’s advice to ‘be patient,’ hoping all the while that her husband would reform. But, as she says: ‘Patience actually got me f— all.’
Anne’s achievements as the first Australian Muslim woman and first counter-terrorism expert to be elected to federal parliament are well documented, but not so well-known is her struggle to raise two sons single-handedly after her marriage ended, as it inevitably did. Working several jobs while looking after young children, trying to make ends meet, is some feat. To eventually enjoy academic success as well, and become world renowned in her field, testament to her amazing drive and her talent.
Interesting that Anne was initially reluctant to share this story of her life. ‘Well, it wasn’t really my idea,’ she told reporter Belinda Cipriano. ‘I got a call from a publisher to write a book and I said sure, I’ll write a book about terrorism,’ and they said ‘oh no Anne, we want you to write a book about you.’
Anne’s own words sum up Finding My Place best. ‘It’s honest and it’s raw and it’s like saying to people ‘here I am, this is me.’ I’ve laid out my life in this book – it’s not political – it’s just a story of me…’
And what a story it is.