The government report into last year’s Martin Place siege provides a portrait of Man Haron Monis as a man who had come to the attention of the Australian authorities for a string of high-profile but non-violent offences based around security and foreign policy issues as well as far more serious allegations of gender-based violence, including sexual assaults, intimidation and accessory before and after the murder of his ex-wife. In Martin Place, Monis finally chose to combine the violence that had long been evident in his private behaviour with his long-established “attention-seeking, provocative” public life.

Somehow, neither of these two strands of Monis’ life had been considered relevant to the other. His “public” offences were considered low-level, while his private offences were committed only against women already known to him and so were not considered to make him a risk to the general public. The report recommends introducing various measures to overcome this lacuna, including reforms “to require a bail authority to take into account an accused person’s links with terrorist organisations or violent extremism”.

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However, the case of the self-styled “Sheikh Haron” (as Monis liked to be known) suggests that we ought to reconceptualise what we consider to be relevant knowledge, as well as relevant information.

Counter-terrorism is a masculine field, dominated by men in suits alongside men in uniform. It’s a matter of national security and public importance, after all — not the kind of topic that you can just leave to the girls.

Domestic violence, on the other hand, has historically been regarded as a private issue — the kind of topic about which feminists get their knickers in a twist, but of no real interest to the rest of us. After all, how many times have its victims had their experience dismissed as “just a domestic”?

The appointment of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year was heralded as a sign that this topic was finally being assigned the importance it deserved, despite the cuts to funding of the relevant support and advocacy services. And we can tell that it’s now a more important public issue because of the sudden influx of male expertise to the field.

Tanveer Ahmed provided his masculine know-how as well as his status as a White Ribbon Day ambassador in an op-ed in The Australian. His claims that the topic was “stuck in the mindset of 1970s radical feminism” and dominated by “a cult of victimhood” elicited a chorus of typically feminine “wtf???”. This outrage quickly turned to farce with the revelation (thanks on this occasion to the contribution of male blogger Ketan Joshi) that Ahmed had continued the pattern of plagiarism originally revealed on Media Watch two years ago.

But no sooner was Ahmed laughed off stage then we were treated to the announcement of the majority-male guest list for tonight’s Q&A episode on domestic violence — two highly regarded women (Rosie Batty and Natasha Stott Despoja) and three men — one of them in uniform (uniformed men don’t only deal with terrorists, after all) and one of them mostly known for his role as a sports broadcaster.

No particular surprise was expressed at the gender balance for last year’s “Be alert but not alarmed” episode on Q&A, which featured two Muslim women who had undertaken extensive research on the topic alongside three male politicians with no particular expertise but (of course) a lot of opinions to share. However, domestic violence is one issue, surely, on which women’s role and depth of knowledge could surely be acknowledged?

And we could usefully go further and consider dismantling the distinction between these various forms of patriarchal violence and the highly gendered forms of knowledge that we use to address them. The “private” realm of domestic violence finds public expression more readily than we care to admit — and vice  versa.

It’s difficult to disagree with Tony Abbott’s claim that “in their totality, the system has let us down” in the case of Man Haron Monis. Abbott’s observation is a prelude to the introduction of more stringent procedures for immigration and citizenship, as well as more extensive government powers of surveillance and control. The issue of gender violence is not high on the list, even though it surely belongs there.

The targets for his sexual offending were women whose trust he betrayed in his phoney and predatory capacity as a spiritual healer — offences that dated back to 2002 but did not result in charges until 2014. Feminist activists, scholars and organisations have developed a strong body of literature documenting the barriers to the reporting of such offences — but it seems unlikely that much of this will be used in the response to the Martin Place siege. Instead, the focus will remain on the masculine world of counter terrorism — the domain of the men in blue ties and the men in uniform.

Hardly an exhaustive audit of sources when looking for critiques of masculine violence.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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