By Hajar Elkahlaoui
Rabat – Moroccan writer Amale El Atrassi, has described herself as a “Muslim Wolf”. This name is also the title of her memoir about her conservative family’s traditions, culture, and lifestyle.
The novel, published in 2013, also tells of her painful and the suffering that she lived because of being raped and having an alcoholic, violent father who profoundly hates women.
The 40-year-old writer comes from a family of six children, including the humorist Mustapha El Atrassi, who didn’t want the book to be published.
In an interview with Morocco World News, El Atrassi shares her life experiences and plans for the future.
What is the main target of your book “Muslim Wolf”?
Amale Elatrassi: I wrote this book to help women who had similar experiences. Mine remains atypical but every day, I am contacted by hundreds of women from all social backgrounds. I also started writing, after going through hell, to make my peace with the past.
How did you feel while writing the book?
Amale Elatrassi: I used to be a girl with borderline personality disorder after my return from Morocco. I had no self esteem. I was broken inside because I experienced violence and sexual abuse. I didn’t believe in me nor in anyone else so I became self destructive.
Was your father the main cause of your suffering?
Amale Elatrassi: I blame my father Choukri for everything I went through in France and in Morocco. He never showed us affection since our birth. He was furious when he knew his first child was a female. He even blamed my mother for being pregnant with a girl like it was her fault. A year after my birth, Farid was born. He was the only kid he took in his arms. He covered him in kisses. He watched TV with him. When we went to Morocco, my father’s family was so proud of his sons while my sisters and I felt useless like Choukri used to tell us all the time. I used to dress up, to fight, and to climb trees as boys just because my dad always thought that girls should cook and stay home.
How was your relationship with your mother?
Amale Elatrassi: A close relationship. Unlike my dad, who used to insult and beat us, my mother was protective. A true wolf.
How is currently your relationship with your father?
Amale Elatrassi: My relationship with my father now is peaceful. He settled in Morocco now and he has another wife and children which I personally don’t aim to know them in person. He calls me once a year. After that I published the book, he called me saying that I didn’t say everything about him and that I could say more.
How were you reconciled with your father?
Amale Elatrassi: It took me a lot of time and hindsight. I had to work on myself to try to understand the how and the why my father damaged us this much; otherwise I would never make it.
Why did you and your sister stay in Morocco?
Amale Elatrassi: At a summer vacation in Morocco, my father lied to us. He told us that there was a judicial problem in France he needs to resolve with my mother and my brothers and he will leave me and my sister at our grandmother’s house for two to three months at Douar Doum in Rabat. But in fact, he was abandoning us there. His family was telling us all the time that girls shouldn’t go out and that they should stay home and learn how to cook and to manage a house until they get married. At that time, I was 12 years old. I didn’t want a husband. I just wanted to watch cartoons.
How did you revolt?
Amale Elatrassi: Three years after, we were watching TV. There was a Michael Jackson show. My sister innocently said how handsome he was. My uncle beat her until she fell on the ground. I knew right away that we can’t stay there. So we decided to flee.
How was your experience when you left your family’s home?
Amale Elatrassi: We had what mattered most: Hope and freedom. At our family’s house, we had no hope left. We knew if we stayed they will oblige us to get married and that we were not going back to France. After we ran away, we wanted to find a way to go back to France so we went to Agdal, a place where there were a lot of foreigners and diplomats who may help us return to France. We used to hang out in the Crocontic Bar with student of the mission of French-language school Descartes. They were sons of diplomats, of doctors and very important people.
Did you tell your new friends that you ran away from your family’s house?
Amale Elatrassi: No, we didn’t tell them the truth. We told them that my father is a doctor and that he had to travel for work, and he left us with the maid who was mean with us so we had to spend a lot of time outside. They believed us because we could speak French fluently and we wore clean clothes that we stole from rooftops.
Where did you spend the nights?
Amale Elatrassi: At night, we used to hide at a forest. When one of us is sleeping, the other is watching.
These “sons of diplomats and doctors” are the same ones who raped you and your sister?
Before answering this question, Amale stops to gently ask her 10 years old daughter to leave the room.
Amale Elatrassi: Yes, the six rapists were people we used to eat lunch with. We were drinking alcohol. In the morning, we woke up with messier hair and torn clothes. We understood right away what happened. We didn’t know that these “well educated” people will end up raping us. They had immunity and they also knew that rape is a taboo in Morocco and that we were not going to talk about it.
Three days later, you met your mother. How did you feel?
Amale Elatrassi: We were crushed. We had no hope left. We lost so much time for nothing. And I felt so much hate toward my father but I was so happy because she was here again. I felt protected.
What was the thing that helped you get over your negative feelings?
Amale Elatrassi: My four children are the diamonds in my backyards. They are what helped me move on. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.
You’re not an average writer. You started writing your book in jail. How were you inspired to write all your feelings down in paper?
Amale Elatrassi: After my return to France, I felt unclean and broken inside. I went to prison four times for being involved in robbery, theft, and fights. I wasn’t afraid of going to prison. It was nothing for me compared of what I went through in Morocco. I knew how the confinement felt like. I thought French prison was idyllic. I watched television, I played sports, and I took computer training.
When I first went to prison, at 18 years old, a psychologist within the prison asked me how I was doing. When I told him that I was doing great he was shocked. I refused to talk to him about my past so he asked me to take a pen and papers and start writing down how I feel without showing them to anyone if I don’t want to. I thought it was not going to help but as soon as I started writing, I couldn’t stop. It was hard as I was crying while writing but I felt also released and free from my wounds.
How did you decide to stop stealing?
Amale Elatrassi: I was pregnant with my first child. I was so proud when I knew that it was a girl: Ines. She now is 20 years old. After her birth, I didn’t want to go back to prison because I didn’t want to lose her. My four children are my loves. They changed my whole attitude. I didn’t want to hurt them like my father did to us. I stopped also the crimes for my husband. He is a great person. He respects women. He was always there for me even at my worst.
Are you planning to write other books?
Amale Elatrassi: I have a publishing contract at the publishing company Archipel, an exclusive contract for three books. All of them are autobiographies. I am also planning to make a movie. The script is already written.