“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” said a 23-year-old woman in a victim impact statement in which she directly addresses former Stanford University student Brock Turner who assaulted her in January 2015. “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
Brock Turner’s father, Dan Turner, in turn, responded with gallingly delusional words. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” wrote Dan Turner in a letter lobbying for probation, not jail time, for his son.
Both of these statements have reverberated across the country. Hers have aroused support and righteous fury. His are viral because they’re an infection, sickly and horrific. The public outrage against Brock Turner is palpable, raw, and potent – louder and finally angrier than in any other public sexual violence case I’ve witnessed in my many years as an advocate on this issue. People are rightfully angry. But now what? And why should any of this shake all American communities, including American Muslim communities, to the core?
Subsequent discussions and op-eds have focused on important and timely issues: an unreliable legal system when it comes to sexual assault, rape culture, white privilege, particularly as it relates to sentencing, the role of family and community members, amongst others. These discussions are necessary; our anger is propelling the broader public to important conversations. But what questions aren’t we asking?
The answer to that is likely uncomfortable, but perhaps there is no better time than Ramadan to enter murky spaces. Perhaps the question we need to turn to is the most difficult place of all: have we or have members of our communities been Brock’s Turner’s father? When situations of sexual, domestic, or spiritual violence have arisen in our communities, have we been on the side of the fence we now rightfully abhor with the Brock Turner case? Have we been people who could have written Dan Turner’s letter in defense of his son, in defense of a rapist? In defense of a domestic abuser? In defense of spiritual abuse?
If we’re truly honest, large swaths of our own communities were the equivalent of Brock Turner’s father or his supporters just last year, last month, last week, yesterday, and even today. While we write our posts and outraged comments about this privileged blonde boy, a former Stanford student, an elite athlete, we’ve got our own Brocks and Brock’s daddies that many have never peeped a word about other than to affirm support and unending willingness to see it their way.
Exchange Dan Turner’s letter and his description of Brock’s “easygoing personality” and the “inner strength” that made him such a good swimmer with many of the statements made by those in our community who defend imams, scholars, and community leaders despite documented allegations of egregious and morally repugnant behaviors including spiritual, domestic, and sexual violence. Like Brock’s father, community members in many of these instances overlooked serious moral crimes to instead highlight the “good works” and “inner strength” of these men, twisting a knife into anyone who has ever been a victim.
Take a moment and ask yourself, are there those within our communities that heard about allegations of abuse and defended perpetrators simply based on their previous “good records”? Months (or even days) later did community members easily forget the pleas for attention and justice to be brought to these serious moral crimes? Did community members share potential perpetrators’ videos and articles despite knowing about the severe allegations brought forward? Did people continue to uphold and honor the men and women who publicly trounced those bringing forward their grueling accounts of abuse in our communities? Did community members “stay cool” with the abuser’s vocal supporters and friends? Did people we are in community with care more about the institution than actual human beings?
Were the good words and “swimming records” of the Brock Turners in our communities good enough for people to look the other way? Was a good swimming record, or in our worlds, a beautiful qirat, a profound speaking ability, a scholar’s social justice work, legions of students across the globe, a teacher’s connection to another well-regarded shaykh, or an imam’s Snapchat prowess and capacity to connect with the young people good enough to forget the pleas of victims of violence? Did people argue that the only way to demonstrate that anything happened was with a successful legal conviction – even after critique the judge’s sentencing in the Stanford case (a case that was easy to prosecute)? Do you know Brock Turner’s father? Were you okay with Dan Turner? Are you Dan Turner?
Some people can’t even identify rape when it’s right in front of their faces. Some people can’t take notice of spiritual, domestic, or sexual violence even if someone – or many someones – scream about it over and over again. If Brock’s history as a good student or a future Olympian does not absolve him of rape, neither does a religious leader’s track record within the community vindicate him of reports of deep, disturbing, and violent abuses. Attention-seeking light of a superficial kind does not wash out the dark moments in which these men were alone with their victims.
Victim blaming can’t be covered up blonde hair and blue eyes – nor can it be covered by a hipster vest, kufi, or Malcom glasses. None of these things wash one from being in the same camp as Brock’s father and his supporters. There is nothing good found in protecting great evil and behaviors that harm others.
If things seem so clear here with the Stanford case, why does this happen when it comes to our own backyards? Quite simply, we’re more willing to believe perpetrators than victims. If we are seeking to change that, we need to call rape by what it is. We need to call domestic violence by what it is. We need to call the spiritual violence of women by what it is. We need to call those who defend these behaviors by what they are – rape apologists and violence against women apologists. We simply cannot water any of these terms down with inaccurate terms or complex descriptors that make these forms of violence and those who perpetrate them more palatable. Because when we do we are Brock’s father – we are upholding a culture of violence. We are upholding violence against women.
Loyalty is only a virtuous quality when it sustains goodness and morality. Undying patriotism without consciousness is not only dangerous it is delusional. A loyal Nazi is still a Nazi. Limitless loyalty born out of blind duty, likeness, or cultural affiliation is blind. Affirming perpetrators and their supporters is no different.
Let this case be a sign – a reminder to take note of in this holiest of months. Let the victim’s words truly strike your core. We don’t need to wade through impossible darknesses. We can instead weigh our other values against loyalty so that we don’t respond out of compulsion or a false sense of duty. Our principles are not simply found through following those who chant empty slogans to eager audiences. Abiding by our principles is as much a solitary act as it is a communal one. Affirming a culture of violence is immorality. Being a student of knowledge is an obligation. Fidelity is valuable but not without sharp boundaries.
Samar Kaukab is an anti-sexual violence advocate and an altM columnist and Advisory Board member.