Last week Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to be a life-long member of the highest legal court of arguably the most the most powerful country in the world—he was chosen as a United States Supreme Court justice. From almost any spiritual or faith-based perspective, this appointment corrodes the soul of the nation. It sends a demoralizing message to its citizens: White male privilege triumphs over justice and compassion.
The Prophet Muhammad (May God’s Peace and Blessings be upon him) taught that if we see an injustice, we should change it with our hands. If not our hands, then our tongues. And if not our tongues, then at the very least we must condemn it in our hearts. In his last sermon, he made it a point to command men to treat women with the utmost of kindness and respect. And so I feel compelled to speak up on the Kavanaugh hearing and confirmation.
In my work as an interfaith college chaplain, I have sat on many female empowerment and sexual assault committees. I have heard more than my share of heart-wrenching stories of sexual assault survivors. Often, survivors are shamed into silence or accused of having some sort of self-serving agenda if they speak up. When Kavanaugh was confirmed, I thought to myself “If we can’t honor and show compassion to victims, what kind of a nation are we building?”
Dismissing women who have survived sexual assault is one side of the coin. The other is protecting the men who commit these crimes. Alcoholism, binge drinking, and a “fraternity culture,“ is a large part of the latter. Kavanaugh stated 29 times in his speech on how much he loves beer, but adamantly denied that he sexually assualted Dr. Ford while he was intoxicated. Was he aware that 90 percent of sexual assault cases on college campuses involve alcohol? When inebriated young men inevitably assault women, their behavior is waved off as “boys will be boys”—in other words, men are inherently wild, misbehaving children who can’t help but be driven by their sexual desires. This is toxic masculinity personified. By not holding men accountable for their actions, this attitude reinforces a patriarchal culture that then produces another generation of misogynistic, entitled gremlins.
What some people don’t realize is the resurrected trauma that the Kavanaugh hearing and confirmation brings. Anyone who has experienced any form of trauma: war, abuse, rape, divorce, sickness, to name a few, knows that you will never forget your trauma. It continues to dwell in the recesses of your mind and when a triggering topic comes up, the anxiety and fear comes alive all over again. I look at the emotional potency of the conversations I have had with survivors; these mere conversations left a lasting pain in my heart that surfaces even now at the smallest provocation, so I cannot fathom the torment the hearts of the survivors felt when they sat and watched the hearings on television.
According to Rabhi Bisla, a therapist who specializes in PTSD and has worked with rape survivors and other vulnerable populations for nine years:
“This case is monumental not just because of the extensive documentation and evidence Ford presented, but for all the young girls watching the news and feeling empowered to speak up, only to learn that in the end the perpetrator always wins.”
One in four girls report experiencing sexual violence, says Bisla. Reports, not experiences. After this confirmation, even that one girl may decide it is not worth the judgment and humiliation to speak up. The hearing only confirmed the statistics—that those who do report sexual assault rarely receive justice.
Bisla explains that “finding the courage to even experience a memory is one of the scariest things survivors can do, much less share with even one person that they were a survivor of rape or sexual assualt. They just want to live their lives without ever thinking about it. They don’t want the men to take anymore from them.”
After all, imagine a trauma you’ve endured being brought to life on a national stage. You relive the excruciating, anxiety-inducing details of this trauma before dozens of politicians and millions of your peers, only to have the government essentially put up its middle finger and say “We think you’re lying. We’re going with ‘our guy.’” To add insult to injury, the President then mocks your testimony in front of a cheering crowd. What message does this send to others who’ve survived the same? Stay silent.
We cannot deny that our culture of patriarchy places straight, white men in the most privileged of categories. Kavanaugh feels a sense of entitlement and deservedness because he is a heterosexual, white and wealthy American man who graduated from Yale. Can you imagine a man of color–whether Latino, Muslim, Black, Asian, South Asian, African, lower socio-economic white person, woman or any combination of the above– indignantly insisting that their Ivy League education washes away any past crimes?
The onus is on the faithful to be a moral compass when our country is failing and falling hard. We must lead our collective communities to hold our politicians responsible. We need the spiritual leaders of all religious communities to encourage conversations on how to combat toxic masculinity, misogyny, patriarchy and sexual assault. Only then can we build a national culture of “responsible masculinity” that allows for men to express their masculinity in healthy ways, one of which is advocating for women.
The Kavanaugh appointment is a dark mark on our nation’s soul, but for every corrosion there must be a spiritual objection. Will you join me?
Adeel J. Zeb is a Muslim chaplain, interfaith scholar, and TEDx speaker. He was elected as the first Muslim in the National Association of College and University Chaplains. Zeb has worked as a Muslim chaplain at 11 colleges and universities across the United States and currently works at Claremont Colleges.