Gold Star Parents (and Immigrants) Catch Our Attention
A Muslim Reminds Americans of their Birthright
by Ruth Broyde Sharone
Who could have predicted that a Muslim immigrant, Khizr Khan, known by family and friends as a gentle, soft-spoken man, would make history on the fourth and final night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention or that he would become one of the most sought-after speakers in the country – especially on the Interfaith circuit?
The Gold Star father, a lawyer, and his wife, Ghazala, originally from Lahore, Pakistan, came to the U.S. in 1980 with their three sons after a five-year stay in Dubai. They currently live in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Gold Star designation comes from the death of their son U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan in the Iraq war. They gave what they loved the most for the country where they are citizens today.
When the Clinton campaign invited Khizr to speak in Philadelphia at the convention in October 2016, his children, friends, and well wishers warned him not to say anything controversial or political in nature that night. “There definitely will be repercussions,” they predicted. “You’ll end up generating lots of criticism and bad press which will be directed towards you and your family.”
Khizr did not take their advice. His wife, Ghazala, standing silently at his side throughout, was in total accord with what her husband planned to do. They made that decision together, although she herself was too emotional at the time to address the audience.
“Donald Trump, you’re asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy,” Khan said dramatically, pulling from his jacket pocket and waving in the air a blue, dog-eared miniature copy of the constitution. “In this document, look for the words liberty and equal protection of law!” The world watched on TV as the Democratic delegates on the floor exploded into wild, raucous approval. The Gold Star father had to pause because the applause was so loud and prolonged.
Given the comments Trump had been issuing daily since December 2015, after declaring his intention to run for president, Khizr Khan and his wife felt it would be a great error to take part in that evening tribute to the Gold Star families and not say what was heavy on their hearts.
And what was heavy on their hearts that night was not only the death and memory of their son Humayun – who received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his courage and bravery, but also the threats that had been issued by Trump since his campaign began: to build a high, impenetrable wall along the Mexican border, to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., to deport Latino immigrants, to punish women for undergoing legal abortions, and more, all in order to “make America great again.”
Democratic Party leaders first learned about Khizr Khan after James King, a digital reporter, had called him and asked for his thoughts on Trump’s comments regarding the Muslim ban. That article was published and circulated widely and eventually reached key people in Democratic national headquarters.
For the Sake of the Children
In our interview Khizr shared that he was particularly disturbed by Trump’s racist and xenophobic comments because of the backlash experienced among the children of his friends. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Latinos – all local friends of the Khans – started coming to the Khan household for advice on how to comfort their children who were afraid of being deported because of Trump’s threats. These children were also afraid of bullies at school who were spouting racist rhetoric they obviously heard from Trump on TV and from the parents who supported Trump. “Our kids can’t do their schoolwork. They can’t sleep at night,” they told Khan. “They’re too scared about their future in America.”
Precisely these concerns about children propelled him to speak out at the Democratic National Convention. In a subsequent CNN interview he also upbraided Trump for having no empathy, for “not realizing, feeling the pains, the difficulties of the people you wish to lead.” Hoping to prick Trump’s conscience he accused him of violating the very values of America that made America “truly great.” “You have no idea of what it means to sacrifice,” he berated Trump. “You have sacrificed no thing and no one.”
As predicted, there was fall-out against the Khans, primarily against Khizr, after his comments echoed across America. Breitbart Publications, headed by Steve Bannon, Trump’s soon-to-be-appointed Strategic Advisor, printed an online article questioning Khan’s legal credentials. Khan received his first law degree in Pakistan in 1974, served as an in-house lawyer in a Dubai law firm, and, after coming to America, received a graduate degree in law from Harvard. He passed the New York Bar in 2010. The article tried in vain to find fault with him, claiming he had only received a law degree when he was 60, ignoring his earlier credentials as a lawyer in Pakistan and the Emirates. They also questioned his lack of published articles in law journals.
Other publications claimed his speech had been written by the Democratic campaign committee and that he was paid $25,000 to deliver it – all false accusations that nevertheless still circulate on the Internet. Khizr himself is unaware of everything that has been written about him. He’s been busy traveling and speaking, interested in awakening the public to the danger of a jingoist administration and encouraging more people to join the interfaith movement, because he has personally witnessed its value and impact.
The Interfaith Factor
“In communities where they are under stress, politically or otherwise, interfaith is at the forefront. There is nothing better than having interfaith brothers and sisters being together, supporting one another. I have experienced that across the country. Wherever there is strong interaction, morale is higher. People feel much more secure. In times of Muslim harassment other faith leaders have come and surrounded the place of worship and held hands in solidarity.” He emphasizes that under current circumstances and the current climate, interfaith relationships are not only necessary, but crucial to face our challenges. “Not just for us” he underscores, “but internationally as well.”
Khan says he is amazed and humbled that an “ordinary person such as myself” has received so much love, affection, and respect from so many diverse organizations and individuals: from major law firms, lawyers across the country, civil rights organizations, and everyday citizens. “And the groundswell continues across the U.S. and abroad, including England, Germany, Japan, and Sweden, where he has been invited to speak on American pluralism.
For the last ten years Khizr Khan has kept a stack of Constitutions in his office and another stack at home. His favorite amendment is the 14th, part of the Bill of Rights, which guarantees equal protection under the law for all citizens, whether they are U.S. born or naturalized in the U.S. You can be sure Khizr Khan, a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, who became an American citizen, a Gold Star father, an interfaith activist, and the conscience of America, knows the 14th Amendment by heart.