By Steve Wisch
A quintessential American journey culminated in Khizr Khan, a Pakistani immigrant, now an American citizen, standing up to Donald Trump’s unabashed bullying and bigotry, at last week’s Democratic National Convention.
Perhaps Mr. Khan directly challenged the Republican presidential nominee’s knowledge of constitutional rights of Americans:
“Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. (Khan retrieved a copy of the Constitution from his suit’s inner pocket, holding it upright.) In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’
“Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go there and look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities.”
As Clinton explained when she introduced the Khans in a video, their son, Captain Humayun Khan, died in Iraq June 8, 2004 when a “strange vehicle” approached his troops. Captain Khan ordered his troops to move back and took 10 steps toward the vehicle, to inspect it, before a suicide bomber detonated a bomb that killed him. His troops were unharmed.
Thus, the Khans, like thousands of American families, became a Gold Star Family, an American tradition of honoring families, particularly mothers, who have lost a son or daughter in military service to America.
Like countless American Jews, and other immigrants, the Khan family left Pakistan, in a quest for American freedom and the opportunity for their children to rise or fall on their own merits. “Like many immigrants, we came to this country empty-handed.”
In the early 1980s, Khan studied at Harvard Law School, where he obtained a Master of Laws degree or LL.M., a considerable academic achievement in the legal profession.
For many years, Khan worked at Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C., one of America’s premier law firms.
There are different perspectives on this year’s presidential election. Polling to date reveals substantial dissatisfaction with both major candidates.
Many Americans do not find Mrs. Clinton “trustworthy” for a host of reasons, but do not question her competence and experience.
Many Americans distrust Mr. Trump’s lack of experience in government, failure to release his tax returns, and slogan to “Make America Great Again” without offering specifics. Polling reveals that Mr. Trump has strong support from White American men with a high school education and those who react favorably to his call for a comprehensive ban on Muslim immigration to America. His promise to build a high wall on the border between American and Mexico “and make Mexico pay for it” has also garnered support.
The Trump candidacy stokes the embers of American fears — xenophobia or fear of foreigners, Muslims in particular — and offers a new alliance with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leader, whose individual power may exceed those of Russia’s czars who were autocrats.
Trump’s rhetoric is reminiscent of one of the darkest periods in American history: the McCarthy Era, dominated by fear, loyalty oaths and guilt by association.
Last Thursday night in Philadelphia, the cradle of American democracy, a plain-spoken Pakistani-American, his wife cuddled against him as he spoke, performed a great service to America — like his fallen son. It is the duty of Americans to question our government. An informed electorate is the backbone of American democracy.
Like the fable The Emperor’s New Clothes, Khizr Khan revealed that Trump’s candidacy is naked of meaningful ideas, devoid of tolerance and mutual respect, and ignorant of core American values.
A simple immigrant of the Muslim faith stripped Trump bare before millions of Americans.
As his father explained, the late Captain Humayun Khan, a University of Virginia graduate, dreamed of going to law school and becoming a military lawyer. But after 9/11, the patriotic Muslim-American enlisted in the Army, rising to the rank of captain.
The 28-year-old Army captain was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. His troops were unharmed.
“Like many immigrants, we came to this country empty-handed. We believed in American democracy; and that with hard work and goodness of this country we could share and contribute to its blessings. We were blessed to raise (three) sons in this nation where they were free to be themselves and follow their dreams,” Mr. Khan said.
Then, Mr. Khan skewered Donald Trump on the rack of his mindless prejudice:
“If it were up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America.
“Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities: women, judges, even his own party’s leadership.
“He works to build walls and ban us from this country. Donald Trump, you’re asking America to trust you with their future.
“We cannot solve our problems by building walls…”
Characteristically, Trump could not simply acknowledge the Khans’ loss of their son and remain silent. In a remarkable interview, with George Stephanopoulos, Trump said that Ghazala, Mrs. Khan, had not spoken at the convention.
“I don’t know. Perhaps she wasn’t allowed to.”
The truth, explained Mrs. Khan, was far different. She had edited her husband’s speech, condensing six pages to three minutes of plainspoken patriotism conveying the essence of American democracy. Like many mothers who have lost a child, she said she was too emotional to speak at the convention.
Republican leaders across America have again disassociated themselves from Trump’s attempted riposte.
The Khan speech and Mr. Trump’s reaction to it have created a maelstrom in the Republican Party. Among those condemning Mr. Trump’s remarks about Mrs. Khan, a Gold Star mother, have been Senator John McCain, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and the Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who said Trump’s remarks “were out of bounds” toward a Gold Star Mother.
Since the end of World War II, the American Jewish community has progressively flourished in America. But that has not always been the case. Countless American servicemen experienced anti-Semitism during World War II; major corporations, law firms and premier universities either refused to hire American Jews or enforced strict quotas on admissions. Just 60 years ago this was the story of our people — in our history that nears 6,000 years.
When Trump first met with major Republican Jewish supporters, he was quoted as saying “You’re not going to like me. I don’t need your money.”
Recently, Trump backtracked from an image associating Clinton with piles of hundred-dollar bills and an image evoking the Star of David. Later, his campaign explained that the image was not a Star of David but “a sheriff’s badge.”
The Khan family have made the ultimate sacrifice as Americans: Their beloved son has fallen in battle.
Captain Humayun Khan did not die in vain. His spirit, and the spirits of our brave men and women who have paid for American freedom with their lives, serves as an immutable testament to the permanence of American democracy.
Let us remember that Captain Khan, and countless other American men and women who give their lives for their country, have lived full lives, all too brief, which heightens their sacrifice. He was 28.
As American-Muslims, the Khan family have embraced a value deeply rooted in Judaism: Remembering and honoring their son, they have rededicated themselves to life, drawing strength from their tragedy. Strength sufficient to confront the Republican presidential candidate with questions that cannot be ignored in November’s election.