Trump’s target Gold Star dad Khzir Khan fights bigotry
By Ken Stone
Khizr Khan paid the World Series no heed. He smiles wistfully when asked about cricket, the national pastime of his native Pakistan.
“I don’t have time for popular culture yet, but God willing soon,” he said Wednesday after his 163rd public appearance since the July 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Khan was criticized by Donald Trump after that appearance, despite the Khan family loss of their Army captain son in battle in Iraq.
“I don’t get some time to eat,” he said. “I live on savings. … I have run out of shirts, clean shirts.”
The Gold Star-wearing father of fallen Army Capt. Humayun Khan — buried in Arlington National Cemetery after giving his life to save subordinates in an Iraqi suicide bombing — is on a “self-assigned” mission.
He travels the country — St. Louis next, followed by Kansas City, New York, Washington, Boston and Raleigh — preaching civility in political discourse. He combats bullying and bigotry.
This day, it’s the Anti-Defamation League-sponsored No Place for Hate Leadership Conference at the security-patrolled Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center.
“In democracy, always remember: Silence equals death,” he told the La Jolla audience of 400 — half of them middle-schoolers. “Do not be silent. Speak. Participate. Join hands. … You have power.”
Khan shared the story he’s told countless times — how he was persuaded, against his fearful family’s wishes, to make his famous 263-word speech at the Democratic convention, where he asked Donald Trump: “Have you even read the U.S. Constitution?”
The Muslim-American lawyer said his heart was changed by a card, unstamped, left in the mailbox at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It came from four local fifth-graders, who said of a classmate: “Mr. and Mrs. Khan, you make sure that Maria is not thrown out of this country. We love her. She’s our friend.”
Speaking to the San Diego youngsters as if they were the source of the note, he said: “You moved us by one line. Imagine the power of your words, the power of your voice, the difference that you can make.”
Khan, about 67, told of meeting a woman on a Washington street several weeks after the Philadelphia convention.
She modestly touched his arm, and said: “Mr. Khan, I want to say thank you for speaking on behalf of all of us. I am grateful. We are Hispanic Americans.”
The woman said she discovered her son listening to something in his room with his door closed. One day she came in and learned he was taking heart from Khan’s convention speech.
“Whenever I am bullied in school, I come back home and I listen to this speech,” the son said. “It gives me courage.”
Later, the speech was played in class, and “a couple of days after this exercise, … he smiles and says: Everyone is my friend,” Khan recalls being told.
In a talk received with head-of-state reverence, Khan recounted Kristallnacht, the November 1938 orgy of anti-Semitic violence in Germany that saw scores of Jews killed, synagogues and shops destroyed and cemeteries desecrated.
He called this a turning point on the path to concentration camps and the Holocaust.
“I want my future leaders [the children in the room] to remember these atrocities of history,” he said. “This is what we need to be vigilant about. … We may have not, thankfully, reached there yet. But hate has no place in America.”
Khan then recalled what he witnessed in his own hometown.
“I saw with my own eyes … the Nazi flag on the streets of Charlottesville,” said the resident since 2005.
“But I was there [the following] Wednesday as well, when America showed up. The entire community, with children, families, candles in their hands at a peace march on the sacred ground of the University of Virginia. That is true America. That is what the majority of America is.”
Such acts give him hope for reversing what he calls an anomaly — election of a leader in Washington who during the campaign made “the most bigoted statement in election history” (about banning Muslims from entering the country.)
Khan never uttered the president’s name during his 32-minute talk. In a brief press conference later, he was asked about the reticence. He replied: “Donald Trump, the president of the United States. I mention it when necessary.”
(Another thing he didn’t mention Wednesday — his just-released book “An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice.” But he briefly held up a copy of “This Is Our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father,” which he wrote for children 10 and up.)
“It’s a minority that has gotten hold of [the] presidency,” he said. “And that is what anomaly is. And it will be corrected, and it will be fixed soon.”
He stressed that “our tradition is fairness. … If you see somebody being treated unfairly, you don’t have to fight. … But you can voice your concern and disagreement by speaking strongly against unfairness. That is our tradition.”
He urged young people to be a source of hope, “and you will see that you can prevail. The reason I wanted to share these personal stories is because it is a tribute to each … of you. You sent us on this journey. You have continued to help and support us on this journey.”
At the press conference, Khan was asked about Trump’s exchange with the widow of a soldier killed in Niger.
“I was heartbroken when I saw the behavior of the White House at such a moment of grief after sacrificing,” he said. “These were four of my sons — brave, hero sons that sacrificed themselves, keeping us safe against the menace of terrorism.”
At such moments, he said, dignity and restraint are demanded.
“But the White House did not display that,” Khan said. “Instead of dignifying their sacrifice, and giving privacy and respect to the family, it became a political football. For the sake of political expediency. That was just uncalled for.”
Asked if President George W. Bush had contacted his family after his son’s 2004 death, Khan said: “That’s a private moment in our life, and I don’t have permission of my family to share that.”
Khan offered a special public moment, however.
- Photo gallery: Khzir Khan at Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla
At the end of his talk, he continued his longtime practice of handing out pocket-sized Constitutions.
He called for two student reps to join him at the foot of the auditorium.
Kelsey Greenberg Young, the ADL’s assistant regional director, called on Mayar of Spring Valley Academy and Jacqueline of Bonita Vista Middle School.
Khan instructed the pair to cup their hands.
“This is a symbolic gesture,” he said, holding the booklets. “You all are custodians of the Constitution of the United States. And I place this in your blessed hands.”