Khizr Khan’s journey from Pakistan to Democratic convention spotlight

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jul 31, 2016 01:08 IST
Khizr Khan and Ghazala at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (AFP)

Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala were difficult to miss as they moved about the Democratic National Convention: he is very tall, and she wore a distinctive salwar-kurta. But hardly anyone took note.

That was before they took the stage and he delivered Donald Trump a brief but profound and powerful rebuke for his remarks against Muslims that have outraged people around the world.

Khan asked Trump if he had read the American Constitution, and held up his own copy, offering it to the Republican nominee, asking him to look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law” in it.

Khan, whose son, US Army Captain Humayun Khan, died in a suicide car bombing in Iraq in 2004, went on to tell Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

Neither Trump, who has said he wanted to “hit a number of those speakers” critical of him at the Democratic convention, nor his campaign, has responded to Khan’s remarks yet.

Both Khan and Ghazala were born and brought up in Pakistan, and then moved to Dubai, where their two elder sons were born — Humayun was the second. Their third was born in the US.

Khan, a lawyer with an advanced degree from Harvard, has since his Thursday speech become something of a hero among American Muslims long battling the influence of Trump and Trump-like bias.

Aftab Siddiqui, also a Pakistani-American, called Khan’s speech a “perfect response to Trump's vitriol” and said it will help in “softening of American Muslim perception in the society”.

The community has had to deal with unrelenting hostility and scrutiny since the 9/11 attacks, which have been exacerbated by recent attacks, especially the ones in San Bernardino and Orlando.

The community has sought to address the issue through increasing outreach and now, faced with Trump’s remarks, mobilising the community to vote to defeat him.

Khan said he was first contacted by the Clinton campaign about a December news report on how Muslims were responding to Trump’s remarks. He was quoted in it.

The Clinton campaign asked him if they could use his comments in a tribute they were planning for his son at the convention, which was still may weeks away. He agreed.

They got back again a few months later asking if Khan and his wife would like to attend — a speech was still not on the anvil. They were to be simply around to talk to reporters.

And then came the speech offer, but with tight time restrictions. Khan offered to keep it short, and declined the campaign’s offer, asking if he needed help with framing and writing his speech.

“I said: ‘I really don’t, I have my thoughts in my head’,” Khan told The New York Times. “I won’t make it an hour-long speech, just let me say what I want to say. It will be heart-to-heart.”

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