Khizr Khan and the Wisdom of Gold Star Families
On the morning of Tuesday, June 8, 2004, a taxi navigated the serpentine barriers toward the gate of Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baquba, Iraq. A U.S. Army officer who was on watch saw it and ran forward toward the vehicle. That is when it exploded, killing the soldier, Capt. Humayun Saqib Muazzam Khan, and two Iraqis who stood nearby. Khan was a Muslim-American, killed by a suicide bomber who was likely of the same faith. He was laid to rest in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, along with thousands of others killed in the so-called Global War on Terror. His family privately mourned their loss daily, frequently visiting his gravesite. Then the openly racist presidential campaign of Donald Trump swept them into the center of a political storm.
Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and pledges to ban all Muslims from entering the country incensed Humayun Khan’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan. Natives of Pakistan, they are extremely proud of their U.S. citizenship. Khizr Khan was invited to address the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July 2016.
“If it was up to Donald Trump, [my son] never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country,” Khizr Khan said, with his wife at his side. “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.” The thousands of delegates rose in thunderous applause at his remarks, as he held his pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution aloft.
Khan continued, “Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending [the] United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
Trump wasted little time attacking the Gold Star family: “I saw him. He was, you know, very emotional and probably looked like a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. But plenty of people have written that.” Ghazala Khan replied in a piece published in The Washington Post: “Here is my answer to Donald Trump: Because without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. … The last time I spoke to my son was on Mother’s Day 2004. We had asked him to call us collect whenever he could. I begged him to be safe.”
Trump, who boasted at a rally last July, one year after attacking Mrs. Khan, “with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office,” has now attacked a Gold Star widow, Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed Oct. 4 in Niger. Trump made a condolence phone call to Myeshia Johnson as she was in a car en route to meet her husband’s casket. “The president said that ‘he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway,'” she said on ABC. The insensitive remark was overheard by others in the car, including Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democratic member of Congress who is a dear family friend. Instead of apologizing, Trump went on the attack against Wilson, calling her “wacky.” His chief of staff, former Marine Gen. John Kelly, doubled down, calling Wilson an “empty barrel” while lying to the press about her record. Neither Trump nor Kelly will correct, retract or apologize for their comments about the two African-American women, the pregnant widow and the congressmember.
During the intense years of combat at FOB Warhorse in Iraq, concrete blast walls were used for an ad hoc memorial, inscribed with the names of soldiers killed in action. Capt. Humayun Khan’s name is there, as is 1st Lt. Andrew Bacevich, who was killed three years later, on May 13, 2007. His father, retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and wrote of the war in the Los Angeles Times, just one month before his son was killed, “We are spectators, witnesses, bystanders caught in a conflagration that we ourselves, in an act of monumental folly, touched off.”
Khizr Khan also opposed the war. As he travels the country, speaking about his new book, “An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice,” he described on the “Democracy Now!” news hour how he felt about anti-war protesters as his beloved son was deployed: “In spirit, in every which way, I was with them. I supported them, because they were right. Time and history has proven they were right. We were right.”