Donald Trump vs. Khizr Khan: An Explainer

Many of Donald Trump’s critics have been quick to point out that his attacks on the Khans are part of a broader pattern in which he lashes out at others in extremely personal terms for critiquing him.

Captain Humayun Khan's parents, Khizr and Ghazala, at the DNC. Credit: Reuters

Captain Humayun Khan’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala, at the DNC. Credit: Reuters

Donald Trump, the Republican candidate in the forthcoming US presidential election, is infamous for his anti-immigrant views. In the past, Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the US or, in other versions of the proposal, a ban on immigration from countries compromised by terrorism. He has repeatedly vowed to build a wall at the US-Mexico border in order to keep immigrants out and recently accused a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University of being biased because the judge was of Mexican heritage. His statements over the course of his campaign have been offensive to women, homosexuals, Muslims, the disabled, prisoners of war, immigrants and many other communities.

Khizr Khan’s speech 

Khizr Khan, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, is the father of a US solider who died in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2004 and was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. In his speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Khan’s words were directed at Trump: “You have sacrificed nothing. And no one.” He reminded the US, as well as Trump, that if it was up to him, “Humayun never would have been in America”. Moments later, he pulled a worn out copy of the constitution from his pocket and said, “Have you even read the US constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy”.

Khan denounced Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims and immigrants. He addressed the “patriotic Americans that would probably vote for Donald Trump,” saying that, “I appeal to them not to vote for hatred, not to vote for fear-mongering. Vote for unity. Vote for the goodness of this country.” He then went on to endorse Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for president.

Arguments back and forth

In response to Khan’s speech, Trump gave the following reply:

“Who wrote that? Did Hillary’s scriptwriters write it? I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.” He also insinuated that Khan’s wife, Ghazala, who silently stood behind him during his speech, did not speak because her religion did not permit her to: “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.”

After being criticised for his apathy towards the bereaved soldier’s parents, Trump, in a statement released by his campaign, called Captain Humayun Khan “a hero to our country”, and said, “we should honor all who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe”. He argued that the “radical Islamist terrorists who killed him and the attempts by such people to enter the United States and do us further harm” represent the “real problem”.

Khan told CNN’s Jim Acosta that he hopes Trump’s family will “teach him some empathy”. “He is a black soul, and this is totally unfit for the leadership of this country,” Khan said. “The love and affection that we have received affirms that our grief — that our experience in this country has been correct and positive. The world is receiving us like we have never seen. They have seen the blackness of his character, of his soul.”

Khan also responded to Trump in the Washington Post, pointing out that his wife didn’t speak during his DNC speech because she is extremely emotional about the death of her son. Khan remarked that Trump’s statement about his wife was “typical of a person without a soul.” In a column in the Washington Post, Ghazala Khan rebuked Trump for saying that she was not allowed to speak at the DNC. “Without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain,” she wrote. “I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart,” she said, using the designation reserved for the family and loved ones of fallen American soldiers.

Khan pleaded with Senator Mitch McConnell and the House speaker, Paul Ryan, the Republican leaders in Congress, to denounce Trump’s comments about his family and his attacks on Muslims. Neither of them explicitly denounced Trump’s remarks about the Khans. In a statement, McConnell said “Captain Khan was an American hero” and said he agreed “with the Khans and families across the country” that a ban on Muslim immigration would be “contrary to American values”. Ryan issued a similar statement, claiming that Captain Khan’s “sacrifice – and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan – should always be honored. Period.”

Why this matters

Khan’s speech was met with tears and applause at the DNC, and earned praise even from prominent conservatives like Rich Galen, John Podhoretz and John Weaver, a Republican strategist for Ohio Governor John Kasich, who said that “Trump’s slur against Captain Khan’s mother is, even for him, beyond the pale. He has no redeeming qualities.” Trump was also criticised by Clinton; Tim Kaine, her running mate; and former President Bill Clinton.

Trump’s lashing out at Khan and his wife stirred immense outrage among critics who stated that the episode proves Trump’s lack of compassion and temperament. By attacking a military family, Trump has once again brought to surface the immense criticism of his proposal to ban Muslim immigration, and of his mockery of Senator John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Peter Beinart points out in The Atlantic that Muslims “should not have to prove that they ‘love America and freedom’ and ‘hate terror’ to “stay here”. It was not enough that Humayun Khan fought for the US and made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, his parents still have to assert their “undivided loyalty”. This points to the fact that American Muslims have had to repeatedly iterate their allegiance to the US and condemn terrorism in the name of Islam, especially as they face an increasing number of hate crimes due to Trump’s campaign.

Since Trump has openly criticised Clinton for her vote for the Iraq war, he did not want anything to do with the war to start with and would have little or no empathy for people who died fighting in it. He would have had little association with the soldiers or their families due to his isolationist stance, and would have continued to treat the families of deceased US servicemen in the way that the Khans were treated – with utter irreverence.

Many of Trump’s critics have been quick to point out that his attacks on the Khans are part of a broader pattern of lashing out at others in extremely personal terms for critiquing him. They reiterate that voters should be concerned with the nature of Trump’s temperament and how he would deal with foreign leaders as president. In the run up to the presidential election in November, this instance serves as another example of the hate and xenophobia that Trump has unleashed in his campaign. Critics hope that this will reduce Trump’s support and encourage the American polity to participate in the election in order to ensure that he is not elected. In fact, trend watchers noticed a spike in online searches about voter registration even before Khan left the stage after his passionate rebuke of Trump at the DNC.

Didon Misri is an intern at The Wire