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Khizr and Ghazala Khan was not the story people expected coming out of the Democratic National Convention. But Khzir Khan’s speech about the son they lost in Iraq and his pointed challenge to Donald Trump captured the headlines. A public debate escalated in the week that followed as the Khans took to the media to make their case. The back and forth between the couple and Trump seems to have died down, but the Khans are continuing their campaign – making the case for civil political discourse and speaking out about their own experience as Muslim Americans. Diane talks with them about their journey.
- Khizr Khan Lawyer and father of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004
- Ghazala Khan Mother of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. It was a short speech, just six minutes long, but with it, Khizr Khan, with his wife Ghazala standing by his side, placed themselves into the middle of a heated and unusual presidential election season. The couple joins us today to talk about their family's story and taking a very public role in this election. Khizr Khan is here in the studio. By phone from their home in Charlottesville, Virginia, Ghazala Khan.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, we are live video streaming the program, which you can see at our website, www.drshow.org. And you can call us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And Khizr and Ghazala Khan, thank you so much for being with us.
MR. KHIZR KHANSo good to be here. Thank you for inviting us.
MS. GHAZALA KHANThank you very much for inviting us and we really appreciate and we love you all.
REHMOh, thank you so much. First, let me offer my personal condolences on the loss your son, Humayun. Tell us how long ago he died and how he died, Khizr.
KHANDiane, he passed away in June of 2004. He was assigned to a Baqubah camp in Iraq. His unit was there to protect the camp. On fateful day, June 8, he was not scheduled to be at the gate to make sure that the folks that were coming in and the soldiers, American soldiers that were getting ready for the day were inside having breakfast and he was not scheduled to be there till noon, but for some reason, and knowing his character and knowing his concerns about the wellbeing of others, he came there at 7 o'clock in the morning because he knew that the people that were coming in to work, the local Iraqi Muslims to do base work and the hundreds of American soldiers were having breakfast to go and do their part of the work outside the camp.
KHANHe wanted to make sure the transition is smooth. And at 8 o'clock, he sees a very fast moving car coming towards the gates of the camp. He was trained officer of the United States Army so he must have realized the danger that is coming this way and he knew what is behind the walls, how many soldiers were standing and having breakfast and sitting down. So he tells his men, member of his unit, to hit the dirt, to go down and they all do. And this is what we are told by the folks that have come to visit us and told the story time after time.
KHANHis commanders say the same thing, that Humayun extended his right hand towards this coming vehicle, trying to stop it. And then, took about ten steps towards it causing to -- pardon me, causing it to prematurely detonate. And that day, only one soldier, one American soldier died. And the folks that were inside come to us whenever they can. They tell us that, what we saw you only read in history books and the books that are written about people, about patriots that deliberately this soldier, he could have done the same thing what he ordered others to do.
KHANBut that terrorist vehicle would have definitely slammed the wall and could have done much more damage. But we are really proud that -- the way he was all of his life, we -- that is what he would do.
REHMGhazala, I know that that must bring such heartfelt feelings to you and the memories of your son.
KHANYes, it's always hard to talk about him. But it always -- I feel it better after telling how brave and how strong that son of mine that was with me for 27 years was and then I always thank God that he chose us to raise him.
REHMUm-hum. That's a lovely thing to say. I feel the same way about my children, how lucky I am to be part of their lives. You, Khizr, carry around with you a copy of the U.S. Constitution. First, tell us why you do that and then, read for us your favorite passage.
KHANDiane, this is nothing new. Since I came to this country, the very first place we went to visit in Washington D.C. was Jefferson Memorial and we read the inscriptions on the wall and invite people to go and look at it. It's high time that all of us read that. The messages were just so resonating within us in our mind, in our thinking and all that, I became very interested. I began to read. I am not a Constitutional lawyer. Some people have alleged that I am a Constitutional lawyer. Not at all.
KHANI do some of the work, but not -- I have no such expertise. So I became very interested. I began to read it and after passing of Captain Humayun Khan, we acquired several boxes of these pocket-sized Constitution purposefully. We began to invite the Army ROTC cadets to our home to come and visit a Muslim home because they were -- first, they were taking oath to this document, to defend this document. Second, and which we find out from them, that this is first time they have stepped into a Muslim home. This is an educational for them.
KHANAnd they say, we feel as if we are in our parents home, our family's home.
KHANThis is so like everything is almost the same. And so we continued to do that exercise for many years so whenever they would come, I would give them a copy of the Constitution with a comment that in a few days, in few months, you will be taking oath to defend this Constitution. Read it. Especially, Declaration of Independence. It highlights the struggle that this nation went through to gain its independence. The reasons are listed there. The circumstances are listed there.
KHANSo since then, I have been carrying and I show you that here is the same copy that was shown at the convention. And this happened accidentally. I normally keep a copy of it, but that wasn't part of the speech.
REHMIt wasn't written into the script for you.
KHANCorrect. What was in the speech was that if you read the Constitution of the United States, read -- look for the word "liberty" and "equal protection of law". So we are getting ready and last thing I put is my coat on and I touched the pocket and I feel it, that this Constitution is in my pocket. And you can tell from its, you know...
KHAN...the condition, quite worn and marked up.
KHANSo I asked Ghazala, I said, I have it in my pocket. Can I show it? Can I pull it out? And she said -- she's my advisor and my editor and she says, make sure you put it in your left pocket. Make sure you don't pull it out like this. Make sure you place it in a way so that...
REHMGood for you, Ghazala. That's just perfect.
KHANSo we practice in the car that that's how I would pull it out. So it was meant to be that way and I love this document so very much for obvious reasons we all know. We are patriotic American citizens. This is the document that world envies us for. What it gives, what it tells about us is all enshrined in this document. And every time I read this 14th Amendment, I get emotional and especially the last few words, how much those few words are needed in this political discourse.
KHANAnd I'll read that section one. "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of United States nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty and property without due process of law or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws."
REHMKhizr Khan reading the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He is an attorney and father of the late Humayun Khan, an Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004.
REHMAnd welcome back. I am honored to have Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala Khan with me today. They are the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004. They spoke out at the Democratic National Convention, were subsequently criticized by Donald Trump.
REHMHere, from Twitter, are just two comments. Just please tell them they are heroes and do great honor to their son's memory. And another comment, thank you for sharing your story publicly. I am moved by your courage. And just beautiful, beautiful comments. Ghazala Khan...
REHM...tell us about your son, Humayun. Why was he motivated to join the Army in the first place?
KHANActually, when he was admitted at the University of Virginia, he had some friends -- they were ROTC scholars and his class fellows. He always told us that I enjoy them a lot. They are very disciplined and I feel like I'm one of them. Why don't I join ROTC? So I got scared. I said, no (word?) , there is always war, then you don't -- I don't want you to do all these things, to go to ROTC or become Army soldier or. He just laughed and he said, Mom, no there are no wars anymore. We are peaceful people and the Army just there to keep people in the peace, to just defend them. Nothing that is stronger than if you defend your people, your country, that's very honorable. These guys are very honorable and I want to join them.
KHANThen he talked to his father and then he joined the Army. And he was very happy those four -- three, four -- three years that he was with ROTC. Very happy and he shined up suddenly. Because he had all those qualities in him. And those qualities, when he joined ROTC, they just shined on him. One of his friends told that Humayun Khan in the Army, with the qualities that our real leaders need. So he had those qualities. That's why he was so happy in the Army.
REHMAnd that is why he joined and really felt very strongly about being part of that group.
KHANHe always said to me that I feel that I am in my element.
KHANI am -- the way it started that he would mingle with the cadets of the ROTC of University of Virginia, and he was so impressed by their honor, by their discipline, by their way they behaved towards others, among themselves and all and he convinced us. Our advice to him was that whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly. And he did. To honor him, University of Virginia has a leadership award that is established under his name, Captain Humayun Khan Leadership Award, where each year a commissioning cadet receives that award. And the University is planning to expand that into a scholarship.
REHMAh. That's wonderful. Just wonderful. You know, Khizr, many people sort of think of Islam and they think, not of patriotism -- as your son did and as you and your wife do -- but of something fearful. They equate Islam with terrorism, which is something the President of the United States has refused to do. How do you explain that connection or lack thereof?
KHANYeah. A very good question. The most affected people by the terrorism under -- in the name of Islam, are Muslims themselves. If you count the numbers, Muslims -- innocent Muslims are much more subject of this menace in the world. And it really has -- I am modestly educated person in my religion as well as in other studies -- these are not the concept of Islam. These are hijacked concept of Islam. These are corrupted concept of Islam. In the name of Islam, they are spreading terror and violence and all. So we reject all of this.
KHANJust a footnote, if I may. I saw Robin Wright has written a wonderfully-researched article in The New Yorker...
REHMThe New Yorker.
KHANShe takes in account that it is not only Humayun Khan as a Muslim, but there are several others in the Arlington Cemetery that have been as patriotic as Captain Humayun Khan. And there are other faiths and other religions and other preferences and men and women that are in that cemetery. So we all contribute to the defense of this country. Patriotism is not limited just to one person or certain persons.
REHMOne person wrote in from Facebook saying, I would love to know, what do you feel the Muslim-American community can do to help with home-grown terrorism?
KHANMilitary operation is part of the solution, not the solution. The solution for the home-grown nuisance, menace, is joining hands. Communities become part of the solution. And our law-enforcement leaders are realizing that, that this requires reaching out to the communities. Making them part of the solution instead of building walls and excluding them and throwing them in a corner where they can -- when a person is in despair, a good person begins to have bad thought, begins to get influenced by the bad influence. Therefore, in my humble judgment, in my humble observation, communities -- Muslims bear the main burden of eradicating this menace from the United States.
KHANI always, always say to my Muslim community that we need to make sure -- this is our home. We are responsible for its safety, for its moving forward, for it to be safe and better. And we need to do our part so that this menace is eradicated. And that comes from joining hands, working together.
REHMWhen did you and your wife become citizens of the United States?
KHANIt was in 1986. And she became citizen 1987?
REHMYou became citizen in 1991. And your son was born in what year?
KHANIn United Emirates in 1976.
REHMHe was born in the UAE in '76 and came here and immediately -- immediately became a U.S. citizen?
REHMInteresting. How have you dealt with the backlash that has occurred since you spoke out at the Democratic National Convention? Ghazala, how have you personally felt about that backlash. And how have you personally dealt with it?
KHANActually, I received lots of cards and letters. And in those, I received few that always -- there were negative thoughts about us. But I read them because I want to know what people are thinking good of that.
REHMOf course. Yes.
KHANThat way you can judge what's going on around you. I read them. And there are lots of things that I want to answer, to satisfy those people. But there is no address or no name or nothing on those cards.
KHANYes. And, but I really like whatever -- this is a free country. That's their opinion. Whatever they think, it's their opinion. And that if they don't understand me, it's not my problem. So I appreciate at least they took time and they reached to me. It's negative, but they tried to reach to me. If I reach to them, I can give them a love. I can fix these problems.
KHANGhazala, tell Diane how many boxes of wonderful email, how many flowers, how many emails, how many balloons you have received. How many boxes?
KHANYeah. The second day when we had the speech, after another day, or I think it was a Saturday morning, we have lots of balloons, thank-you notes on our mailbox.
KHANAnd then the flowers start coming, I think it's around eight or ten bouquets of flowers. They were delivered. And the boxes -- three boxes are full of the good mail. And just maybe a few of them that I'm still keeping is negative. But I want to reach to everyone. I want to thank to everyone that have taken the time to try to comfort us, to reach to us. Really, America is blessed country, blessed from the love. And I have no words to say that how I feel when I received a good letter, how it's so nice that people are taking care of each other. They're beautiful people. They're -- and I thank them.
REHMHow did you react when Donald Trump made his comments about you and about your wife?
KHANI was appalled, of course, naturally that yet one more example of ignorance, of not being empathetic. A quality of a leader is that the leader is empathetic and has capacity to bear with the criticism. The higher the office, the more capacity that person must have. I continue to be disappointed. We don't wish to comment on what has been happening in the public sphere and political discourse, because we have moved on. Ghazala and I spoke that we have moved on. We have moved on to unite ourselves. We have moved on to respond to the love and affection that we have received. Amazing, amazing generosity of American people.
KHANAnd we will continue to work in that direction of uniting ourselves and moving forward, keeping this country safe and making it better.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Khizr, did you volunteer to speak at the Democratic National Convention? And, if so, when and why?
KHANIn December of 2015, Donald Trump had made a statement that he's going to ban all Muslims. He is going to throw away 11 million Hispanics and disparaging remarks about them and the judges and women. So we would go to visit our friends. We would go to talk to friends and visit with them, and their small children -- 10-year-old, 12-year-old, 6-year-olds would come. They knew that I am an attorney. They would say, is that so? Can I finish my school?
KHANAm I going to be thrown out? I cannot eat. I -- whenever I do my homework, I am so distracted by that, that I'll be thrown out. So I would hug them and tell them, don't worry. You know, this is political rhetoric and all that. But I could see the concern, the tears in these children's eyes. That was the time I was approached by a reporter to comment on that and I did comment on that. And he wrote an article that was picked up by the campaign. And campaign used that -- my words to pay tribute to Humayun Khan. And that tribute became then part of the national convention. They asked us if they -- I would allow them to use it. And then they asked if we would be present at the convention. So we readily agreed.
KHANAnd they said, you can make a comment, but you have only three minutes. So I wrote six pages speech out of -- and this good lady took her pen and as she had always...
REHMAnd crossed out everything.
KHAN...and she crossed it. You cannot say this. Or this needs to be out of here out of this. So we winded up with...
REHMYou're a good editor, Ghazala.
KHANAnd so we winded up just one page. And -- but it was those concerns, those children's faces that, even today, whenever we -- we made this. We sat and we talked about making this personal grief that had been really private for 12 years. Captain Humayun Khan died in 2004. But there comes a time in each one of us's life that certain privacies are not important at all. Care for other. We did this under the light of Captain Humayun Khan's spirit. He sacrificed his life so that he could save others. It was that light, it was that spirit that motivated us that maybe this is the time.
KHANEverybody was talking about how unethical, un-American these remarks were. But nobody was saying directly to this person. That was the motivation and the rest is behind us. We have moved on. We will continue to work. And I implore my Republican friends -- they are as patriotic as Democrats, as independents, as anyone else -- that the time has come to heal, time has come to move forward, make this country great, and work together so we can make it safer and make it even stronger for ourselves. Our children live here, our generations will live here.
REHMKhizr Khan and his lovely wife Ghazala Khan, parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004. Short break. When we come back, your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. I'm honored to have in the studio Khizr Khan, and from their home in Charlottesville, Virginia, Ghazala Khan. They are the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004. Of course they spoke out at the Democratic national convention about Donald Trump's comments regarding Muslims, regarding Hispanics. Here is what Donald Trump said to ABC's George Stephanopoulos after their appearance.
REHMDonald Trump said, I saw him. He was 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, probably -- maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. But plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet, and it looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that, and personally I watched him. I wish him the best of luck. How did you feel about his comments, Khizr?
KHANI was disappointed yet one more time because sometime when a person realizes that I have made a mistake, the honorable person would redeem himself or herself and would correct the mistake. Yet there was no such gesture, there was no such reflection. And -- but as I said before, we have really moved on and to better things.
REHMGhazala, how -- what were your feelings when you heard those comments?
KHANThe first thing that came, that he didn't feel me, how much pain I had that time. My son's picture is on my bag, and I'm standing there in front of people, showing the pain that I had -- I couldn't talk. It was all on my face, all I was feeling. Every person in the world and in America felt me in their heart.
KHANSo why can't he feel it? And now what comes next, that maybe -- maybe he doesn't have a heart because if you have a heart, you feel pain. So then I thought that maybe he never have study or seen any words how women are in Islam. Muslim women are very strong, and they are equal partner in their house.
REHMOf course, and following those comments, Senator Mitch McConnell and Congressman Paul Ryan had some words, Khizr.
KHANYeah, I'll just read one line from both Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a patriot, a wonderful, wonderful leader, had this to say. As I have long made clear, I agree with the Khans and families across the country that a travel ban on all members of a religion is simply contrary to American values. Same thing, Speaker Ryan said, and I'll read just one line in his press release. A religious test for entering our country is not reflective of these fundamental values. I reject it.
REHMAnd indeed that goes back to your wonderful reading of the 14th Amendment. Some of the criticism that you have received since you gave that speech is the implication that you are using your son's death for political reasons. I wonder how you and Ghazala respond to that.
KHANWe -- prior to going to the convention and accepting that invitation, we sat, and we talked about this, that it may be perceived as such. We as a family decided that the care of others, those children, those people that needed to be heard and needed to be shown that there are institutions, that there is Constitution protections in place, took priority for us instead of worrying about these allegations, instead of worrying about the mudslinging, the allegation that will come to us that we are using this.
KHANWe have mourned, we have grieved in privacy for 12 years. But this was more important to us than our privacy, than being blamed for something. This time will pass. Our conscience will be clear that we stood, that we stood, and we in -- and we left our privacy behind, and we stood for something, caring towards those children and young men and women that were so concerned in their hearts because of these threats and because of these statements that were so carelessly made.
REHMAnd Ghazala, how did you feel after standing before those thousands of people and hearing your husband make the statement on behalf of both of you?
KHANI heard that I believe in God. I think this -- our path that brought us in front of that many people was created for us to walk on it in the light of Humayun's blood that he -- like the torch that we carried 12 years, and now is the time to show it and tell them, okay, this is the dear American soldier is, that he lights this torch, and now every person all over the world is in that light, and they are all together with spreading love to each other and saving each other. That's what the biggest thing was for us.
REHMAll right, let's go to the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Mike in Dayton, Ohio, you're on the air.
MIKEHi, I was calling in regard to Donald Trump's ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and I remember when he made that statement, it was right after Paris and San Bernardino, but it was also after the director of the FBI and I think it was Homeland Security had said that we have no way to vet terrorists, and they were referring to the fact that ISIS had declared they were going to try to infiltrate the Syrian refugee flow into America.
MIKEAnd I think Donald Trump's point was, you know, if the director of the FBI and Homeland Security, and then two months ago the director of the CIA said the same thing, say that we can't vet the Syrian refugee flow, yet the president says we can, we need to pause and talk about this and figure out who's correct and what we're going to do and -- because the second half of his statement was he wanted to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. until our elected officials can figure out what's going on.
KHANI am -- I have always preached, and I have -- I always insist on that, that we need to make our immigration policies stronger. We need to have even better and stricter entering policies and all. But simply saying that all Muslims are banned is contrary to the fundamental value of this country. I am for, and we -- all patriots are for very strong immigration policy, the process of processing these folks that come in, into this country. That need to be enhanced and need to be made even stronger.
KHANBut these statements of such that entire group of a religion is banned is just totally against the values of this country.
REHMYou and your wife both came here from Pakistan. Is that correct? At what moment in your immigrant life did you feel that America was truly your home?
KHANI think Ghazala can answer better than I would.
KHANI just remember when we came in this country, the day we were accepted, the where -- my neighbors and my people wherever I go, I always gave my Pakistani roots. I had from no one said what are you really, why you are wearing this. Nobody asked those questions. They always said welcome to America, do you need anything, are you -- they brought buckets of flowers and buckets of food, just maybe this was the good people that I met, this was my luck, but I know that every person in America at that time when we moved here, they came to us, and they appreciate newcomers, and they loved new culture.
KHANThey wanted me to sew for them Pakistani clothes, and we loved each other. There was nothing -- then we thought that this is a good place to raise our family.
KHANIf I may, a footnote to it, when we first came, we didn't have any utensils or refrigerator in our apartment. The neighbors, the very first thing they did, very afternoon we arrived, and we looked towards the sky, we said where have we landed, they brought pots and pans and a cooler full of fruits and ice that you don't have refrigerator and all that. And we looked at each other. We said our prayers are answered that we are at such a place, generosity and kindness, thoughtfulness in people's eyes and emotions. And that was the time that we decided that this is heaven on Earth, and we will make it home.
REHMAnd then you enrolled in Harvard Law School.
KHANYes, I did my master's program there, and it was -- it was a journey. I was short of fees and all that. So I worked, and I studied and all. But it was a wonderful journey, and I'm very, very glad that that was done.
REHMLet's go to Coram, New York, Dave, you're on the air.
DAVEYes, hi. I really respect what you've been doing and the way you've been standing up. I wanted to ask a different question. How did you feel about the United States going into the Iraq War, and did you and your son share the same feeling about that?
REHMAll right, and before you answer, let me just say you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
KHANCaptain Humayun Khan and I had a conversation about that, and he said to me, he said, look, this is beyond my pay grade. We are here to look after one another. These decisions are made somewhere else. As an Army officer of the United States Army, I am following what is ordered. They can send me wherever they want to, wherever I'm needed, I'll perform.
REHMBut how did you feel?
KHANI was of the opinion that this will create -- I was reading the folks that were opposing the decision of war. I was with them. Now just imagine your son is going there, and you are with the people who were opposing. I have always been of the opinion that that was not in the interest of the United States, and time has proven -- I am not a thinker or a philosopher, I was simply listening to the argument that was being forwarded by others that were opposing the war, and time has proven that that was not in the interest of the United States.
REHMI understand that some people have asked you to run for office, to run for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. How do you feel about that, and Ghazala, how do you feel about that?
KHANWhatever -- I don't think we have any -- anything that we can run for office or -- but I am always with my husband with -- whatever his decision is, I am with him.
KHANDiane, I -- I'm so honored whoever has thought of this, I'm so honored. If I could sit at the footstep of these institutions, and I could talk to people, that would be the highest honor that I will have. I don't deserve to be insider those halls. For me -- and I'm not simply saying these words are simply just to express, I mean it sincerely, that the highest regard I have for these institutions, these institutions mean so much to me because I know their importance in the process of this wonderful democracy.
KHANIn the entire history of mankind, this country has the best institution, the best democracy, and these institutions, if I could, as I said, if I could sit at the footsteps and...
REHMBut doesn't that make it all the more important for you to be part of it?
KHANMy mission now is that we, all patriots, Republican, Democrats, we need to move forward, we need to come together, we need to unite and so we can make this country safer and continue to move forward and improve the political discourse for the generations to come.
REHMSo will you run or not?
KHANNo, I will not run.
REHMYou will not run?
KHANMy more important work is ahead of us, and that is uniting ourselves, moving forward and building a civilized discourse. That is the next mission I want to take, to convince the patriots of the United States, world is watching. Every step we take, world watches, emulates us. So we need to work on the political discourse.
REHMYou and I are on the same side in that regard. I want to tell you about our last caller, whose name is Kishin, who says I organized a group to visit Captain Khan's grave last weekend. We left notes for the Khans. And I thought you and your lovely wife should know that. Thank you both so much for being with us. Khizr Khan and Ghazala Khan, mother and father of Humayun Khan, an Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004. We thank him for his service, and we thank you for your being here today.
KHANThank you very much, what an honor this has been.
KHANThank you very much for the honor.
REHMThank you, and thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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