If I close my eyes, I can bring into focus the blurry memories I have of crossing paths with Humayun Khan as young college students around the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in the late 1990s. I see him standing outside the ROTC building in his army camouflage, and it occurs to me that even then he was already a soldier.
You would think Donald Trump listening to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the American Muslim parents of slain Capt. Humayun Khan, killed by a suicide bomb in Iraq more than a decade ago, would be enough for the Republican presidential nominee to denounce his own proposed ban on Muslims coming to America.
But instead, Trump doubled down on his position over the weekend, by not honoring the Khans, but instead questioning why Ghazala Khan did not speak as her husband gave tribute to their son on the last night of the Democratic National Convention.
“Donald Trump has asked why I did not speak at the Democratic convention,” Ghazala Khan wrote in The Washington Post. “He said he would like to hear from me. 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. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart. … Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me, I could hardly control myself. What mother could? Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?”
At the University of Virginia, there is a conference room at the Army ROTC headquarters named in Khan’s memory, and UVA also created the Capt. Humayun S. Khan Scholar-Soldier-Statesman Award in his honor.
But perhaps the greatest tribute was given by his parents, and it was the rebuttal for which American Muslims have been waiting. After months of enduring endless insults and abuse in the press, and having to listen to politicians openly bash Islam and Muslims to pander to their political base, Humayun Khan’s parents became the voice of millions of Muslims by taking on our biggest bully — Trump.
By putting the Khans, the parents of slain U.S. soldier Humayun Khan, on Hillary Clinton’s stage, the Democratic nominee’s campaign managed to make its pro-immigration and anti-racism platform come alive while simultaneously giving something back to Muslims that has been stripped from us since this election cycle began — our dignity.
“Our son, Humayun, had dreams of being a military lawyer, but he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life to save the lives of his fellow soldier,” said Khizr Khan, accompanied by his wife. “If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America.”
The indisputable highlight of Khizr Khan’s speech came when he took a copy of the U.S. Constitution out of his suit pocket, waved it in the air in a direct challenge to Trump, asking if the Republican presidential nominee had even read the document.
Khan’s speech displayed to Americans, the majority of whom admit to knowing little or nothing about Muslims, that indeed you can be both Muslim and American. The two identities are not mutually exclusive.
As a mother, I am haunted by the image of Humayun’s mom standing in steely silence next to her husband on the convention stage, draped in blue. Without saying a word throughout his seven-minute speech, Ghazala Khan spoke with her presence for mothers around the world. And she is right that she did not need to justify her actions to anyone, including Donald Trump.
“Nowhere but in the United States is it possible that an immigrant who came to the country empty-handed only a few years ago gets to stand in front of patriots and in front of a major political party,” Khizr Khan said. “It is my small share to show the world, by standing there, the goodness of America.”
I think we can safely say that somewhere up in the heavens, Capt. Humayun Khan is smiling down at his parents.