A Grain Of Saul: Everyone Is Missing Khizr Khan’s Message

We need to defend fellow Americans regardless of who they are.

Khizr Khan started a firestorm.

Last week, the Muslim-American gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention denouncing Donald Trump. In a short and pointed delivery, Khan asked Donald Trump if he had ever read the constitution, said the candidate "consistently smears the character of Muslims" and insisted Trump has "sacrificed nothing and no one."

Khan predictably received backlash from Trump and his supporters since the DNC. First, Mr. Trump suggested that Khan's wife Ghazala, who stood by his side during his speech, wasn't allowed to speak because she is Muslim, and that's how Muslim women are treated in the Islamic world. Aside from that being demonstrably false, the comment is more enraging when you know the real reason she didn't speak: because she was hurting.

Khizr and Ghazala lost their son, Purple Heart Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq 12 years ago after trying to stop a suicide bomber from entering his U.S. military base.

After Trump's comments, Mrs. Khan wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post explaining that she couldn't even look around at the picture of her late son on the big screen, let alone try to speak, because she knew she would fall apart. 

"I am a Gold Star mother," Khan wrote, referring to her status as a surviving family member of someone lost during military service. "Whoever saw me felt me in their heart."

And it's true: the pain on Ghazala's face was clear. Surely, any of the 470,000 Gold Star family members in America recognized it. In fact, 11 of those Gold Star families wrote a letter demanding an apology from Trump. 

The passion and hurt in Mr. Khan's heart was glaringly obvious, too. But that didn't stop well known Trump supporters like Roger Stone from accusing Mr. Khan of being a "Muslim brotherhood plant," or campaign manager Paul Manafort from declaring that Khan's son "isn't the issue" but it's more about "radical Islamic terrorism," or political talking head Ann Coulter from tweeting, "You know what this convention really needed? An angry Muslim with a thick accent like Fareed Zacaria."

Coulter was referring to CNN host Fareed Zakaria. 

As Americans watched the attacks on Khan come in, many — both Republican and Democrat — offered their support for the Khan family and expressed their disgust at the situation. Somehow, this line Trump and company had seemed to cross — the fact that they insulted a fallen soldier's family — created a unified front against the Republican nominee.

On one hand, Democrats and liberals in America have become ardent defenders of Muslim-Americans. As Islamaphobia is on the rise, and terrorist attacks seem to increase in frequency abroad, many lefties are left pushing back on broad brush stroke characterizations of Muslims.

On the other, Republicans and conservatives feel that our men and women in uniform — soldiers and cops — are facing frightening opposition as well. Protests against police brutality and anti-war populism supported by many progressives give family and friends of those in uniform reason to believe police and soldiers aren't appreciated like they used to be.

Notably, almost all of the outrage against Trump in this instance emphasized a certain qualifier about Khizr Khan: that he was the father of a fallen soldier.

CNN ran a headline, "Trump faces backlash over attacks on family of slain Muslim US solider." Wall Street Journal had a story titled, "Donald Trump Pushed Back Against Father of Fallen Muslim Solider." Los Angeles Times wrote "Trump claims he was 'viciously' attacked by parents of fallen solider as criticisms escalate." A few friends and journalists I follow made similar Facebook statuses and Tweets, essentially saying: "Trump attacks Muslim father of fallen soldier." Hillary Clinton denounced Trump for "insulting the family of a fallen soldier." 

While Trump did, in fact, insult the family of a fallen soldier, that piece of information shouldn't be a pre-requisite or amplifier of our rage when a Presidential candidate singles out and demeans an American citizen.

What Manafort, Trump, Coulter, Clinton and so many news organizations and friends of mine are missing is important: a Muslim family shouldn't have to lose a son at war to earn our empathy. Similarly, an American soldier's family shouldn't have to be Muslim in order to get the raging support and anger of the left. Imagine if liberals used that same enthusiasm to push Obama on a failing VA? Imagine if the right consistently and unanimously rejected Trump anytime he demeaned Americans, particularly those from minority families? Our country would be better.

The Khans shouldn't need to lose a son at war to prove they are patriotic, or prove they are American, or prove they have love of country and American values. What if Khan hadn't lost a son to war?  Would Trump have been more direct and personal in his attacks? Would headlines from major news outlets have stood up for the Khan family if they were new to our country and held the most traditional Muslim beliefs? Would families have come together to write letters denouncing Trump? What if, even more taboo, they were open about their love for where they came from? And took the stage to talk about being proud Muslims and proud immigrants? 

Would we have defended them against Trump and angry, hateful people like Ann Coulter and Roger Stone? 

With this family and with all American families, it shouldn't matter: the answer should be yes.

The Khans have been in this country since 1980. Khizr Khan is a Harvard educated lawyer. His wife taught Persian at a college in Pakistan. Their oldest son is a University of Virginia graduate who co-founded a biotech company. Their third son works at that bio-tech company with his brother and was born in the United States. And, yes, their middle son was a Purple Heart army captain who died after throwing himself onto a suicide vest, saving the lives of more than 20 of his men. 

Khizr Khan's entire point was simple: if some of the immigration restrictions and bans on Muslims that have been suggested during this election cycle were enacted decades ago, his family — which came here 26 years ago — wouldn't be in this country today. Nearly fifty percent of Americans support Trump's call for bans on all Muslims entering the United States. How would that number change if his suggestion was to ban Muslims who wanted to come here and join the armed forces?  

Khan himself isn't even an outspoken Democrat or liberal. Several times, he has emphasized the fact that he respects both parties equally and has never identified in either. 

"You are about to sink the ship of the patriot Republicans," Khan said to MSNBC about Republican leaders refusing to denounce Trump. "Republicans are as patriotic as Democrats are. They're half of the goodness of this beautiful country, half of this political process that the rest of the world watches enviously, learns from it."

"I respect the Republican Party as much as the Democratic Party," he told the New York Times. But he added: "I definitely will continue to raise my voice out of concern that the Republican leadership must pay attention to what is taking place."

Ultimately, that's the message Khan was delivering in his speech: that attacks on Muslims, or calls to ban them from entering the United States, are promoting a division that will hurt this country. If enacted, such laws would prevent families like the Khan family, which has given so much to our country, from ever immigrating here in the first place.

So while Captain Khan making the greatest sacrifice of them all should never be forgotten or pushed aside, his life and his sacrifice should not be a pre-requisite for other Muslim families, or any American families, to earn sympathy from us when they are singled out and attacked. Khan's message, and the one we should remember from this ugly political spectacle, is to have the courage and love to protect your fellow Americans, regardless of who they pray to or where they are from.

Isaac Saul is a reporter and columnist at A Plus. You can follow him on Twitter here