Khizr Khan Says His Faith In America Is Stronger Than Ever

Oct 23, 2017
Originally published on October 23, 2017 12:28 pm

Khizr Khan arrives at our studios in a suit, round-framed glasses and a pin on his lapel. His face is familiar: He appeared with his wife at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, challenging Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. — and offering to lend the Republican candidate his pocket copy of the Constitution.

Khan and his wife Ghazala became the center of political discussion when Trump questioned their motives and religion, even though they're Gold Star parents whose son, Captain Humayun Khan, was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004.

Today, Donald Trump is president of the United States. Khizr Khan is now the author of a book, An American Family, and American is what he considers himself, first and foremost. Khan was born in Pakistan, but when I ask him where he's from, he says Charlottesville, Va., because "whenever anybody asks me, that is the first answer that comes to my mind."

Khan tells me he was the first in his family to go to college, and it was in college that he first encountered the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He says its line about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — those "self-evident truths" — was not self-evident where he lived.

"I have lived under two martial laws," he says. "Dictators decided what rights we will have, what rights we will not have. Can I come out of my home, and what time I can come out of my home ... I have seen with my own eyes newspapers burned, stopped because they were critical of the dictator."


Interview Highlights

On getting a job in Dubai and meeting his first American

Oh, I lose my composure if I think of him. Allen [Crowell] was my first boss that hired me, in Dubai. What a wonderful man. I had not slept properly for the past two nights, I go report to work, very first day, he looks at me, he picks up the phone and he calls his wife. Within 45 minutes, Lisa shows up, and then he says to me, "Khizr, we have a place for you to rest."

On his lapel pin

This pin is to commemorate all those, my sons and daughters, that have given their all in defense of this country. It's a gold star pin. No family wishes to have it. No family wishes to have it. If you are fortunate to have this, it symbolizes not only the sacrifice of Captain Humayun Khan, but for all — and I call them literally my sons and daughters — that have sacrificed their life.

On how he felt about Trump's victory and his voters

I was heartbroken, I was saddened, I remain saddened — but then my faith in the goodness of this country, in the values of this country, in the human dignity of this country is stronger now than ever before.

I do respect their choices, I do respect their preferences and concerns. To some extent those concerns were misguided ... I went to London to participate in a debate, and by some very thoughtful people, I was reminded [of] three things. They said, Mr. Khan, when you go back, talk about these three issues: Nationalism, economic wellbeing, fear of immigrants. These three scripts have been used in Europe twice, First World War, Second World War. Same scripts are being used in the United States.

On how often he thinks of his son, Captain Khan

A similar question was asked of Ghazala, and this is what Ghazala said: "Why do these people ask me that? ... I see him every day. I hear him every day. He is here." Because of our handicap, because of our limitation, we may not be able to communicate directly with them, see them physically. But they are with us. We feel the presence of Captain Humayun Khan every moment, every day.

This story was edited for radio by Arezou Rezvani and Kelli Wessinger, and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When Khizr Khan heard of President Trump's awkward phone call with a widow of a fallen soldier, the call where Trump said he knew what he signed up for, Khan had no doubt what to think.

What is wrong with that statement?

KHIZR KHAN: Everything. Every word is wrong.

INSKEEP: Khan described Trump as a man who could not understand military service, having avoided it in Vietnam. Khizr Khan is a familiar antagonist of the president. He and his wife appeared at the 2016 Democratic Convention to challenge Trump's call to stop Muslims from entering the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KHAN: Let me ask you - have you even read the United States Constitution?

(APPLAUSE)

KHAN: I will gladly lend you my copy.

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: In response, Trump questioned the Khan's motives and religion, even though they are Gold Star parents whose son was killed in Iraq. Today, Donald Trump is president. And Khizr Khan is the author of a new book, "An American Family."

Where are you from?

KHAN: Well, I'm from Charlottesville, Va.

INSKEEP: He says he always tells people he's from Virginia, even though he was born in Pakistan. That's just the way he feels. Khan came from a Pakistani farming family. He was the first in his family to go to college. And it was in college, he says, that he encountered the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He says the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - those self-evident truths - were not self-evident where he lived.

KHAN: I have lived under two martial laws. Dictators decided what rights we will have, what rights we will not have. Can I come out of my home? - and what time I can come out of my home. I have seen with my own eyes newspapers burned, stopped because they were critical of the dictator.

INSKEEP: As a young man, Khizr Khan departed Pakistan. And in Dubai, he worked for an oil company. That's where he met an American for the first time.

KHAN: I'll lose my composure if I think of him. Alan was my first boss that hired me.

INSKEEP: Alan Crowl (ph), you said.

KHAN: Yeah, in Dubai. And what a wonderful man. I had not slept properly for the last two nights. I go to report to work - very first day. He looks at me. He picks up the phone, and he calls his wife. Within 45 minutes, Lisa shows up. And then he says to me, Khizr, we have a place for you to rest.

INSKEEP: He was a stranger to you. You were a stranger to him.

KHAN: Total stranger.

INSKEEP: But he saw that you could use a little...

KHAN: Kindness. A little kindness.

INSKEEP: Khizr Khan eventually went to Harvard. And in the United States, he and his wife sent three sons to college. One joined the Army.

I want people to know you've come by our studios - you're wearing a suit. And on the lapel, you've got a pin. Would you describe what that is, please?

KHAN: Yeah. This pin is to commemorate all those sons and daughters that have given their all in defense of this country.

INSKEEP: There's a gold star on it.

KHAN: It's a gold star pin. No family wishes to have it. it. No family wishes to have it. If you're fortunate to have this, it symbolizes not only the sacrifice of Capt. Humayun Khan but for all - and I call them literally my sons and daughters - that have sacrificed their life. So this is in commemoration of those sacrifices.

INSKEEP: Capt. Humayun Khan - he calls his son Captain every time - was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004. And it was this death of a Muslim-American that gave Khizr Khan such authority when he criticized President Trump back in 2016.

Throughout your battle with Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee for president - your debate - you expressed faith in this country again and again and again, essentially expressing faith that the people would not elect someone with whom you disagreed so strongly to be president of the United States. What went through your mind when, in fact, Mr. Trump won?

KHAN: Disheartened. I was heartbroken. I was saddened. I remain saddened. But then my faith in the goodness of this country and the values of this country and the human dignities of this country is stronger now than ever before.

INSKEEP: I understand that you would say that. But think about the situation here. You had this very public dispute with Donald Trump. But, ultimately, for 62 million or so people, it wasn't the most important thing. Other things were more important to them. What do you think of people who felt that way?

KHAN: I really am not a political tourist.

INSKEEP: But you think about human nature a lot. And you know a lot of people, including people in Virginia, which voted for Hillary Clinton. But it was a tight election.

KHAN: Yes. I do respect their choices. I do respect their preferences and their concerns. To some extent, those concerns were misguided. This conversation takes us back to - I went to London to participate in a debate. And by some very thoughtful people I was reminded three things. Said, Mr. Khan, when you go back, talk about these three issues - nationalism, economic well-being, fear of immigrants. These three scripts have been used in Europe twice - First World War, Second World War. Same scripts are being used in United States.

INSKEEP: Khizr Khan - his new book is "An American family." Can I ask one more question, Mr. Khan.

KHAN: Please.

INSKEEP: It's a personal thing. So please feel free to refuse. But I have a friend whose father died who told me, I think of my father more now that he's dead than when he was alive. And in some ways, I found out that's true of my own father. How often do you think of your son?

KHAN: Something - similar question was asked of Ghazala. And this is what Ghazala said. She said, why do these people ask me that he's not here? I see him every day. I hear him every day. He's here. Because of our handicap, because of our limitation, we may not be able to communicate directly with them, see them physically. But they are with us. We feel the presence of Capt. Humayun Khan every moment.

INSKEEP: Khizr Khan, thank you very much.

KHAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS AMAN'S "SHORT STORY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.