Khizr Khan, Gold Star father who criticized Donald Trump, on what he learned from his son
President Donald Trump’s so-called travel ban order and some of his other security initiatives are “foolish steps of political expediency,” to deliver on campaign promises, instead of responses to actual security needs, one of his most prominent critics says.
“Of course we are all for the safety, security, law enforcement [and the] implementation of implementation of immigration policies and laws of this country,” said Khizr Khan. “But with some sense, with some common sense.”
Khan was in town Friday ahead of a scheduled evening talk at Duke University. A Virginia lawyer, Gold Star father, native of Pakistan and a Muslim, he gained national prominence last year after delivering a blistering anti-Trump speech at the Democratic National Convention.
He spoke to reporters in the morning, the questions focusing both on his assessment of Trump’s post-inauguration moves to clamp down on travel from parts of the Middle East and Africa and on his own motivation for speaking up.
In questioning the travel ban, Khan’s doubts echo those of some well-known national-security professionals.
For instance, former CIA and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden in February told an audience at UNC-Chapel Hill the ban “was not driven by an intelligence officer’s analysis of the current threat” from the countries Trump’s orders have targeted.
From the start, Khan’s objected to what he sees as Trump’s willingness to play to anti-Muslim sentiment. And he said he’s spoken up because it’s the “duty of a citizen” to stand against violations of the country’s liberties and core values.
“We are profoundly grateful citizens of this country,” Khan said, alluding to his wife, Ghazala Khan, who accompanied him on Thursday. “Twice in my life I have lived without any civil liberties. None of you have. I have. I could not utter the word, could not [speak up] without the fear of being shot. Why wouldn’t I defend these values?”
He added that his late son, Capt. Humayun Khan, set an example for him via his ultimately fatal service with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
The younger Khan was killed after confronting suicide attackers who approached a roadside checkpoint in a bomb-laden taxi.
He “accepted his responsibility, his oath to office, and protected those he was assigned to protect,” Khizr Khan said. “Sometimes it is said that parents teach their children, but in this case, it was [the] other way around. He taught us.”
The elder Khan added that his training as an attorney also counsels having hope that “the rule of law will prevail,” serving its role in checking majoritarian sentiment that treads on people’s rights.
Later, during his evening appearance at Duke’s Trent Semans Center, Khan continued in the same vein, saying he’s been heartened to find that the country’s young people value the country’s freedoms and are “much more hopeful than us grown-ups.”
Still, globally, “the world is divided very clearly in two sections,” the “blessed” part enjoying dignity and freedom of expression, the other burdened with “authoritarian regimes, authoritarian systems dictating what rights one will have and not have.”
Khan also quoted with approval a 1998 book by philopher Richard Rorty that warned of the possibility that the “nonsuburban electorate” would someday “decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for.”
Trump’s election, and last summer’s “Brexit” vote in Great Britain to abandon the European Union, find their roots “in the voices of those left behind” who had not been “apportioned their share of justice and dignity,” Khan said, adding that there’s need for “a more inclusive globalism” than the sort practiced to date.
Duke professor Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, introduced Khan and pointed out the optimism embedded in the lawyer’s take on the situation.
“I admit I’ve become a little cynical about whether this American experiment is going to make it, or that we just had a good, 200-year-run and we now make way for the next empire,” Safi said. “And here is someone who stands up and says, ‘I have faith in the rule of law.’”