The speech delivered by Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was among the most powerful moments ever to occur at such an event. One of the most vexing aspects of this election cycle for many observers has been the seemingly negligible political price paid by Donald Trump for his proposed ban on Muslim immigration. In a nation that fundamentally forbids the making of any "law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," it is inconceivable that the nominee of a major party should advocate a religious test for travel to and from our shores. That fact was brought into stark relief by the sight of Khizr Khan, whose son US Army Captain Humayun Khan sacrificed his life to save his fellow soldiers in Iraq, brandishing a copy of the Constitution in defiance of Donald Trump's illiberality and bigotry.
The only thing more remarkable than the power of that moment itself has been the absurdity of some of the response in its aftermath. The Khans have come under attack from all parts of the political spectrum. They have become a kind of political Rorshach Test onto which anyone with an agenda may project a political message. From the left they have been decried as apologists for the invasion of Iraq or American imperialism more generally. From the right the accusations have been widely variable, ranging from charges of crass electioneering and commercial opportunism (Mr. Khan's law firm has done work assisting Muslim immigrants to the US) to being agents practicing "taqiyya (concealing of one's actual religious beliefs for the purpose of deceiving non-Muslims)" on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. This last charge (grounded in a footnote to a law journal article Mr. Khan wrote in 1983) is particularly horrific, as it entails accusing the Khans of sacrificing their own son in service of a charade.
All such criticisms and accusations are ridiculous and shameful. What Khizr and Ghazala Khan said in Philadelphia was a truth that transcends partisan politics. Though Mr. Khan included an endorsement of Hillary Clinton's candidacy in his remarks, what he said would have been equally valid in any context and at any venue, and the Khans' authority to make this indictment of Donald Trump as the parents of a fallen soldier is unimpeachable. If they need any excuse for their particular choices, the mere fact that the DNC was willing to provide them with a visible platform from which to deliver a vitally important message is more than explanation enough.
The Khans are worldly and well-educated people. They must have known that they were inviting vastly negative attention, though they may not have anticipated the precise level of vitriol they have received. Standing up to be heard took incredible courage, especially since it required them to revisit the painful loss of their son.
The Khans have done a profound service for all Americans. By creating a teachable moment they have helped achieve breakthrough in enlightening large portions of the American public about the enormity of Donald Trump's illiberal policies. By stepping forward and risking opprobrium they have demonstrated to the world that the United States is not the Islamophobic monster demonized in ISIS propaganda, but a nation where people of all faiths can still claim the rights and duties of citizenship and speak with the authority of our most basic values.
These gifts the Khans have given us will only be preserved, however, if the Khans themselves can be shielded from the most malignant forces aligning against them. If the public and the world at large see the Khans drowned in a sea of invective, then the "clash of civilizations" variously promulgated by ISIS, Donald Trump, and others will win the day. It falls to all who understand the validity of the Khans' message to carry it into effect in our reception of their brave and unselfish gesture. I have started a petition online to thank the Khans for their courage and their sacrifice. Please sign it. Doing so will show that you stand with the Khans, and against discrimination and religious intolerance.