By Shuja Nawaz
Khizr Khan fired a shot across the Trump campaign bow when he asked, from the Democratic National Convention stage, whether the Republican presidential nominee had even read the U.S. Constitution. But Donald Trump miscalculated by returning verbal fire.
The backlash against this counterattack has forced Trump to walk back his response. He now calls the Khans' son - U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, killed in action in Iraq in 2004 - a "hero." Yet Trump continues to paint all American Muslims with the brush of radical Islam.
Trump inherited his citizenship like his initial wealth; he did not earn it. Khizr Khan spoke like me, as an American by choice. His voice echoed the sentiments of most of us who were among the 6.6 million new Americans who took the oath of allegiance in the decade ending in 2014, an oath that Trump never had to take and perhaps does not understand. It was the fervor of patriotism that led Capt. Khan to sacrifice his life in the service of America. All Muslim immigrants, like millions of other naturalized citizens, vowed to do the same when they raised their hands to take the oath of allegiance.
Similarly, Trump's avid supporter Ann Coulter, whose forebears were immigrants, continues to portray all new immigrants as bad, with a "thick accent," forgetting her own Irish and German roots. She also forgets that all Americans have an accent. Trump and Coulter's America is a gated community, not the "shining city on a hill" that draws people to it: people from all over the world, of all races, colors, and creeds, including 100,000 Muslims a year.
By insulting the Khan family, Trump may have awakened a political giant, as a huge number of Twitter users flooded cyberspace with their outrage at his insensitivity under the hashtag #TrumpSacrifices. Among the respondents are Iraq Veterans Against the War and the newly emerging Muslim American community. Today, about seven million Muslims live in the United States, a figure President Obama acknowledged in his famous Cairo address. More than 800,000 of them are registered to vote, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Their voices will be heard on Nov. 8 and are likely to be backed by millions of others.
My own intellectual journey to America began when I was a teenager, when I first got a copy of Rights of Man by Thomas Paine. Living under a military dictatorship in the 1960s in Pakistan, I was struck by the universality, clarity of thought, and strength of purpose of Paine's words. At that time, I had no plans to move to America. But the ideals of the U.S. Constitution, which was cribbed by our military dictator, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, for his own ersatz constitution in Pakistan, spoke loudly to my college contemporaries and me.
We all read American history and even poetry in our quest to understand this rising superpower. Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, the history of the Civil War, accounts of the civil rights movement, and biographies of American leaders filled us with ideas about how a democracy could function. Today, many of those volumes sit in my library in Alexandria, Va., including the original two-volume autobiography of my favorite general, Ulysses S. Grant. This was the America that attracted all of us. This is the America that I, as a newly minted American, have tried to improve as I worked with think tanks across the political spectrum and advised political leaders on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.
Trump may not understand these things. By his own account, he has no time for books. He told Megyn Kelly: "I read passages, I read areas, chapters, I don't have the time." As for military advice, he said, "I watch the [TV] shows!" It appears his mind is already made up. He may not have a "moral compass" either, as Khizr Khan said in reply to Trump's attacks on him and his wife, Ghazala.
Trump's id is his intellectual fountainhead, and his ability to stoke divisiveness and fear among the American people garners him support from the disaffected masses. Trump doesn't seem to understand the words of Paine: "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." In this he is bolstered by the silence of many established Republican leaders, who are going along because they want to get along.
In the next 100 days, America must decide what path it wishes to take. Will it be the high road of morality and equality of opportunity? Or will it imprison itself behind walls of ignorance and self-congratulation?
After the recent outburst of Trump against a Gold Star family, fresh voices of sense, fueled by anger and patriotism, have emerged. It took courage for Gen. John Allen, a brave and hitherto apolitical soldier, to speak out. I, for one, echo the pledge of John Nagl, a former Army colonel, a Republican, and the headmaster of the Haverford School, who posted a photo of Capt. Humayun Khan's tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery on Facebook accompanied by these words: "His stone will stand in Arlington forever. My friends and I will defend it with everything we have."
It is time to stand up and be counted in that guard of honor.