Khizr Khan Says He Would Live This Week A 'Hundred Million Times' Over

Aug 5, 2016
Originally published on August 8, 2016 5:22 am

Khizr Khan, the Muslim-American lawyer thrust into the spotlight this week after speaking at the Democratic National Convention about his soldier son and criticizing Donald Trump, says he has no regrets about the speech or the attention that followed.

"I will do it [a] million times, I will do it louder, I will do it forcefully," Khan told Kelly McEvers, host of NPR's All Things Considered. "I'll do it [a] hundred million times — now is the time for the rest of the world to see the true America, the decent America, the good America."

Khan's son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004. During Khan's convention speech, he painted Trump's policies toward immigration as un-American and held up a pocket Constitution challenging Republican nominee Trump to read it.

Trump and his allies hit back at the Khan family — the candidate said Khan's wife, Ghazala, stood next to him silently because "maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say, you tell me." Trump's comments were then condemned by political leaders on both sides of the aisle including Republican veteran Sen. John McCain. The Khans consistently did interviews on television and radio stations.

But Khizr Khan says that although the family has received hate mail and threats, the overwhelming support from strangers — from cabdrivers to teenage college students — is what has stayed with him.

Strangers have also flocked to their son's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery.

"I was there and I was just amazed," Khan said. "There were so many flowers and so many people. ... It is an honor."

The Khans said they have also visited since the convention speech. Khan said that when he went, "I did what I do all the time. I stand there quietly and I close my eyes, and I talk to my creator."

Khan said that while his family's grief over the loss of their son has been mostly private for the past 12 years, he doesn't regret the story being so public now. "We are very deliberate people. We have discussed that there is going to be criticism," he said.

He said that all the support the family is receiving now is a testament to his son's "grace."

"The way he sacrificed his life, that grace continues to shine. All these words and events, and this public reception of us as his parents — this is all under that grace of caring for others," Khan said.

Khan also addressed criticism that they shouldn't have used their son's death to wade into politics. He said he thought about staying out of the political conversation but ultimately felt that calling out Trump was worth the "price" that he has had to pay:

"I would have such a burden on my conscience if I would have not spoken. In the midst of the grief, we don't set our conscience aside. There are some prices that must be paid. There are certain concerns and certain hearts that must be touched regardless of the price," he said.

"Someday, and I'm a strong believer, that when we appear in front of our God, I will have one thing to say about myself. That regardless of this, I preferred to comfort a scared heart."

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

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Khizr Khan can't go anywhere without being noticed. People hold doors for him, cry when they see him, even jump out of cars to hug him. He became known around the world after his short speech at the Democratic National Convention. He spoke about his son, Army Captain Humayun Khan, a war hero killed in Iraq in 2004. And then Mr. Khan took a pocket Constitution out of his sports coat and challenged Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KHIZR KHAN: Have you even read the United States Constitution?

(APPLAUSE)

KHAN: I will gladly lend you my copy.

MCEVERS: Since that moment, Khizr Khan has appeared a lot on TV and gotten both the support and criticism. And he's still going.

Khizr Khan, welcome to the show.

KHAN: Thank you.

MCEVERS: Your pocket Constitution is now such a famous thing. I think it's important to say you are an attorney. You went to Harvard Law School. When did you start carrying a pocket Constitution?

KHAN: It's many, many years ago. I am fond of Thomas Jefferson and the Constitution. I used to read it in book form, and then I discovered that there is such a thing as pocket-size Constitutions. So I acquired a few copies, and whenever some dear guests would come to home, especially foreign guests, I would give them always a copy of the Constitution. And that would...

MCEVERS: Really?

KHAN: Yeah. We still do. So since then, I started to keep it because it has certain provisions that I wanted to make sure that I read them correctly, that I memorized them. And I began to read. So it began to stay in my coat pocket all the time. I even have it right now. I'm holding it.

MCEVERS: OK.

KHAN: It's all worn out, and there are marks and, you know, highlights.

MCEVERS: What is an amendment or passage or sentence that means the most to you? I mean, could you read something?

KHAN: You're going to make me cry if I read it. I swear it has a tremendous impact on me. And it's the 14th Amendment, which is civil rights. The 14th Amendment was proposed on June 13, 1866, and ratified on July 9, 1868. And Section 1 says - I lose my composure when I read these words. It just has such an impact on me. But I'll read it. I'll try to gain a strength, and I'll try to read.

MCEVERS: Take your time.

KHAN: And it's in Section 1 (reading) all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside. No state shall make law or enforce any law which shall abridge the privilege and immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty and property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of law.

These last four or five word mean so much to me, and I invite your audiences to look at these few words, not just look at them, try to understand the impact of these four, five words in our life today. Each and every citizen of this country - men, women, children, immigrants, Muslims, Hindus, all religions, all faiths, all genders - everybody is impacted by these four, five words of the Constitution.

MCEVERS: So was it your idea to take out the Constitution that night on that stage?

KHAN: The original language of referencing the Constitution was, have you read the Constitution of United States? If you do, look for the words liberty and equal protection of law. So I'm ready. And I have put it in my head and got ready in the hotel, preparing to go to the convention. And I feel there's something in my left-side coat pocket. And I looked at it, and it was the Constitution that I have always kept in my coat pocket.

So we - I got in the cab. And I showed it to my wife. I said, look, this is the Constitution in my pocket, and I'm referencing it. Why don't I pull it out? She said, oh, well, if you want to pull it out, make sure that the right - the front side comes front because the back side is nothing but just the blank blue page. And that wouldn't mean anything.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

KHAN: So we are sitting, and the cab is running towards the convention. And I'm putting it this way. I'll pull out this way, and then I'm practicing put it this way, and so...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

KHAN: It just had to be meant.

MCEVERS: You mean it was meant to be. It was...

KHAN: It was meant to be, yes. It was meant to be because I didn't decide to carry it from home. I could have had any other coat, and this would be sitting at home. And so...

MCEVERS: Do you have any regrets? I mean, is there anything you would do differently as you look back on this week of media appearances and just this constant outpouring of either love or hate?

KHAN: I will do it million time. I'll do it hundred million time. It's the time - now is the time for the rest of the world to see that true America, the decent America, the good America - somehow, some of political pandering and Donald Trump's rhetoric had put a bad name to my country, and I will stand to correct it. I will do it a million time.

MCEVERS: You were planning to go back to visit your son's grave at Arlington Cemetery. Have you been back since the convention?

KHAN: Yeah. I was there, and I was just amazed that there were so many flowers and so many people. You know, when you do something to your detriment but for the good of others, the way he sacrificed his life, that grace continues to shine.

It doesn't have to be that everybody has to wear the uniform and has to fight the war - not at all. Even ordinary citizens walking on the street - as long as that care of other is in their heart, they are blessed. They are under that grace that has blessed us and had made us stronger.

MCEVERS: When you went to Arlington, what did you do there?

KHAN: I went to the grave site. I did what I do all the time. I stand there quietly, and I close my eyes. And I talk to my creator.

MCEVERS: I wonder if you think about your son and what he would think about all this.

KHAN: Believe me, if he was around, he would be standing right next to me with his left hand on my left shoulder because that's how we used to greet one another. That's where hearts are. So I don't feel that he's too far. He's right here.

MCEVERS: Yeah. What have you learned about yourself through all this process? Have you learned anything? Have you surprised yourself, you know?

KHAN: Yes, that I can't hold my composure for too long when something close to my heart is being talked.

MCEVERS: Oh, that's fine.

KHAN: We had an appearance yesterday at the television station, and the driver came to pick us up. And Ghazala and I came out, and he was holding the door. And he began to sob. He looked at us. And I hugged him. I told him, you know, that's OK. And we got in the car, and he told us this story that the night of the convention, he was listening to all of the speeches and all that, casually sitting. And then my turn came, and he was listening halfway. And he got up - his three sons got up. They hugged one another, and they felt so much better after the speech. And it is that that is - I discovered that that these things touch me so much so.

MCEVERS: When people say that you are politicizing the memory of your son, was there ever a time when you thought this is a private thing? Grief is something that is so personal. But when you put it out for the whole world, it's going to change. Has there ever been a time when you've thought, I wish maybe we hadn't done that?

KHAN: No, no, not at all, not at all. We are really deliberate people. We have discussed it, that there is going to be criticism. Generally, grief is something so very private, and it had been private for us all these years. It is - our whole family sad, and when - first, we did not seek that we should be invited. It came to us. So I sat for hours thinking, would this be the right time? I will have such a burden on my conscience if I would have not spoken.

In the midst of the grief, we don't set our conscience aside. There are some prices that must be paid. There are certain concerns and certain hearts that must be touched, regardless of the price. Some moments come where you have to run naked on the street in the public so that somebody's heart could be heartened, somebody's concern could be addressed. That is OK. There is no shame in that. Some day - and I'm strong believer that when we appear in front of our God, I will have one thing to say about myself, that regardless of this, I prefer to comfort a scared heart.

MCEVERS: Khizr Khan, thank you very much for speaking with us today.

KHAN: Thank you very much. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.