In July 2016, Khizr Khan gave one of the most memorable speeches on the last night of the Democratic National Convention when the Gold Star, Muslim-American father pulled a pocket Constitution from his jacket and offered to lend it to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
On Thursday night, Khan again pulled out his pocket Constitution—but instead of speaking to the thousands gathered in Philadelphia and the country watching from TV screens, Khan was delivering the James P. Gorter annual lecture in Duke’s Trent Semans Center Great Hall.
“I’m a patriotic, immigrant American. I’m a Muslim also,” Khan said.
He was accompanied at the talk by his wife, Ghazala Khan. The couple, who now reside in Virginia, are the parents of Humayan Khan, a captain in the U.S. Army who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
During his speech, the Gold Star father addressed the current issues of religious divisions facing the country, sharing the story of how he and his wife found themselves on the DNC stage and offering his optimistic view about the future. His famous pocket Constitution also made an appearance when he read off the Fourteenth Amendment—which he called his “most favorite”—to answer an audience member’s question.
Khan began by providing an explanation for the current political situation, quoting from Richard Rorty’s 1998 book “Achieving Our Country.” Rorty predicted nearly two decades ago that union members and unorganized laborers would realize that the government was not seeking to raise their wages and that “suburban white-collar workers” will not allow themselves to be taxed for others’ social benefits. Then, Rorty wrote and Khan quoted, “something will crack.”
That “something” cracking would lead people to seek a leader in a “strong man," Khan said, explaining how he viewed the rise of Trump. Khan then offered "inclusive globalism and stronger faith in personal values" as the path forward.
"We must align ourselves with a more inclusive globalism"-Khizr Khan pic.twitter.com/M2YmwR8wdt— Gautam Hathi (@gautamhathi) April 20, 2017
Khan referenced Trump’s December 2015 call to prevent all Muslims from entering the U.S.
“A few days after that statement, some of our friends with small children, when we would go to visit them or they would come to visit us, these kids—five years old, six years old, eight years old, elementary school, middle school, high school—asked us, ‘You’re an attorney. Can you please tell us if we will be thrown out?'’’ Khan said.
Khan noted he would hug the children and try to comfort them, following Trump's “un-American” statement.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
He said he was contacted by a reporter from New York to share their story. Soon after, the Democratic National Committee invited him and his wife to speak at the convention following a tribute to their son. At first, the couple was reluctant to take part in the convention because of the attention and focus it would place on their family. He said that all of their friends and children “unanimously” were against it.
After receiving a note from four fifth-graders asking him to help keep their friend from being deported, Khan said that he and his wife decided to do it in the spirit of their son, who “gave his life in care of others.”
Khan notes that Americans have sacrificed to fight bigotry in the past pic.twitter.com/GSlRe06U1x— Gautam Hathi (@gautamhathi) April 21, 2017
After writing a dozen pages with Ghazala's help, his speech was reduced to 260 words—just within the two-minute time frame they were given. While waiting to go on stage at the convention, Khan got the idea to pull out his Constitution and question whether Trump had ever read the document. His wife initially said no to the idea, but an official in the green room approved it, and the rest of the story became a highlight of a historic convention.
Khan recounts a story he heard from a woman whose son heard his speech at the DNC pic.twitter.com/L3Wyoa5L1Z— Gautam Hathi (@gautamhathi) April 21, 2017
Now, Khan said he is optimistic about the future. He said that seeing the excitement among young people for the document and its values encouraged him, and—although he noted that the U.S. is not perfect—he maintained that it is the “most blessed” nation on Earth.
“We are in good hands,” he said. “Our future is brighter.”