By David Duesing, MPP 2018
On Wednesday February 15, the Kennedy School was honored to receive constitutional rights activist and Gold Star father Khizr Khan at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum in a conversation moderated by Harvard Law professor and Islamic Legal Studies Program director Intisar Rabb. Khizr, along with his wife Ghazala, are the proud parents of Captain Humayun Khan, who lost his life while serving the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2004. Khan, a graduate of Harvard Law, gained immediate national attention during last year’s Democratic National Convention, during which he criticized then candidate Trump for his alleged disregard for the Constitution, questioning if he had ever read it.
After initiating the hour-long discussion by recognizing the military and law enforcement personnel who serve the country, Khan addressed the current ethical landscape of U.S. politics, asserting that there is no longer a “moral compass” guiding the United States along its traditional path of “equal dignity and equal protection of the law.” Choosing to stand rather than sit for the duration of the event, Khan displayed his deep commitment to standing up for these constitutional principles. When Professor Rabb asked which part of the Constitution he holds most dear, Khan immediately cited the 14th Amendment as his most cherished section, and—as at the DNC—pulled out a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution and read the 14th amendment to the audience.
Another prominent theme in Khan’s dialogue was his call to action for the members of the audience to defend the values they cherish. Khan stressed that the Constitution will only endure so long as Americans carry its principles in their hearts and minds. Similarly, Khan encouraged the audience to have the strength to persevere through the current political turmoil, which he identified as a “momentary dark chapter” in the arc of American history.
Khan also addressed issues facing the Muslim community in the U.S. When speaking about President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries, Khan claimed the order was enacted “with malice and utmost incompetency.” He similarly stated that the ban did not accomplish its objective of making the U.S. safer, but rather served to alienate the Muslim community in America. In light of this, Khan encouraged American Muslims to reach out to those of other faiths to work towards solidarity, regardless of faith.
Outside the U.S., Khan claimed, President Trump’s immigrant ban is used as a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations and is preventing certain countries from collaborating with American intelligence officers.
Despite his critiques of the Trump administration, Khan maintained an air of optimism throughout the evening due to his ardent faith in the U.S. Constitution. So long as the American people remain vigilant in defending its values, America will be able to move forward, even beyond this “dark chapter,” according to the Forum’s Gold Star guest. Khan received a standing ovation from the audience before and after his speech.