In an emotional, heartfelt, and honest conversation, Khizr Khan and WDET’s Host Stephen Henderson covered a lot of ground.
Here’s the full transcript of their discussion:
Khizr Khan: Good morning to WDET listeners. I am so honored to be here. I’m so honored to be in Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan. It’s a pleasure.
Stephen Henderson: The first thing I want to talk to you about is your son. I want to know from you, what was your son like? And talk about his pull to military service. What brought him to do the things he did.
KK: He was, like us, an ordinary American. Nothing special, nothing exceptional except by observing our attitudes as his parents toward our fellow beings. He was very much a caring young man. When he went to school, when he went to college, the values that he cherished most were caring for others. As a young man in school, he was to teach and for several years he continued to teach swimming to handicapped children and I would ask him, how do you practice, because you spend so much energy and so much time teaching handicapped children, and he would say, “I am most happy, I am happiest when I am teaching and the children are learning.” It is that soul and that spirit that we were blessed to have for 27 years.
SH: Talk about how he ends up deciding he wanted to serve his country.
KK: He was, as you know Stephen, he was at Virginia undergrad school. He used to meet cadets of the ROTC program there, and he would see that honor, the dignity, the courtesy, the care toward one another, the discipline and he spoke with us prior to joining saying I feel that I am in my element when I am in their company, when I am in their association, in classrooms, outside classroom. Which parent would deny their children if they are attracted to something that is so honorable, that is so good. So that attracted him to the ROTC program, and he went through that program very successfully and then he commissioned in 2000.
At the commissioning and through my memory, I want to read those three lines that he wrote, there is a conference room that is dedicated at University of Virginia Army ROTC program and in there is his writing, I’m paraphrasing so forgive me if I make a mistake. He wrote, he’s just ready to be getting sworn in as an officer of the United States Army. He says:
The soldiers don’t care how much you know up until they know how much you care.
That was his motto. He writes that when he’s just being sworn in. We are amazed. I speak about these things, forgive me, a little emotionally, because it reminds us the extent of the patriotism of this country, the extent of realization of the values of this country in every patriotic American knows what this country is made of. Sometimes parents teach their children, sometime circumstances are such that children wind up teaching parent. We were taught by him what patriotism is, what caring for others is. That is at the foundation of this country.
SH: Mr. Khan you’re here to receive an award from the Arab American Civil Rights League. I’m wondering what you think about this moment in America right now where A) We have a presidential candidate, a major party presidential candidate talking about dramatically changing the relationship between the United States and Arab Americans Muslims in particular, and at this moment when you have so much of the population of this country supporting that candidate and thinking about these things in that way. The Arab American Civil Rights League obviously wants to honor what you did at the convention as well as what your family has given to this country, but I wonder what you think about how we are talking about this issue right now in America and where you think we’re headed. I am often very fearful about the things that I hear and the things that I see. I’m not Arab American. I’m not Muslim, but I would imagine for you that sits very differently on your ears and on your eyes.
KK: I don’t wish to name names. In my judgment and in my opinion, this election season is not about two candidates. It’s about the foundation values of this country. We are going to be warring for the values that lie at the foundation of this country. The forefathers envisioned those values and incorporated those values in the Constitution of the United States, and we see them being practiced throughout the country and the leadership of the world lies in those values. The Arab American community here, I am so honored. It’s not about the award. It’s not about the election. It’s about espousing those values that make this country great. That makes this country the leader of the world. The world looks toward the United States for the leadership. It’s once in the history of this earth moment where these values, the values of pluralism, the values of equal dignity, the values of liberty, equal status is practiced in this community. I have come to witness that. I had been reading, I had been listing to people talk about those values that made this country great. I am so fortunate. I am so honored to be among the community where those values are practice on a daily basis.
This city is a model city, with all of its room to make it better, challenges for the leadership that exist. I acknowledge that, we acknowledge that and they acknowledge that but it’s still coming to communities, this community is most patriotic, most contributing, most productive community in any city in this country and beyond. People come and take an example of what is so special about this place. How this interfaith activities, multi culture, multi religion community is living so peacefully together. Of course we have challenges, as any city that has any population that has those challenge is aside, but generally speaking this is an example to the rest of the world. I am just so humbled and I’m so honored that I’m here firsthand to see what has made this city so great.
SH: Do you feel like there is a broken trust between the Arab American, and Muslim communities and the United States generally right now? Is there something here that got broken that we’re going to have to repair regardless of the outcome of the election? And as you point out, it’s not really about these two candidates. It is about this moment and which direction we head. So do you feel like there’s some, I don’t like the word “healing” because I think that get overused, but is there something that we broke here that we need to repair?
KK: What a wonderful question, and it leads me to speak about my mission post- election. I’ll speak about that in a minute. I don’t think the trust has been broken. I think the patriotism of Arab Americans, of Muslim Americans has been strengthened. Sometimes when you have a challenge, then your instincts, your god-given intellect becomes a little more alert and a little more strong. So the patriotism of Arab Americans, of Muslim Americans is as strong as ever and will continue to be stronger in defense of this country to make this country safe, to make this county great, and continue to lead and show the rest of the world how different ethnicities, different religions, group of people live together peacefully and move forward.
SH: I think that’s a really important point. I want to stop there for a second and go back and emphasize that. The reaction in the Arab American Community and the Muslim American Community to this questioning of their patriotism is more patriotism. It is not disaffection It is not, well, we don’t like the United States. It is an effort to sort of double down on their Americanism. I think that’s a really important point.
KK: Just a recent example. I was just in New York on Sunday, there was a Muslim United parade. I was so heartened to see approximately 300 police officers in New York City and first responders, all Muslims, came to greet and took a picture with me. I cherish that moment in my heart. I looked at everyone’s face. So patriotic. So ready to keep us safe. All Muslims standing there. I tis that reflection. It is that that we need to continue to remind ourselves. The leadership of the city of NY was there. Amazing response to the challenges of today. Yes, as you mention, Post-election challenges are staring in our face. How are we going to make the political discourse of this model democracy of the rest of the world better, to its standard where it had been. Somehow in this election the political discourse has taken a hit, has not been up to the standard where a leader of the world, its institutions that its people and we had been attacked. It is that that we have to repair and my self-given challenge and I’ll continue to speak and in December we speak in Washington DC to initiate this movement. There are other leaders who are already speaking about and I’m adding my voice to that: that is civility in American democratic process. How can we make sure that institutions are not attacked, the institution of elections is not attacked. Institutions of the press, because press is the fourth institution of democracy. Executive, legislative, judicial being third. Press and independent press in democracy is the fourth institution and attacks that have been placed on these institutions will need some rethinking of how our children, our future generations won’t have to go through this re-hashing so that our institutions are not attacked. For example, the world envies our process of elections. I don’t mean to say that there’s not room to make it better. There’s so much room to make it better. But to challenge the legitimacy of that institutions I unforgivable. Safeguards need stop be created and built by major political parties. State level. County level. Federal level so that these institutions are not attacked henceforth.
SH: Let’s go to Corey in Detroit.
Corey: I wanted to kind of put the election aside and go back to the values that Mr. Khan was praising Detroit and the Arab American community for having. If you had the opportunity to tell the people that have the bigoted ideology, the anti-Muslim rhetoric, one thing to start to try and find the same values that you were praising America having that Islam actually has, where would you recommend them starting?
SH: Great question, Corey, thanks very much for the call.
KK: First, hate is un American. Hate is not American at all. Pluralism. If you read the history of this country, we are all immigrants. Some of us came 200 years ago. A hundred years ago. Some were brought here. Some came voluntarily 10 years ago. We came here 30 years ago but we are all part of the same process. We are not immigrants anymore. Once we came here, we pay our taxes. We pay our dues. We take oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and the values and laws of the United States and we take oaths to keep this country safe. That is what I’m imploring to every patriotic America; look at the foundation. I ask your listeners to take a moment during this election process. Read the Declaration of independence. What this country went through before this republic came together. The price the forefathers paid to give us the gift of democracy. Learn the basic values of this country and you will come out so proud of what we are blessed with.
SH: Great answer to a great question. Let’s go to Ed.
Ed: Let me thank Mr. Khan for providing his son to the service of the United States. Your comments on the fact that there’s an upsurge of patriotism among Arab Americans, Muslim America. This is not unique in United States history. We think back to the history of blacks in the United States. Every time the country has been in peril, when the patriotism of blacks has been questioned, blacks have risen to the occasion. World War I, World War II. Even in the War of 1812, before the Battle of New Orleans, blacks in New Orleans, most of who had been raised as the subjects of Spain or France, offered their service to Andrew Jackson to defend the city, and a number of them died in defense of New Orleans. Remember, they were new Americas. We’d only gotten that territory a decade or so before the battle. And I suspect that this is something that’s been repeated amongst other groups of people, I know that it’s true among Native America. We often forget the number of Native Americans, badly treated as they were by this country, often gave their lives in defense of this country.
SH: Ed. Great point. Thanks very much for calling and making it. Mr. Khan, I’m curious about what you see in terms of the sort of relationship between Arab and Muslim American and African Americans. WE have so much in common in terms of history, of course, and certainly in America, we face many of the same kinds of issue in terms of discrimination, this notion of otherness that is being foisted on African Americans, Muslim Americans and Arab Americans. Is that commonality a source of potential strength for both groups.
KK: First I must honor my friend Ed that just called. What a lesson in history of this country.
SH: We’ve got great callers here.
KK: I just bow my head. It is people like that that are the safeguards to the perils that we face today or we have ever faced. People like Ed that keep reminding us where we came from and where we are headed and also my salute to his reminder. The commonality of our journey unites us, makes us better, makes us understand that at the core of all this struggle is our humanity and it is that common bound that is stronger than any noise of fear or bigotry of division of building walls of throwing people out. That is not at the foundation of this country. And I assure your audience, believe me, there has been, as your previous caller so eloquently mentions, there have been similar challenges in the history to the foundation of this country, and the foundations won. The goodness of this country won, the goodness of this country united us and will continue to unite us. You will see, and you are continuing to see the goodness of this country is coming together, has been together, facing the perils that we face today and our wonderful, wonderful values of this nation, this great nation will prevail. Being in the United States we forget the role the United States and this nation is playing in the leadership of the world. There is the rest of humanity outside of the United States that lives and looks up to the United States. When we face these perils, these challenges, we should always add to that: god has blessed us, our creator has blessed us with this role. In the history of mankind today, this nation leads the world. It’s an amazing honor. We need to be cognizant of that, our behavior, our attitudes, our actions, national, local communities, counties, cities, all should remember that the rest of the world emulates us. They pray to get here. They pray to come to this country. They pray to learn and wish to take back from here so that they can make their lives better, their communities’ lives better, we are so grateful that we are blessed with so much good in this country. We wat to preserve it. We want to make it safer, we want to make it better and we want to move forward at any cost.
SH: Let’s take one last call here. David in Royal Oak. Welcome to Detroit Today.
David: Thank you for having Mr. Khan as a guest and Mr. Khan, congratulations on the award you’re about to receive. Donald Trump has stopped his ignorant attacks on you and your wife. He has acknowledged the service of your son, as I understand it. But has he expressed any kind of regret or said he has changed his mind about his attacks on you or your wife, or has he just dropped it?
SH: David, that’s a great question. Essentially it’s about whether Mr. Trump has apologized for the things that he said. I suspect I know the answer to the question but I’ll go ahead and let you answer it anyway.
KK: Thank you for asking the question, David. No, there has been no communication. We had said several weeks ago when this back and forth was going on that we were not for apology and we have passed that stage in a sense that we feel that there are, this is an example, ours is just an example. We see that there are challenges to the values of America. There are challenge to the fundamentals, to the foundation of America. So our conversation has moved on in that direction without naming names of the candidates and all, we are for the true values of this country as we understand them. Of course these are our opinions and these are our understanding of these issues. We continue to express and we continue to tell America, on the day of the election, this is a historical election. This is an election about the fundamental values of this country. When you go to vote, I urge all of your listeners, Stephen, and WDET listeners, pause, don’t just drop your ballot. Pause for a moment, take a second and think what you’re about to do. You’re about to stand to defend the values of this country. Cherish that moment. You will feel so proud for the rest of your life. There will be many elections to come, god willing, there have been many elections that you’ve participated, but take a moment and say I stood for America. I stood for American values, and I am dropping my share in defense of those values.” I assure you, you will feel so proud that we are blessed with this wonderfully beautiful country and we will continue to move forward.
SH: Khizr Khan, father of United States Army Captain Humayun Khan. Thank you very much for being here today and congratulations again on your award from the Arab American Civil Rights League giving you their ward at the groups’ fifth annual Fight for Justice gala in Dearborn.
KK: Thank you very much. Ty to your listeners and wonderful questions. I’m just humbled to be able to speak. That again is the freedom, the First Amendment, able to speak your mind and express your opinions. Thank you.