Seven Minutes That Shook the Convention – Politico
He walked onto the convention stage Thursday night with his wife beside him, the Constitution to guide him and the pride of a father who knows he has a story to tell.
“Tonight,” said Khizr M. Khan, “we are honored to stand here as the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, and as patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to our country.”
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That was the beginning of a 7-minute speech that became an instant sensation—eloquent, emotional and notably original, coming as it did at the end of four days of highly processed political cliche. Khan, a 66-year-old immigration lawyer from Charlottesville, told the story of his son’s death in combat in Iraq, but he turned that elegy into a viral rebuke of Donald Trump: “You have sacrificed nothing!”
And Khan delivered his broadside without using the teleprompter. There was nothing to put on it, because he had written nothing down.
His speech, delivered in prime-time just before Chelsea Clinton, was practiced “in my head and in my mind” and “spoken from the heart,” Khan told POLITICO.
The story of how Khan, who is not even a registered Democrat, came to be standing on a stage where Hillary Clinton would moments later accept the nomination for president, began on June 8, 2004, the day his son was killed by a car bomber in Baqubah.
In 2005, Khan talked about his late son to the Washington Post. He recounted the family’s journey from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates, and from there to Boston, where Khan completed his L.L.M at Harvard University. The family moved to Maryland in time for Humayun to go to high school. Even back then, Khan told the Post, Humayun “was the middle one, the comforter, the one the cousins would run to when they were being picked on. He gave swimming lessons to disabled children in high school.”
This sense of responsibility for others showed up again when Humayun joined the Army after graduating from high school. Humayun finished his four years of service and was preparing for law school at the University of Virginia when the Army called on him to serve in Iraq. He died there, four months after his arrival, while protecting his unit from a car that was speeding toward his men. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his courage.
Khan didn’t given another interview about his son for a decade, until Donald Trump, who had risen to the top of the pack of GOP candidates, called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Muslim families like the Khans.
A reporter from Vocativ called Khan and asked him to retell his son’s story in light of the Republican frontrunner’s comments. “Muslims are American, Muslims are citizens…we are proud American citizens. It’s the values [of this country] that brought us here, not our religion. Trump’s position on these issues do not represent those values,” Khan said.
A few days after the article was published, Khan received a call from a member of the Hillary Clinton campaign. The staffer asked him if Hillary Clinton could use his remarks, exactly as written in the interview he had given Vocativ, in a tribute to his son.
“I said ‘Yes, of course.’”
In Minneapolis in December 2015, Hillary Clinton gave a moving tribute to Humayun Khan, who was one of 14 American Muslims who died serving the United States in the 10 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Clinton narrated the soldier’s story through his father’s words: “’We still wonder what made him take those 10 steps,’ Khan’s father said…. ‘Maybe that’s the point where all the values, all the service to country, all the things he learned in this country kicked in. It was those values that made him take those 10 steps. Those 10 steps told us we did not make [a] mistake in moving to this country,’ his father finished.”
Later, the Clinton campaign contacted Mr. Khan again and asked if he would be willing to let them use the same tribute during the Democratic convention. Once again, he answered “Yes, of course.”
Then they called again: Would you and your wife, Ghazala, be willing to appear on stage after the tribute? The campaign thought it would send a strong message of support for the candidate. He didn’t hesitate.
The fourth time they called they asked: “Would you like to say something at the convention?”
Khan knew this was unusual honor. In an interview he gave the San Francisco Chronicle two days before his speech, he said, “Nowhere but in the United States is it possible that an immigrant who came to the country empty-handed only a few years ago gets to stand in front of patriots and in front of a major political party. … It is my small share to show the world, by standing there, the goodness of America.”
The Clinton campaign offered to put him in contact with a speechwriter. He declined. He knew what he wanted to say. He practiced at home with his family, leaning on 40 years of experience as an attorney that taught him “how to control my thoughts, my emotions and my message.”
On the day of the speech, he grabbed his worn copy of the Constitution and slipped it in his jacket pocket. He carries it regularly, especially when he travels. “It’s my favorite document. I wanted to use it because I wanted to highlight the protections that immigrants have in this country.”
Walking on stage he knew the pocket-sized book was going to come out of his pocket before the evening was done.
“The main purpose of my speech was to bring awareness about the constitutional protections that each citizen of the United States enjoys and to try to prevent the scare that immigrant communities are feeling about the misinformation that one candidate had been pandering. So the effort was to put these worried minds at ease by asking that question: ‘Have you read the constitution?’ ”
In the minute after he finished at 9:18 p.m., observers noted a spike in people searching Google for “register to vote.” Andrew Sullivan of New York magazine called the speech “the fulcrum of this election.” Friday morning, as the Khans made their way home to Virginia, people stood in line in the Acela Club waiting room in Philadelphia to shake Khan’s hand.
He sounded tired as he spoke to POLITICO by phone. “I’m a little overwhelmed by all the well-wishers.”
Asked if he thought he had accomplished what he had hoped with the speech, Khan responded, “I will continue to work on it, one step at a time.”