Two weeks before the 2008 election, Gen. Colin Powell, then one of the nation’s most prominent and highly-regarded Republicans, announced that he would be supporting the Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama.
Eight years later, video of Powell’s dramatic endorsement is again being shared widely.
This time, the focus isn’t on Powell’s remarks about Obama but his tribute to Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim U.S. Army soldier who died in combat in Iraq.
During the 2008 interview, Powell said he was troubled by the willingness of Republicans to criticize Obama by questioning whether he was actually a Muslim.
“The correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian,” Powell said. “But the really right answer is: What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no. That’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
Powell felt strongly about this point, he said, after seeing a photograph of Khan’s mother grieving over his headstone at Arlington Cemetery.
Watch his full remarks below:
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards ― Purple Heart, Bronze Star ― showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had the crescent and the star of the Islamic faith. His name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.
Powell’s recognition of the patriotic sacrifices of Muslim Americans, and his warnings of an increasingly intolerant Republican Party, have again struck a chord in the wake of Khizr Khan’s speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention.
Khan, the father of fallen Muslim U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, excoriated Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump over his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.
“If it was up to Donald Trump, [Humayun] never would have been in America,” Khizr Khan said. “Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims.”
Trump’s decision to repeatedly malign Khan and his wife after their convention appearance has received bipartisan condemnation. But most prominent elected Republican leaders continue to endorse Trump despite the anti-Muslim sentiment that is central to his presidential campaign.
Platon, the photographer who captured Cpl. Khan’s mother at Arlington Cemetery eight years ago, just released a new collection of images of soldiers and their families. He called it “devastating” that Colin Powell’s remarks remain relevant today.
“We have stopped focusing on the things that unite us, on the things we have in common, and we have allowed ourselves to become frightened and to focus on the things that make us different,” Platon told The Huffington Post. “That’s very dangerous to America, because we are so different as people and yet we are so united as a community, and we must start focusing on the things that unite us.”
In the video below, Platon recalls the experience of photographing Elsheba Khan in 2008: