No campaign ad has ever made me cry before. That was until Friday when Hillary Clinton released a video featuring Khizr Khan discussing his late son, U.S. Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan. I challenge anyone to watch this and not get at least misty-eyed.
As most recall, Mr. Khan, along with his wife Ghazala, made headlines for a speech in July at the U.S. Democratic National Convention. There Khan challenged Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and posed this powerful question to the GOP presidential nominee: “Have you even read the United States Constitution?”
Trump responded by mocking Mrs. Khan for being silent during the speech, suggesting that as a Muslim woman she was not permitted to speak. Trump then added gasoline to the media firestorm that ensued by equating his creating “thousands and thousands of jobs” as being on some level equivalent to the sacrifice of the Khan family.
As of Monday evening, the Clinton commercial featuring the Khan family has already been viewed over 1 million times and is still trending on YouTube. The tears that rolled down my face watching it were triggered for a few reasons. The video opens with Khan looking at the U.S. Army uniform of his late son who was killed in Iraq in 2004 while protecting the men in his unit from a suicide bomber. On its own, a parent reflecting on the death of his or her child is both deeply heartbreaking and painfully unjust.
But in this case it’s even more moving when this Gold Star father, while fighting back tears himself, holds a photo of his late son while commenting, “he was 27 years old and he was a Muslim American.” Khan then recounts his son’s heroism and concludes, as his voice breaks with emotion, “I want to ask Mr. Trump, ‘would my son have a place in your America?’”
I was also rendered teary-eyed by the historic nature of this commercial. Here we are seeing for the first time ever an American Muslim family prominently featured in an ad for a major party’s presidential nominee just weeks before Election Day. To be blunt, there’s little upside for a national politician to take such a risk, and Clinton truly needs to be praised for her political courage in doing just that.
Don’t get me wrong, Trump has also included images of “Muslims” in his campaign ads. But, of course, those were all terrorists, and most American Muslims ― myself included ― would not consider them part of our faith. In one of Trump’s campaign commercials, for example, the presidential nominee used the San Bernardino attack for political gain. This video opens with a narrator stating, “The politicians can pretend it’s something else, but Donald Trump calls it ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’” Images of the couple associated with the terror attack fill the screen, including an image of the wife wearing a hijab. Then the ad notes that Trump has called for, “a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States,” and as the word “Muslims” is heard, we see images of what appear to be terrorists brandishing their flag.
The Trump ad ― in stark contrast to the Hillary Clinton Khan ad ― presents Muslims not just as scary, but as the enemy of America. This is a message that we American Muslims have sadly grown far too accustomed to seeing in the years since 9/11.
And the emotional reaction to the ad was made more acute by the fact that this presidential election cycle has been marred by openly anti-Muslim rhetoric by several GOP presidential candidates. It’s truly been bone-chilling to see major politicians ginning up hate of a religious faith.
There was former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson last September declaring his opposition to any American of Muslim faith serving as president of the United States. And worse, after making that comment, Carson was apparently rewarded with a fundraising bonanza by people who agreed with him.
Then there was Ted Cruz, another candidate for the GOP presidential nomination and a U.S. senator, calling for American Muslims to be placed under surveillance simply because of our faith, meaning we would have less constitutional rights.
But Trump truly has been the Muslim basher-in-chief this campaign. In March he stunningly declared that “Islam hates us.” He had earlier called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” as well as for surveillance of Muslims. (Yes, Trump has back peddled on his total Muslim ban but the damage has been done.) And even at the second presidential debate when Trump was asked about Islamophobia, he shockingly responded by drumming up more anti-Muslim hate by claiming that Muslims are in essence hiding terrorists in our midst, which is a bald-faced lie.
Given this hate spewed by Trump towards Muslims, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride that perhaps a Muslim family could play a role in defeating the man.
Adding to my sentiments was the realization that the Khan family was effectively making a powerful point that is often not seen by our fellow Americans ― namely that you can both be proudly American and proudly Muslim. That is the very same point U.S. President Barack Obama made in February during his first visit to a United States mosque while in office when he declared, “You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.” The Khan family is the living embodiment of those words for all Americans to see.
Apart from the emotional impact of this video, it may have a political impact as well. While American Muslims overwhelmingly oppose Trump – a recent poll with data compiled by the Council on American Islamic Relations found only 4 percent of Muslims supporting Trump – only 72 percent support Clinton. This ad could change those numbers, increasing support for the Democratic nominee from Muslims living in key swing states like Florida and Ohio. At least I hope it does.
Clinton has been criticized by some in the Muslim community for only speaking of us in the context of national security, as though we are on the front line of countering extremism. But this ad shows an American Muslim family in a light we rarely see in American media: as human beings. Indeed, the real message of the ad is our humanity ― and that is a concept often lost in discussions about Muslims in our current political climate. Just look at how Donald Trump Jr., the GOP nominee’s own son, recently described Syrian refugees seeking to flee the horrors of war ― not as regular people, but as poisonous Skittles.
Hillary Clinton has called Captain Khan, “the best of America.” She is 100 percent correct. And while Election Day will come and go, the message sent by Khan’s sacrifice will endure long thereafter. On some level, the captain, through his family, is still fighting for the values that make America great. And thinking of that moves me to tears every time.
The Huffington Post is documenting the rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence in America. Take a stand against hate.