On July 28, 2016, a hero emerged.
Khizr Khan, a Gold Star father and Muslim American, stood up at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and metaphorically waived his pocket-sized American Constitution at Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Khan became an instant hero to Muslim Americans. And he wasn’t the first hero in his family, after all, this immigrant barrister’s brilliant and eloquent speech came after a lengthy tribute to his son, the fallen Captain Humayun S.M. Khan, who died in 2004 while serving in Iraq.
And while his son was a national hero, Uncle Khizr was the hero that American Muslim community had been waiting for in this election cycle.
Yes, in the days leading up the the DNC, American Muslims (and many Americans, at that) were searching for their savior from the impending trajectory of the 2016 election. Some had looked to Bernie Sanders. Others were looking north, to the luxurious tresses and sunny ways of the refugee hugging Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
This has been one of the more divisive presidential elections in recent American history. In the course of this division and competition, Muslims have been thrown under the bus. “Radical Islam” has become the cornerstone issue on the Republican platform, causing greater divisions and hate directed at Muslims in America, most of who are not radical jihadists but simple people trying to live in peace.
The recent string of violence, both in America and outside, has put everyone on edge and has furthered this divide, causing anxiety and a culture of fear. Many people in America have become fearful of brown people and target brown people on planes, brown people with clocks, and... well, brown people anywhere else, for that matter . With every passing attack or shooting, American Muslims hold their breathe praying and hoping that the perpetrator is not a Muslim but rather, some “unstable” and “mentally disturbed” white guy, because while even the latter isn’t great, the former is one more notch against Muslims and one more reason to egg a hijab-wearing aunty at Walmart.
In this era of demagoguery and fear, enter Uncle Khizr.
Yes, in this day and age, the American Muslim community needed one of their “uncles” (which is an endearing and respectful term for the older generation) to set America straight again.
The Muslim community in America needed Uncle Khizr. And just when they needed him the most, he emerged on an elevated platform in Philadelphia, in front of applauding crowds and a standing ovation.
So what makes Khizr Khan so great and why did American Muslims need an “uncle” to be our hero?
He’s a well spoken immigrant of Pakistani descent.
In theory, this shouldn’t matter and upon first glance, it actually sounds shallow. But think about it for a second. Those in Camp Trump have been taunting and criticizing immigrants, asking them to “speak English” and to assimilate. There’s nothing more beautiful for the Muslim American community right now than to have an immigrant uncle at the forefront, sticking it to Trump. Sure, we have the Dean Obiedallahs and the Reza Aslans out there challenging Islamophobes head-to-head and brain-to-[fill in the blank]. But the power and impact of having an articulate immigrant uncle with an accent defies the expectations of Islamophobes. And challenging one’s viewpoint through concrete visual examples is one of the most effective steps to changing someone’s viewpoint.
He’s a Gold Star father; you can’t insult him without facing backlash.
Now, how can a patriotic American in good conscience criticize a Gold Star father? Well, Donald Trump did, but some would question whether he actually has a conscience (as Uncle Khizr put it so eloquently in a follow up interview on CNN).
Why does all of this even matter? Again, going back to the fundamentals on changing people’s viewpoints― if you want to change people’s viewpoints or get them to act, then hit them at their core values. People hold their values up high and they get really bugged if they are forced to act in a way that goes against the values they hold dear. It’s Festinger’s psychological theory of cognitive dissonance.
As the result of Uncle Khizr’s speech at the DNC, focal members of the Republican Party were forced to take a stand and make statements in defense of American Muslims, as the comments made by Trump were so patently un-American. While the dialogue on Islamophobia was already happening in this election, Uncle Khizr’s comments forced the issue again and this time, gave Islamophobes an antagonist they couldn’t possibly insult; under the risk being called un-American.
He’s just awesome.
Aside from the fact that he reminds many American Muslims of their dad, nobody can deny the final reason that Uncle Khizr is the new hero for American Muslims; he’s just awesome! While many American Muslims have taken on Trump, Uncle Khizr got up on stage at the DNC, with his deceased son’s photograph on stage behind him, and gave a compelling and courageous takedown of Trump. Not many can speak so powerfully with tears in their eyes and a lump in their throat, as a deceased child’s photograph consumes the background.
And he did all of that without a teleprompter.
Nobody knows where this election is headed, But it’s been four days and in Trump’s terms “people are talking” about Khizr Khan’s speech. That’s longer than the average news cycle. Whatever the outcome, Khizr Khan may be Hillary’s smoking gun. We’ll only know in November.