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Teachable Moments Abound in Khizr Khan’s Convention Speech

August 4, 2016

Teachable Moments Abound in Khizr Khan’s Convention Speech

Essential question: What did Khan’s words about the Con­sti­tu­tion have to do with immi­grants and patriotism?

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On the final night at the [2016] Demo­c­ra­tic National Con­ven­tion, a Mus­lim Amer­i­can cou­ple named Khizr and Ghaz­ala Khan came to the stage and deliv­ered a patri­otic speech about their son, a U.S. Army Cap­tain who died in 2004 in Iraq serv­ing his coun­try. Khizr Khan, as his wife looked on, spoke for a mere six min­utes. The speech was so riv­et­ing that the dis­cus­sion about it con­tin­ued into the next day and beyond, many peo­ple call­ing it was one of the most pow­er­ful Con­ven­tion speeches.

In the speech, Khan talked about his son and his ulti­mate sac­ri­fice, Amer­i­can patri­o­tism and immi­gra­tion. He strongly chal­lenged the Islam­o­pho­bia and biased tone of the cur­rent pres­i­den­tial campaign.

In the days fol­low­ing the speech, sev­eral con­tro­ver­sies arose and it occu­pied much of cable news’ air­time. Ghaz­ala Khan was ques­tioned for not speak­ing. Alle­ga­tions cir­cu­lated that she may not have been “allowed” to speak, imply­ing it was due to her being Mus­lim. It was also said that Khizr Khan “had no right to say” what he said. In fact, iron­i­cally, the Con­sti­tu­tion (which he used as a prop and referred to sev­eral times) allows him to express his thoughts freely. In the after­math, promi­nent Democ­rats includ­ing Pres­i­dent Obama and high-ranking Repub­li­cans denounced the harsh words directed at the Khans.

The speech and sub­se­quent pub­lic dis­course pro­vides a teach­able moment to talk with young people—in the class­room or around the kitchen table—about a num­ber of related issues. Below are those issues and some open-ended ques­tions with which fam­i­lies and edu­ca­tors may start the conversation.

Our Con­sti­tu­tional Rights

A dra­matic moment in Khan’s speech was when he pulled out his pocket copy of the Con­sti­tu­tion and asserted the impor­tance of “lib­erty” and “equal pro­tec­tion (under) law.”  That sin­gle action drove sales of the Con­sti­tu­tion pocket ver­sion to hit the top 10 best­selling books on Ama­zon. And that’s a good thing for democ­racy and pub­lic aware­ness of our Con­sti­tu­tional rights, includ­ing reli­gious free­dom and free­dom of speech. Among other find­ings, a 2014 study of stu­dent and teacher per­spec­tives on the First Amend­ment found that stu­dents who take a class deal­ing with the First Amend­ment are more likely to sup­port First Amend­ment rights. It also found that, for the first time, Amer­i­can high school stu­dents show a greater over­all appre­ci­a­tion for the First Amend­ment than do adults.

Fol­low­ing the speech, there were state­ments made that Khizr Khan “has no right” to raise ques­tions about the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. In fact, one of Khan’s main points was that the Con­sti­tu­tion allows him free­dom of speech and he was, in fact, allowed to make crit­i­cal com­ments about politicians.

Ques­tions for Discussion:

  • In his speech, what point did Khizr Khan make about the Constitution?
  • What do you know about the Constitution?
  • What did Khan’s words about the Con­sti­tu­tion have to do with immi­grants and patriotism?

Stereo­types of Muslims

In the after­math of the speech, ques­tions were force­fully raised about why Ghaz­ala Khan stood at the podium and didn’t say any­thing, charg­ing that “maybe she wasn’t allowed to have any­thing to say.” This per­pet­u­ates the myth and stereo­type that Mus­lim women are sub­servient to men. In response to these accu­sa­tions, Ghaz­ala Khan spoke up on her own behalf and in addi­tion, Mus­lim women posted on social media using the hash­tag #CanYou­HearUs­Now in defi­ance of that label. Fur­ther, in sev­eral TV inter­views about the speech, oth­ers slipped in the words “rad­i­cal Islamist ter­ror­ists,” seem­ingly in an attempt to con­flate the Khan fam­ily with terrorism—another com­mon stereotype.

Ques­tions for Discussion:

  • What are some of the stereo­types you have heard about Mus­lims and how do you see this play­ing out in the lat­est controversy?
  • How does what you learned about the Khans or any­thing else in the news dis­pel the stereotypes?
  • In what ways are stereo­types harm­ful and what can we do about them?

Being an Ally When Fac­ing Bias

When Khizr Khan spoke about his son and his views on the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, he spoke not only about the mis­treat­ment and big­otry directed at Mus­lims dur­ing this elec­tion but also about other immi­grants, minori­ties and women. Khan used his voice to amplify the voices of oth­ers. Being an ally in small and large ways is an impor­tant les­son and skill to teach our chil­dren. In addi­tion to Khan’s ally behav­ior dur­ing the Con­ven­tion, when he and his wife were attacked, other politicians—both Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats alike—rose to be their allies and speak on behalf of them and all vet­er­ans and Gold Star fam­i­lies (bereaved fam­ily mem­bers of U.S. Armed Forces members).

Ques­tions for Discussion:

  • What does it mean to be an ally, on a per­sonal and polit­i­cal level?
  • How did Khizr Khan act as an ally and how did oth­ers act as an ally to him when he was attacked?
  • What can we do to be allies to peo­ple who are mis­treated, stereo­typed and dis­crim­i­nated against?

The Immi­grant Experience

Khan spoke pas­sion­ately about his expe­ri­ence as an immi­grant, mak­ing clear his “undi­vided loy­alty to our coun­try” and shar­ing his com­mon expe­ri­ence of com­ing to this coun­try empty-handed. He explained that they believed in democ­racy and that with hard work and good­ness, they could “share in and con­tribute to its bless­ings.” The United States is a nation of immi­grants and should always seek ways to build bridges rather than walls. As Khan stated, “We can­not solve our prob­lems by build­ing walls, sow­ing divi­sion. We are stronger together.” Indeed, a cul­ture of bias and big­otry towards immi­grants hurts all of us.

Ques­tions for Discussion:

  • How does Khizr Khan’s expe­ri­ence as an immi­grant inform his per­spec­tive on U.S. democracy?
  • How are the dif­fer­ent points of view about immi­grants and immi­gra­tion being dis­cussed dur­ing this pres­i­den­tial election?
  • How is the Khan family’s expe­ri­ence sim­i­lar to or dif­fer­ent from the expe­ri­ences of your fam­ily or your friend’s families?
  • What do you already know about immi­gra­tion and what do you want to know?

ADL
ADL is a leading anti-hate organization. Founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of anti-Semitism and bigotry, its timeless mission is to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Today, ADL continues to fight all forms of hate with the... See More
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