Trump attack on slain soldier’s family sparks outrage among US Muslims
Washington - Donald Trump’s attacks on the family of an American Muslim killed in combat while serving in the US military sparked outrage in the US Muslim community. Trump’s behaviour also led to fresh expressions of Muslim self-confidence in the face of the hostility and negative stereotypes the Republican presidential candidate has displayed.
The spat between Trump and the Khans, a US family of Pakistani descent, has become the biggest crisis yet in the property tycoon’s bid for the White House by highlighting what critics say is Trump’s disdain for Muslims, even those who gave their life for the country that he wants to lead.
Khizr Khan, 65, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia about his son Humayun, a captain in the US Army who was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004. Khan stressed his own patriotism and spoke out against Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. He said the billionaire, who managed to avoid conscription as a young man during the Vietnam war, had never known personal sacrifice.
Trump responded by denouncing Khan’s words as “vicious” and by belittling Khan’s wife, Ghazala, who was on the podium with her husband but did not speak. Trump suggested that she was not allowed to speak. Asked in a television interview what his message to the dead soldier’s father would be, Trump responded: “We’ve had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorists.”
The candidate’s lack of respect for a Gold Star family — a term used for relatives of soldiers wounded or killed in action — was condemned across party lines, with US President Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain leading the chorus. Opinion polls suggested Trump is losing ground to his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Despite concerns among Republicans that he is damaging the party’s chances in November, Trump, 70, is refusing to back down and says he has a right to defend himself against Khan. Trump is targeting his campaign on conservative Christian voters and is calculating that Muslim voters, estimated at less than 1 million in a US electorate of 226 million, will not play a significant role in the election.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the biggest Muslim rights lobby group in the United States, said Trump and the Republican Party must stop their verbal attacks on Muslims.
“I urge Donald Trump to apologise for his shameful remarks disparaging a Muslim Gold Star family and for his repeated use and promotion of anti-Muslim stereotypes,” CAIR Board Chairwoman Roula Allouch said in a statement on the CAIR website. She also called on Republican leaders to “repudiate their candidate’s divisive rhetoric”.
Trump, who has advocated a ban against Muslims travelling to the United States, has used anti-Muslim rhetoric throughout his campaign but his treatment of the Khan family was especially galling for many American Muslims because Khizr Khan’s convention speech was a source of pride.
“God bless the Khan’s [sic] who said what so many of us want to say,” Suhaib Webb, an imam in Washington, wrote on Twitter. CNN called Khan’s speech the “moment American Muslims have been waiting for”.
Yasir Qadhi, an Islamic scholar, told the Guardian that “[Trump’s] remarks regarding Humayun Khan’s parents are especially despicable. Many of us — including myself — could relate to the Khan family and I could easily see a faint reflection of my own parents and many of their generation, standing with the senior Khans on that stage.”
US Muslim leaders said Trump’s attitude towards Muslims represents an opportunity.
“I want to thank Donald Trump for making Muslims a campaign issue,” Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group in Washington and Los Angeles, said on the group’s website.
He said Khan had spoken about “Muslims being part of the American fabric and millions of people were watching”. Trump has actually helped Muslims, Marayati added: “His rhetorical attack on us has triggered fear of Islam but it has also produced an outpouring of support.”
Many Muslim-American women commented on social media about Trump’s attack on Ghazala Khan.
“As a politics professor, I lecture to many silent men because I am the expert in the room,” posted Dalia Fahmy of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University.
Faiza N. Ali, a community activist from New York, countered Trump’s depiction of Muslim women as docile and passive: “I’m an organiser, activist, public servant fighting for dignity and respect,” she posted.
Miriam Durrani, a researcher, said her own life was an example of how wrong Trump was: “I am a single mother who finished her PhD and am now an education researcher at Harvard,” she wrote. “Didn’t get here by staying quiet!”