Thursday, August 4, 2016

What the Khan Exchange Reveals about America

By Craig Hovey

The recent exchange between the Democratic National Convention speakers, the Khans, and Donald Trump reveals a lot, not least about Trump’s insensitivity and lack of tact and political judgment.
But I’m also interested in what it reveals about what really counts when it comes to demonstrating belonging, even unity, in America. The Khans, Muslim immigrants to the US, spoke at the DNC about their son’s sacrifice for his country in the US military—Humayun Khan was a US Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004. Trump’s very simplistic (not to mention dangerous and frankly un-American) suspicion of Muslims and immigrants is shown so strikingly by an equally simple demonstration of a single counter-example. It simply falls apart. Trump, who is notoriously anti-immigrant and anti-Islam, publicly mocked the family, drawing harsh criticisms from many veterans, including John McCain. We see in the DNC’s choice of the Khan family the strongest kind of example available for displaying the full inclusivity of American society: that fact that Muslims too will fight and die for America.

I believe that the Khans deserve deep admiration and respect. But I also wish that the lengths we apparently need to go to in America to communicate the full inclusion of Muslims and / or immigrants didn’t have to involve the death (sacrifice) of members of those groups.

Hero-language always surrounds this kind of sacrifice. But I have deep reservations about human sacrifice and the haze of honorific, unassailable images and vocabulary that surround it. Put starkly, do Muslims or anyone else need to die in order to demonstrate that they are above reproach and unquestionably American? I ask this, not because I doubt the Khans, but because I question the nature of a society that asks them to be sacrificial heroes that they are.

I understand why this theme isn’t receiving a lot of attention now. These are tense times and there’s clearly a lot at stake. Let me say that I have zero sympathies for Trump and great admiration for the Khans. My admiration, though, is much like the admiration I have for all veterans. As an advocate for nonviolence and a critic of war, I deeply feel for active members of the military and veterans because of the risks that society asks them to bear. Why do we ask them to do these things? What do the rest of us need as a society that we then ask others to sacrifice their lives for? Can we demonstrate our inclusiveness as a nation without asking some to die in order to show it?

Craig Hovey is executive director of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.


Roger Eberly said...

Thank you for this insightful and helpful response at such a time as this.

Roger Eberly said...

Thank you for this insightful and helpful response at such a time as this.

Thomas Snyder said...

Thoughtful response on your part (as usual), Craig. As much as I appreciated the Khan's witness & challenge to trump, your questions about what length & the nature of what it takes to prove one's patriotism, are equally valid & call for deep questioning on the part of all of us.