CEDAR RAPIDS — Khizr Khan carries a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket. It’s a reminder of the values he loves about his adopted country and a tribute to his son, who died defending it while serving in the U.S. Army.
He held up a copy of that Constitution on Saturday night in Cedar Rapids, much as he had at the July 2016 Democratic National Convention, when he entered the national spotlight by offering then-presidential candidate Donald Trump his copy of the document after Trump had called to ban Muslims from entering the country.
Khan spoke Saturday at a fundraising dinner for the Iowa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The event brought about 50 people to the African American Museum of Iowa to hear from the Gold Star father.
Khan and his wife, Ghazala, are the parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in 2004 while serving in Baqubah, Iraq. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Khizr Khan recounted the story of his son’s sacrifice, telling how he ordered the men under his command to hit the dirt while he walked 10 steps into the path of an oncoming vehicle that was attempting to plow into a crowd of Iraqis and American military personnel. When a bomb in the car exploded, Humayun Khan was the only American to die.
“We know what made him take those 10 steps,” his father said. “We have had these constitutional discussions at our family table. We have talked about what kind of beneficiaries of these values we are. We have talked about the blessings this country has shared with us.”
He said he and his wife were reluctant to speak out at first. Though they are not on the battlefield as their son was, they felt an equal duty to defend the Constitution, he said.
“Why wouldn’t we stand to protect this country, why wouldn’t we stand up to make it safe? We shall and we are,” he said.
Khan, who has been traveling the country on a speaking tour, re-entered the national news last week after he canceled a speech in Canada, saying he had been notified his travel privileges were “under review.”
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol told Reuters it doesn’t contact travelers in advance of their trips outside the United States and that U.S. citizens may travel with a passport. Khan was born in Pakistan but is an American citizen.
In an interview with The Gazette, Khan said he has heard with concern accounts of American citizens being detained at U.S. borders and made to share their phone passwords and asked about their religious beliefs, including reports from late February that Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother were detained at a Florida airport. Asked if he had heard that he specifically would be targeted for such action or if he was concerned in general, he declined to comment.
Saturday’s dinner was a fundraising effort for CAIR, which is also hoping to open an office in Des Moines to serve the growing Sudanese and Somali immigrant population there. CAIR-Iowa currently has an office in Cedar Rapids.
CAIR works to promote civil rights, something CAIR-Iowa President Lisa Killinger said is increasingly necessary for the Muslim population in a time when threats against mosques and Muslims has risen.
She recounted a story of driving home one night from Des Moines to Davenport after a CAIR event about a year and a half ago. She was wearing a pink headscarf, and her car had a bumper sticker with the words “salaam to you”,” which means “peace to you.” A truck pulled next to her, and the men inside started shouting expletives and throwing things at her car, she said. When they pulled in front of her and slowed down, she feared for her safety.
Though shaken by the incident, she said it was far from the only time CAIR members have received threats.
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“Muslims in America should not have to worry if they can get home at night wearing a scarf,” she said. “Civil rights work will remain important forever.”
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