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Khizr Khan: As candidate for the highest office, Trump needs tolerance for criticism

August 1, 2016 at 6:45 PM EDT
Khizr and Ghazala Khan, a Muslim-American couple whose 27-year-old son died as a soldier during the Iraq War, stood before the Democratic National Convention last week to share their loss and criticize Donald Trump. Lisa Desjardins recaps the political feud that ensued, then the Khans sit down with Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump’s comments about Muslims, terrorism and immigration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Democratic Convention in Philadelphia last week showcased presidents past, present and possibly future. But one man, standing next to his wife, neither of them before in the national spotlight, delivered a speech that’s reverberated across American politics.

Lisa Desjardins wraps up today on the campaign trail.

LISA DESJARDINS: For Donald Trump, today was a day for a Rust Belt swing of battleground states.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: Thank you. Thank you very much.

LISA DESJARDINS: Stopping this afternoon in Ohio, and later in Pennsylvania. But on Twitter this morning, the Republican nominee stepped back into days-old questioning criticizing the Gold Star parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq in 2004.

Trump said Khizr Khan, the soldier’s father — quote — “viciously attacked me from the stage of the Democratic National Convention, and is now all over TV doing the same.”

That convention speech last Thursday made headlines.

KHIZR KHAN, Father of Soldier Killed in Iraq: Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.


LISA DESJARDINS: Trump first pushed back in an ABC News interview that aired Sunday.

DONALD TRUMP: I think I have made a lot of sacrifices. I have worked very, very hard. I have created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures.

LISA DESJARDINS: Reaction has been swift from both political parties, from President Obama speaking to disabled veterans in Atlanta today.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: No one has given more to our freedom than our Gold Star families.


BARACK OBAMA: Michelle and I have spent countless hours with them. We have grieved with them.

LISA DESJARDINS: To Senate Republicans mired in reelection fights. Arizona’s John McCain said in a statement that Trump’s nomination doesn’t give him — quote — “unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”

Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire wrote: “I am appalled that Donald Trump would disparage the Khan family.”

And there were more. Missouri’s Roy Blunt, Ohio’s Rob Portman, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson all today separated themselves from Trump. And, notably, a group usually far outside politics, the Veterans of Foreign wars, or VFW, also weighed in, with a statement saying: “To ridicule a Gold Star mother is out-of-bounds.”

His Democratic counterpart, Hillary Clinton, is in Nebraska today, but spoke about all this yesterday during her own Rust Belt tour.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: To launch an attack, as he did, on Captain Khan’s mother, a Gold Star mother, I don’t know where the bounds are. I don’t know where the bottom is.

LISA DESJARDINS: Team Trump, though, has a different take. Trump’s V.P. nominee, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, said in his own statement that the Khan family should be cherished by every American. But Pence went on to attack President Obama and Hillary Clinton, whom he blames for the rise of ISIS and threat to the American military.

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort also hit that theme on Sunday’s “Face the Nation.”

PAUL MANAFORT, Chair, Trump Campaign: The issue is not Mr. Khan and Donald Trump. The issue really is radical jihad — radical Islamic Jihad and the risk to the American homeland. That’s the issue.

LISA DESJARDINS: Even as the controversy continues, Trump is scheduled to press on with his swing state tour, with stops in Virginia and Florida in coming days.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And with me now are Khizr and Ghazala Khan.

Thank you very much, both of you, for being here. And condolences to both of you on the loss of your son.

GHAZALA KHAN, Mother of Soldier Killed in Iraq: Thank you very much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Your lives have changed since Thursday night, haven’t they?

KHIZR KHAN: Yes, certainly, for the better. The love and support has just lessened our burdens so very much from all directions, from all levels. There has been just pouring of affection, pouring of condolences and support.

It has just been amazing to all over again see the goodness of this society, goodness of this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Donald Trump tweeted this morning — quote — “Mr. Khan, who doesn’t know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC, and is now all over TV doing the same. Nice.”

He does seem irritated by your talking to the news media. What do you say to him about that?

KHIZR KHAN: We are in the political process of the greatest democracy on the planet Earth. He is candidate for the highest office of this nation.

He has to have the patience and tolerance for criticism. Him and I have same equal rights. In his eyes, he thinks that he can criticize people, but no one else can criticize. That is not the value of this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mrs. Khan, Donald Trump and his advisers are saying that what this is really is about is about radical Islamic terrorism, and he says that’s what everybody should be talking about.

GHAZALA KHAN: I think he doesn’t know the Islam. I actually don’t want to talk about him or if — in my eyes, the people who know Islam, they won’t say these things.

Islam is a peaceful religion, and I’m really proud of my religion. So, I still don’t understand why he’s so upset about this that I didn’t say anything at that time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re referring to his comment about the fact that you didn’t speak at the convention, but you have been speaking since.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But what do you make of his really constant connection between Islam the faith and what he calls radical Islamic terrorism? He connects the two directly.

GHAZALA KHAN: I don’t think he should do that, but it is his beliefs. He can do — I can take criticism from him. I can take it, but I believe that he shouldn’t do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Khan, what about that? Because Donald Trump has quoted a poll last year that he said showed that more than 50 percent of American Muslims believe that there should be Sharia law, which advocates violent acts against women and acts — violent, in effect, terrorism?

KHIZR KHAN: Sharia law cannot be implemented in this United States, because this distorted Sharia law is against the basic principle of equal dignity, equal protection of law in the United States.

What are we talking about? These are political statements to gather votes and create hatred and dislike. I would love to sit down and talk on, what Sharia law are we talking about? There is no such thing.

These are laws of these countries. These are hodgepodge of various traditions, various British laws, various colonized times, laws, legal system. There is no such thing. The United States has the Islamic law, which is equal protection of law under the 14th Amendment.

Therefore, there is no fear, except fear-mongers make it fear. Unless we amend our Constitution and we take out the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, sure, we can talk about Sharia law coming in and sneaking in here and all that. Otherwise, there is no place for that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mrs. Khan, Donald Trump on his Web site refers to what he said in the past, that all Muslims should be banned for a time from coming to this country. He now says all Muslims coming from countries where there is violent, as he puts it, Islamic terrorism should be subject to additional scrutiny, additional background checks.

Do you think that’s fair? Does that make sense?

GHAZALA KHAN: I believe that we should be — really, our security should be really tight to let them in.

But I shouldn’t — I do not believe that they should be banned, because there are lots of innocent people in these countries. They want to come out for their children’s life, for their life, so we shouldn’t ban anything without looking into it, because there are lots of people who want to come out of those countries, and they are innocent. They don’t have to do anything with terrorism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Khan, what about that?

KHIZR KHAN: Of course we agree that there should be the strictest standards to scrutinize, make sure we only allow good people, we don’t allow bad people.

But then what? Last few incidences have indicated that these are homegrown, bad people. How do you deal with that? How would you scrutinize through immigration? They’re here. They’re born here. Therefore, to deal with it is join hand with the community, make it known that the community is part of the society.

The community has an obligation to monitor themselves while they are in this community. Terrorism, manners of terrorism cannot be defeated by army, by military action. If it was possible, this would have already taken place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two other quick things.

Mrs. Khan, many Americans say more American Muslims need to speak out against terrorism.

GHAZALA KHAN: True. I believe that.

We should all get together and speak that terrorism is not the answer. You always get respect and love when you love someone.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Mr. Khan, some of Donald Trump’s supporters are saying you and Mrs. Khan were tricked into doing this by the Clinton campaign.

KHIZR KHAN: Not at all. We were not tricked. We were given an option.

She is my editor of the speech that was about six pages’ long. She kept editing and editing. Don’t say this. Don’t say this. Don’t say this. I rely on her strength and on her support and guidance, so that speech became three-minutes-long speech.

And the Constitution came into play. I carry this in my pocket out of affection for this document. At home, we have a stack of it sitting. Any time a guest comes, we give them a copy of it. Amazon says that they have not sold that many Constitutions ever. These are good civic lessons.

Anybody that picks up the Constitution, reads it begins to realize the wonderful values that exist and begins to see the goodness of this country. And the same thing is on registration of vote. We — it’s a sacred right that true democracy gives us. Lots of us don’t use it, but if somehow we were able to encourage, I think it was worth.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Khizr Khan, Mrs. Ghazala Khan, thank you very much for being here. Our deepest condolences on the loss of your son.

KHIZR KHAN: Thank you for inviting us.

GHAZALA KHAN: Thank you.

KHIZR KHAN: Thank you.


KHIZR KHAN: And we are glad to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the Trump campaign didn’t respond to repeated requests to provide a spokesperson for an interview today.