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By Suzanne Pollak @SuzannePollak
CHEVY CHASE — Khizr Khan, the Gold Star parent who gave an impassioned speech at the 2016 Democratic convention denouncing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposed ban to keep Muslims from entering the United States, continues to urge Americans to speak out against hatred.
Speaking Saturday at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Khan said, “I urge you to carry that burden. Try to be the moral compass of the nation.”
Before a crowd of 300, Khan recalled his youth in Pakistan where he lived under martial law. The free press “was cut off,” and police were permitted to shoot if more than two people gathered at an intersection, he said.
In a quiet voice, he spoke of a ration card that citizens had to renew weekly, always with the threat looming over them that if they did anything against the government, they could not buy food.
It was under this cloud that Khan entered law school and first read the United States Constitution.
“The more I learned about the Constitution, the more I was amazed,” said the former Silver Spring resident.
He said he was most impressed with how the First Amendment instructs that the U.S. Congress shall make no law limiting freedom of religion, speech and the press, nor limit the right to assemble. All other countries, Khan said, spell out what rights their governments can limit, not which ones they cannot.
Since that night two years ago when Khan asked Trump if he had ever read the Constitution, he has spoken 240 times throughout the country and abroad. He continues receiving “hundreds of thousands of letters, cards and messages” of support, many from World War II survivors who remember a time when strangers were not welcome and people were killed for their beliefs, he said.
Khan recited from memory from one woman’s letter, in which she wrote, ‘“Had more people spoken before the Second World War, we could have avoided the war.’”
Not since World War II has this country faced so many “forces that are trying to disrupt our way of life, our freedom,” said Khan, whose sons attended John Kennedy F. High School in Wheaton.
His oldest son, Captain Humayun Khan, was serving in Iraq when he approached a taxi, signaling it to stop. The car exploded, and the 27-year-old was killed.
The family now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Khan was driving by when he heard shouts during the May 2017 riots concerning the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue.
He immediately ducked down in his car for fear of being recognized.
“I heard the chants from my own ears,” he said, referring to such refrains that day from the crowd as “The Jews will not replace us.”
Khan, who is the author of “An American Family – A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice” and “This is Our Constitution – for Middle School Students,” believes that Confederate statues should be removed “in the dark of the night” and placed somewhere out of public areas where people could still visit them, like in museums or warehouses.
“We should remember these monuments, but we should not celebrate,” he said.
The rally in which one woman was killed strengthened his resolve to continue speaking out, he said.
“We all should be more outspoken. We all should be demanding of our leaders,” Khan said.
“Somehow, we have taken peace for granted,” he said, adding, “This is not us. We have rejected this. We defeated hate.”
Violence in this country, particularly at religious institutions, has increased in the past two years, Khan said, while carefully avoiding any connection with Trump’s presidency.
Despite the violence and hatred, Khan is optimistic.
He recalled the first day he moved to America in 1980, to an apartment in Houston, Texas. He entered his new home with his wife and two young sons, not knowing a soul. Within a short time, there was a knock at his door.
He opened to see a woman holding two bags of food and toys, welcoming the family to the area.
“This is what the generosity of neighbors can do. It changes hearts. She didn’t ask what religion do I practice,” Khan said.
“I assure you this much. I have seen the sun rise on the other side of the mountain. We will have the sun rise again.”