If Khizr Khan had it his way, he and his wife, Ghazala, would lead quiet, private lives.
But Khan, the father of an American Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, knew that when he chastised Donald Trump at last year’s Democratic National Convention, his world would never be the same.
It was a sacrifice he felt obliged to make.
“We’re private people, modest, humble citizens, grateful citizens of this country,” Khan said in an interview this week. “We chose to stand for our values in support of our children. You must remain standing in defense of [your] values.”
Khan, whose son, Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004, has lived in the public eye since he decried Trump’s proposed restrictions on Muslim immigration, telling the Republican nominee, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
Khan, who lives in Charlottesville, Va., visited Cambridge Monday to promote his new book, “An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice.” Khan said his memoir, which traces his life from his early years in Pakistan, was not his story alone, but the story of all immigrants.
Immigrants “struggle to become part of the community where we move, we make an effort to become members of the community where we migrate to, and that is what makes us a contributing member of the community,” he said. “That we want good for ourselves, better for our community, and for our country.”
Khan said Trump’s recent clash with Myesha Johnson, the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, one of four US soldiers killed in Niger last month, was “disgraceful,” as were subsequent remarks by John Kelly, the White House chief of staff. In a condolence call, President Trump told the soldier’s widow that Johnson “knew what he signed up for,” according to a Florida congresswoman who listened to the conversation. Trump denied her account, and Kelly said he was stunned that a member of Congress had listened to the call.
“We honor [Kelly’s] sacrifice, we honor his service and his family’s sacrifice, but now he is in support of the most bigoted president in the history of the United States,” Khan said.
Khan said Kelly’s “full incompetency was on display when he advised the president to make the phone call, knowing full well that this president lacks empathy.”
“Such calls require the utmost dignity and restraint . . . and that was not done,” he said.
Yet Khan said he remains optimistic about the country’s future, in part because Trump’s presidency has served as a galvanizing force.
“I’m very hopeful about American values, that we will prevail,” he said. “We’re going through an anomaly, and the majority of the nation is concerned and worried about our democracy and our values. Whenever there is such a sentiment, the goodness of this nation, the goodness that is enshrined in our documents — Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights — those values begin to prevail.”
The majority of Americans “are very much aware of this assault,” Khan said, and are prepared to fight back.
In his convention speech, which vaulted him to prominence, Khan held up a pocket copy of the Constitution and challenged Trump to read it.
“Let me ask you: Have you even read the US Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words liberty and equal protection of law,” he said.
Khan said reading the Constitution reminds people of the genius of American democracy and inspires them to protect it.
“We encourage all America to read, one more time, [the Founding Fathers’ documents] so that our faith in our democracy and our democratic values and systems is reaffirmed,” he said.
The Khans have also published a second a book, written for middle-school children, titled “This Is Our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father.”
The proceeds of both books go to the Captain Humayun Khan Memorial Bicentennial Scholarship at the University of Virginia.