Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Khizr Khan holds a copy of Constitution of the United States, that he offered to lend to Donald Trump, with his wife Ghazala Khan, during the last day of the Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Michael Bryant/TNS)


Bill C. Davis

In the election drama of 2016, Khzir Khan arrives as a brilliant deus ex machina. His choice of words, his dignified, eloquent cadence and honest tear-tinged timber has alerted the ears of a mesmerized population. He stands with a mature innocence - honor - compressed rage and grief. He spoke at the DNC and in ensuing interviews with words and phrases like "empathy"; "moral compass"; "a burden on your soul"; and "stewardship of this beautiful country." 

This is also a David and Goliath tale. He gave a six minute "statement," as he called it—with his good wife Ghazala next to him and his pamphlet as the stone slung at the inflated head of the Republican candidate. His response to the cheers from the crowd was putting his hand over his heart - acknowledging love more than approval.

"It's the lack of fraternity and empathy in the United States that makes this ship of state so land-locked; violent and aggressive."

He didn't perform. We notice how we re-calibrate our listening when someone starts to read or drops into a self conscious performance or starts to speechify. Those speakers have their eye and ear on how "this is all coming across." Not so with Khzir Khan. There is no other way to explain the nuclear fission of his six minutes.

Conventions often lapse into soccer matches - flags face-painted on cheeks. He didn't wave a flag - he waved the logic and words he presented as the unifying principle for citizens. Nothing else unifies the countrywe are not a gene poolor a nationality we're a citizenship of hyphenates. So the torch he brandished was the collection of words he claims as a rudder for his political and philosophical disposition, and assumes is the same for the rest of the people he shares the country with.

It was as if he was chastising, "are you part of this family or aren't you?" The genetic knot for this country is painted in words. This man chooses his words in an interesting and poetic way. But beyond that, his call for empathy is the most stunning contrast to the man he was addressing.

It's the lack of fraternity and empathy in the United States that makes this ship of state so land-locked; violent and aggressive. Trump has captured that gas - uses it as fuel and has called his legions of similarly stunted citizens to his side. He relishes the practice of humiliation. Fears humiliation. Empathy is an annoying speed bump toward victory.

Mr. Khan's prescription for leadership is the right one. Empathy and moral compass. Can it work in the United States? Can it work in a hyper-capitalist militarized system? It would be a transcendent contradiction if it could. This moment might be ripe for it.

When talking about the ten steps their son took to his death they both refer to the sense of responsibility his son had to the people he was protecting. Did he die to protect the constitution? I wonder how the criminality of the Iraq war weighs on both Khzir and Ghazala Khan.

This is not a fifteen minutes of fame moment. This is clarity of thought and reclamation of spirit from the broken and brave heart of a citizen poet. I hope they both continue to speak and take their ten steps and that Khzir continues to put his honest hand up to stop the car bomb rolling toward us.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Bill C. Davis

Bill C. Davis

Bill C. Davis was a playwright, writer, actor, and political activist.  He has been a contributor to Common Dreams since 2001. Bill died on February 26, 2021, at age 69, after a battle with COVID-19. Bill's Broadway debut — “Mass Appeal,” earned two Tony nominations and became a staple of community theater. Bill wrote the screenplay for the 1984 film adaptation of "Mass Appeal," starring Jack Lemmon and Zeljko Ivanek. 

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

'Unimaginably Catastrophic': Researchers Fear Gulf Stream System Could Collapse

"Scientists say we cannot allow this to happen. People in power stand in our way."

Jessica Corbett ·

Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott Calls Another Special Session to Attack Voting Rights

Republicans "waging war on our right to vote failed to pass anti-democratic legislation in the regular session and the last special session," said one advocate. "Texans are ready to make sure they fail again."

Kenny Stancil ·

'Time Is Running Out': Progressives Press Biden to Extend Student Loan Moratorium

"These are matters of life and death for people," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Julia Conley ·

'Fearless and Peerless' Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Leader, Dead at 72

The labor leader is being remembered as "a relentless champion of workers' rights, workplace safety, worker-centered trade, democracy, and so much more."

Andrea Germanos ·

ACLU Sues Over 'Illegal and Inhumane' Migrant Transportation Order in Texas

"Gov. Abbott's executive order is blatantly unconstitutional and threatens to turn Texas into a 'show me your papers' state."

Jessica Corbett ·