Khizr Khan, the Pakistani American and Muslim father of US Army Captain Humayun Khan who was killed in 2004 while deployed during the Iraq War, says he has been forced to cancel a scheduled speaking engagement in Canada after learning that his “traveling privileges are being reviewed.”
Khan, who has been an American citizen for more than three decades, drew the ire of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump last year after a powerful speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, wherein Khan criticized Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and other planned policies. In an image that later went viral, Khan pulled out a pocket US Constitution and challenged Trump to read it. Said Khan:
Donald Trump, you’re asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law.”
Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing—and no one.
Despite the revered status typically reserved for Gold Star families — that is, the immediate relatives of those members of the armed forces who are killed in combat — Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala were subjected to immediate, defamatory, and racist criticism from the far Right in the wake of their appearance at the DNC. Trump reacted to Khan’s speech by suggesting that it had been written by the Clinton campaign (it had not) and implying that Ghazala had been prohibited from speaking publicly by her husband or her faith (she was, in fact, understandably distraught over the death of her son). Alt-right news outlets and conspiracy theory websites speculated that Khizr Khan was secretly a “terrorist agent”, an accusation seemingly based solely on his religious identity.
With Trump’s election, the Islamophobia that formed the basis of Khan’s criticism of the current president has come fully to bear. Today, Trump signed a new travel ban barring immigrants from six predominantly-Muslim countries and temporarily halting the entry of all Syrian refugees for four months. Last month, Trump’s first attempt to institute a Muslim travel ban was effectively overturned by immediate legal challenges. Yet, violent Islamophobia has become America’s new normal, as the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes since 9/11 have culminated in the shooting of four Indian and/or Indian American men (two of them fatally) in three separate attacks over the past ten days. In at least two of those attacks, the attacker appeared to mistake his victim for being Muslim and yelled “get out of [this] country” before opening fire.
Meanwhile, a news story broken by Canadian media earlier today suggests that Khan’s travel rights are under scrutiny, whether because of his race, his status as a foreign-born citizen, or his political viewpoints; or, possibly, some combination of all three. According to a statement issued by the organization that was to host Khan in Toronto tomorrow:
If this story is true — and that is a big “if — this is an alarming turn of events. Quite simply, Khan is a US citizen and a Muslim Asian American. He has a constitutional right to travel abroad that cannot be impeded without due process. The possibility that his travel rights are being threatened is alarming, particularly if this turns out to be punitive retribution for Khan’s political criticism of the sitting president. Furthermore, if true, this story would serve as a disturbing precedent for the two-thirds of Asian Americans who are foreign-born US citizens, and who might similarly find their constitutional rights uncertain.
To be fair, details about this story remain thin, and although several reputable Canadian outlets have picked up the story, it has not been corroborated by American mainstream media. There are ample reasons to be skeptical of this story, so I urge caution until then. Complicating matters, Khan has declined to comment on this story when approached by several news outlets.
This post will be updated as more details emerge.