The dilemma faced by progressive Muslim Americans

A huge amount of media attention has been given to the short speech by Khizr Khan, with his wife Ghazal Khan by his side, on the last night of the Democratic convention.

Khan, whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, 27, died from a suicide bombing in Baghdad 12 years ago, said Trump’s shifting proposals to ban Muslims from entering the country would have prevented his late son from serving in the military. The Khans, originally from Pakistan, immigrated to the United States in the 1970s from the United Arab Emirates.

Here is the speech.

While the speech was welcomed by most Muslim Americans, many of whom smart under the sting of prejudice, there was also some ambivalence about it seeming to provide unconditional support for American militarism.

“I think it was an incredibly moving moment,” said Zareena Grewal, a professor at Yale University and author of “Islam is a Foreign Country.”

“Khizr and Ghazala Khan paid the ultimate price and moved the crowd and those of us at home with one of the simplest but most powerful testimonies at the DNC. I was touched by their love for their son and their country and their defiant conviction in American values.”

At the same time, Grewal said she was troubled that anti-war chants were silenced at the convention, and she, like many American Muslims, opposed the Iraq war in which Khan’s son died. Last September, four of Grewal’s family members — all innocent civilians — died in American-led airstrikes in Mosul, Iraq.

“I hope there is still room in the DNC for anti-war progressives such as myself. And I wonder if American Muslims who are anti-war pacifists can be seen as patriotic, or if we only want Muslims to be peaceful when they oppose terrorism, but not when they oppose violent U.S. foreign policies, including the hawkish policies Clinton too often supports,” Grewal said.

Progressive Muslim Americans like Grewal are in an unenviable position, having to walk a very fine line of avoiding being seen as fifth columnists while not being supportive of militarism.


  1. V. Amarnath says

    Choosing to join military for economic or other reasons (my father was an officer in Indian Air Force) should not be equated to militarism. Decision to go to war is made by people outside the military.

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