INDIANAPOLIS — Donald Trump’s spat with the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq 12 years ago shows just how much prejudice costs us.
Capt. Humayan Khan died in 2004 saving the lives of the troops he led. Khan and the soldiers under his command approached a suspicious-looking vehicle. He ordered the soldiers to stay back and went forward to inspect the vehicle himself.
The vehicle blew up, killing him.
He was 27.
The troops he led survived. After Khan’s death, they paid tribute to his humor, his leadership and his courage.
After his death, Khan was honored with both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
Khan was a Muslim. His father and mother — Khizr and Ghazala Khan — are among the 6 million Muslims living in the United States.
The Khans immigrated here for the oldest and best of American reasons. They wanted to build better lives for themselves and their children.
They taught their son to respect the laws of this land, to revere the U.S. Constitution and to idolize Thomas Jefferson. They made frequent pilgrimages to the Jefferson Memorial, where the author of the Declaration of Independence’s immortal quote is carved in stone:
“I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Humayan Khan attended and graduated from the school Jefferson founded, the University of Virginia. Khan and his family saw his enlistment in the U.S. Army as an act of devotion to the country that had nurtured and welcomed them.
Because they are Muslims, the Khans, of course, are the sort of people Trump, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, has said he wants to ban from entering this country.
If Trump had his way, the Khans wouldn’t be here.
And the soldiers Capt. Khan led in Iraq likely wouldn’t be alive.
That’s the true tragedy of making blanket (and negative) assumptions about entire groups of people based on how they pray, where they come from, the color of their skin or whom they love.
Doing so blinds us not just to the humanity we all share but to the capacity any individual has to improve the lives of others.
The soldiers Humayan Khan led likely are glad he and his family came to the United States. So, probably, are the people who love those soldiers — their parents, their spouses, their children and their friends.
Trump said his quarrel isn’t with Capt. Khan but with what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism.”
But blaming an entire faith tradition for the actions of deluded individuals and splinter groups is fundamentally un-American. Should we have banned or suppressed Christians because of the horrific acts of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh or Atlanta Olympics and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph?
Should we refer to them as “radical Christian terrorists” and demean a whole religion in the process?
Of course not.
We held McVeigh and Rudolph responsible for their actions as individuals — not as representatives of their faiths or of this country.
That is the essence of the great American experiment.
The individual matters.
Human beings matter not because of the way they worship or where they were born or whom they marry. Human beings matter because they are human beings.
We Americans have not always honored this creed, of course. Our history of slavery, segregation, disenfranchisement of women, anti-German prejudice during World War I, internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II and too many other instances of bigotry to list are evidence of how often we have fallen short of honoring our best principles.
But it is the language of our fundamental governing documents — our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution — that always indicts us when we do fall short.
Thomas Jefferson, the Khans’ hero, did not write:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that some men are created equal and others are not.”
Jefferson, of course, was a slave owner, but his words helped inspire us to see freedom as a birthright for all Americans.
That is what Donald Trump cannot see. Because he sees types rather than individual human beings, he misses that truth that is self-evident.
Capt. Humayan Khan was a hero.
He and his parents are good people and fine Americans.
They also are Muslims.
And that’s not a contradiction.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.