By Azeezah Kanji, op-ed commentary published in the Toronto Star, Aug 5, 2016
It is not enough to empathize with the Khans; we must also mourn for the thousands of Iraqi families bereaved because of the war he fought in
Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son Humayun died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, became luminaries of the Democratic National Convention for their blistering takedown of Donald Trump.
“Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son ‘the best of America.’ If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America,” Khizr Khan proclaimed at the Convention. “We can’t solve our problems by building walls and sowing division. We are stronger together. And we will keep getting stronger when Hillary Clinton becomes our next president.”
U.S. army Capt. Humayun Khan was killed in 2004 alongside two Iraqi civilians in a suicide bombing in Baqubah. All three — and so many thousands more — were the casualties of a war widely regarded as illegal by international legal experts, and condemned as immoral by activists and intellectuals.
The recently released report of the Chilcot Inquiry, convened by the U.K. government, is a damning record of the jingoism that precipitated the war, and the manipulation involved in selling it to the world. “The U.K. chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted,” the inquiry concluded. “Military action at that time was not a last resort.” The Chilcot findings support what anti-war activists have long maintained: his was an illegally launched and incompetently executed war of aggression.
The costs of this aggression have been steep. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died because of the conflict, and millions more have been displaced. Cancers and birth defects have multiplied in areas heavily bombarded during the war, in some places exceeding rates in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the American nuclear assault of the Second World War. The devastation of Iraq has generated instability across the region; Daesh was born in the ashes of the invasion.
The debacle of the war in Iraq should remind us that Islamophobia does not always come wrapped in the conspicuous neon-orange packaging of Donald Trump. Its most deadly forms have often been less ostentatious, permitting massive exercises of violence against people dehumanized and demonized as “terrorists” — and with the support of politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, who are now acclaimed as the anti-racist antithesis to Trump.
(As Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs put it, “Hillary’s record as Secretary of State is among the most militaristic, and disastrous, of modern US history … Hillary was a staunch defender of the military-industrial-intelligence complex at every turn, helping to spread the Iraq mayhem over a swath of violence that now stretches from Mali to Afghanistan.”)
Trump and his advisers should undoubtedly be denounced for their overtly racist attacks on the Khan family: the suggestion that Ghazala was silent at the Convention podium because Muslim women are not allowed to speak; the accusation that Khizr is a terrorist agent. But the fixation on Trump’s wall-building and division-sowing rhetoric threatens to divert our attention from the walls already built and the divisions already sown by the war policies of successive American governments.
It is not enough to empathize with the Khans for their sacrifice of their soldier son; we must also mourn for the thousands of Iraqi families bereaved because of the war he fought in (even though they were not memorialized at the Democratic Convention).
It is not enough to affirm Ghazala Khan’s ability to speak; we must also demand the right of girls and women victimized by the “war on terror,” such as Nabila Rehman, to be heard. (Nabila’s grandmother was killed by a CIA drone strike in Pakistan. When she travelled with her family to Washington to testify before Congress in 2013, only five out of 430 representatives bothered to show up.)
Humayun Khan’s death should be treated as an indictment of American militarism, rather than deployed in an uncritical celebration of Muslim American patriotism. It is dangerous to confuse anti-racism with the multiculturalization of violent imperialism, to conflate anti-Islamophobia with the participation of Muslim Americans in a “war on terror” that has killed and maimed thousands of Muslims around the world. If that is our vision of victory, then we have already lost.
Azeezah Kanji is a legal analyst and writer based in Toronto.
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