I write this open letter to you as a Muslim American whose loyalty to the United States is at least as unwavering as your own obstinacy in insisting that we are the enemy.
Here’s the truth, Donald.
150 years after the Civil War, we are locked in another kind of conflict that is yet again revealing the values that define us as Americans. What you have consistently and conclusively proved is that, in every sense of the word, you fall short of these values.
Let me set the context.
On April 30, 1864, during the dark days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, wrote to his general, Ulysses S. Grant to inspire him and rally his troops to preserve the Union. “You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this,” wrote Lincoln, “I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster, or the capture of our men in great numbers, shall be avoided, I know these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it. And now with a brave Army, and a just cause, may God sustain you.”
Contrast this with your own mocking disdain of veterans like Sen. John McCain, a fighter pilot who endured horrific torture during the Vietnam War. “He’s not a war hero,” you claimed. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” But nowhere has your disrespect for soldiers who sacrificed their lives for our country, and their families, been more stark than in your wanton battle of words with the parents of fallen soldier Captain Humayun Khan, killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2004.
At the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia last week, Khizr Khan, father of Humayun Khan, outraged by your proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, demanded to know if you have ever even read the U.S. Constitution. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” he told you in front of thousands of delegates and hundreds of thousands more watching.
When Khizr Khan pulled out a copy of the Constitution from his pocket and offered to lend it to you so you would know what words like “liberty” and “equal protection of law” mean, you knew it would be one of the most iconic moments in this momentous election. You had to respond. And so you did, in the only way you know how; through a combination of misogyny, ignorance, bigotry, arrogance and vindictiveness that has become your trademark. You aimed your derision first at Ghazala Khan, wife of Khizr Khan, who stood silently by, an image of her late son displayed above the crowds before her, as her husband listed your glaring failings.
You insinuated that she was an oppressed woman who was not allowed to speak. “His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say,” you said. You compared your “sacrifices” in building your business empire to that of Ghazala Khan, a Gold Star Mother, someone who you, in your bigoted ignorance, could never imagine would roar back against your insinuations. In an opinion piece in one of America’s leading newspapers, she explained that she was silent because she was still traumatized by her son’s death. Her husband did indeed ask her to speak but she simply couldn’t, and it didn’t matter because, as she wrote, “whoever saw me felt me in their heart.”
Still, despite your shameful rhetoric and woeful shortcomings, it would be a fatal mistake to underestimate your candidacy. Psychologists tell us that in uncertain times some people are drawn to demagogues who promise them certainty. It was so with Mussolini and it was so with Hitler. And one of the fundamental lessons of statistics is that the improbable can happen because the improbable is not impossible.
But I say this with confidence that a majority of Americans will reject your message of hate and intolerance. They will find you wanting in thought, action, habit and character, as defined by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
Donald, come November you will come to understand the wisdom in these words.
Until then, I want you to know that I join not only my fellow Muslim Americans, but all minorities and mainstream Americans — white, black, brown, rich, poor, religious, atheist, struggling, striving — in rejecting your politics of hate and bigotry, and in upholding the values that have made this nation what it is today.
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Hasan ZIlur Rahim is a professor of Mathematics at San Jose City College. He emigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S. four decades ago.