Khizr Khan interview on “Face the Nation” regarding his book, An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice
(Random House, 2017)
What are the big take-aways?
In honor of Veterans Day this month, and in awe of Khizr Khan’s extraordinary dedication – as a Gold Star parent – to transcending the cultural divisions the U.S. is currently grappling with, I want to lift up Khan’s leadership and his fascinating book. For me, the big take-away from his October 22nd interview with John Dickerson on “Face the Nation” was Khan’s startling reverence and gratitude for our nation’s founding documents. His message is a wake-up call to all U.S citizens to get back to basics. (When was the last time you read the Constitution, beginning to end?)
Why do I like it?
What I strongly responded to in the “Face the Nation” interview was the poignancy of Khan’s story of his journey to American citizenship as a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, how he and his wife Ghazala raised three boys in Maryland, and the family’s experience of losing the eldest son – a captain in the U.S. Army – who was killed in Iraq in 2004, trying to stop a suicide bombing.
Khan’s life narrative starkly highlights the true meaning of military service from his perspective: to protect the principles behind the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. I like that Khan – an attorney who put himself through the Harvard Law School LL.M. program – rises above and beyond political party affiliations to lend an inspiring and reaffirming voice to these wobbly times in our democracy.
From the interview transcript:
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me - describe for a moment the Declaration of Independence, where you first read it. And that, you talked about Jefferson, so we'll bring his work on the table here. What was that like the first time you read it?
KHIZR KHAN: I was 22 years old in Pakistan, had taken a course in Comparative Study of Constitutions of the World. Among the materials, the very first page was the Declaration of Independence. I looked at it. We come from in Asian countries then from colonized part of the world. Amazing, amazing document I read.
Is there a nation on Earth that declares its independence? Independence is given. Independence is attained. Independence is politically argued and received. Is there a nation? So that love affair started in 1972. And I am still in awe. Those 1,338 words of the Declaration of Independence, I implore all Americans to read it, how we founded this blessed nation.
JOHN DICKERSON: Finally, you have stepped into the political arena at the Democratic Convention. What has it been like since then?
KHIZR KHAN: It has been journey of hope, bridge building, interfaith dialogue, standing with those who truly care for the values of this country. We will prevail. I have seen the hope and aspiration in the eyes and in the hearts and in the minds of the people that I have dealt with throughout this nation. We are blessed to have all this.
I remembered the moment, and we explain that in the book in much more detail, when I became citizen of United States. I wish every American reads the Oath of Citizenship that I took. I had nothing when I went in human dignity terms, nothing when I went to take that oath. I came out blessed with all dignities that a human being aspires to have. It's that story that we write in the book.
In what situations would this be useful?
I’m in the midst of reading that book, An American Family, which is beautifully written in lovely, intimate and candid language.
Khizr Khan’s family odyssey would be useful in a variety of situations involving formal and informal leadership, including as a compelling example of being the “leader of your own life.” It’s a narrative about persistence, self-respect, love, risk-taking, compassion, creating and seizing opportunities, taking a stand for your values, and grieving honestly. One of the most illuminating aspects of leadership that Khan articulates is the role of gratitude in maintaining resilience while living with perhaps the most devastating of losses: the death of a child. This is not unrelated to the leadership wisdom of his beloved son, Captain Humayun Khan, who once offered this sophisticated observation about a fundamental paradox of leadership at an ROTC ceremony (p. 200):
I’ve found success not a harbor, but a voyage, with its own perils of the spirit. The game of life is to achieve that which you set out to do. There is always danger of failing. The lesson that most of us on this voyage never learn, but never quite forget, is that to win is sometimes to lose. Don’t lose sight of your humanness.
What other resources might “pair” well with it?
It may seem like an odd pairing, but the first book that leaps to my mind is Margaret Wheatley’s Who Do We Choose To Be, previously reviewed in the Leadership Library. In it, she explores what it means to be a Warrior for the Human Spirit, and summons us “to be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humanness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil” (p. 8). Her message is delivered very differently from Khizr Khan’s, but in my view they resonate with each other in surprising and provocative ways.