One a father of an Army hero, the other a father of a terrorist villain. The common thread â€“ the Hillary campaign.
Khizr Khan, flanked by his wife Ghazala, spoke at the Democratic convention in Philly about his son, Captain Humayun Khan who was killed in Iraq in 2009. That Captain Khan was a hero is not in doubt; he put himself in the way of a suicide bomber to protect his men from harm. This son of Pakistani migrants showed the best of the American spirit, and is rightly remembered for his sacrifice.
If merely highlighting his sonâ€™s life and death was the extent of the Khans convention appearance it would have been a short media story. Instead it degenerated into a spat with Donald Trump, which weeks later is still not quite over. Democrats and their promotional arm, the media, were outraged that anyone would criticise parents of a fallen hero, or, as the talking points had it â€œsmearâ€ them.
Whoever injects themselves into a political debate or campaign, particularly in such a prominent way, opens themselves to becoming part of the story. This is such a basic reality of public life that itâ€™s staggering to see it as somehow contentious or unfair. Background, record, motives become open to discussion. Such discussion should not turn into ugly personal attacks, but by the same token having lost oneâ€™s child in tragic circumstances is not an amulet to shield one from any response or criticism.
A lot of what went for â€œsmearingâ€ was pretty pedestrian, such as details of Khizr Khanâ€™s tangential ties to the Democratic Party or his work in migration law. I mean duh; a speaker at the Democratic convention supports Democrats and their policies. Of more consequence were Khanâ€™s past academic writings that could be implying the supremacy of Sharia above all other law. This would have made mockery of his famous waving of the American Constitution at Donald Trump. None of this is any way reflects on or detracts from Captain Khanâ€™s life and heroic death, but if you are going to use your sonâ€™s sacrifice as a political weapon in a presidential campaign you canâ€™t expect immunity from scrutiny yourself.
The other father is Seddique Mateen, the father of Omar, who a few weeks ago gunned down 49 party-goers at an Orlando nightclub, after having sworn allegiance to ISIS. Early this week, Mateen Sr was spotted sitting in the backdrop of Hillary Clintonâ€™s election rally in Kissimmee, Florida. The Clinton campaign denied the invitation or indeed any knowledge.
Omar Mateen, prior to his shooting spree at the Pulse nightclub, was a registered Democrat and a Hillary supporter. His fatherâ€™s convoluted political beliefs include support for the Taliban, but he too has come out now in strong support of Hillaryâ€™s presidential bid. And, as the events of Monday night show, he has somehow found his way to a choice position at a Clinton rally. Needless to say itâ€™s pretty bad optics. At the same time, just as Humayan Khanâ€™s heroic death doesnâ€™t confer extra grace on his father, so Omar Mateenâ€™s act of terrorism shouldnâ€™t be a sin visited upon Seddique. Both fathers should be judged on their own merit.