It started with a dignified woman standing on stage, on television, stoically bearing witness to the dead son her husband spoke about with grieving passion. When that husband challenged the nation’s premiere bully to read the Constitution, that bully set his sights on the woman.
Of course he did. This is a man who used to own an international beauty pageant, a man who reduces women to their appearance and their bodies. He fixates on what shape and size they are as well as what they choose to wear. The New York Times described it as “unending commentary on the female form.”
This woman, Ghazala Khan, is an immigrant from Pakistan, a brown woman wearing hijab in public. A Muslim woman.
Donald Trump’s first and most revealing reaction to Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention made it about Ghazala:
“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”
This comes from a man who has called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and who wants to round up and deport millions of people living and working in the U.S. He is on record as a religious bigot and a racist.
The continued escalation of Trump’s disgusting war against the Khan family over the weekend started with a woman in hijab. Men like Donald Trump inscribe the meanings they need onto women’s bodies. This is how sexism functions, how rape culture works, and how patriarchy keeps women distracted and fixated on their bodies instead of their minds and souls. For some critics of hijab itself, it is how politicized religion requires women’s bodies to bear the burdens of sexist assumptions about male desire. The oppression of the male gaze is cross-cultural, and so is the assumption that what a woman wears tells you everything you need to know about her.
Ghazala Khan did speak. And just a few of her words are far more valuable than all the words Donald Trump will ever utter:
“Here is my answer to Donald Trump: Because without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart. … every day I feel the pain of [Humayun’s] loss. It has been 12 years, but you know hearts of pain can never heal as long as we live. Just talking about it is hard for me all the time. Every day, whenever I pray, I have to pray for him, and I cry. The place that emptied will always be empty.
“I cannot walk into a room with pictures of Humayun. … Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me, I could hardly control myself. What mother could?
“Donald Trump said that maybe I wasn’t allowed to say anything. That is not true. My husband asked me if I wanted to speak, but I told him I could not. My religion teaches me that all human beings are equal in God’s eyes. Husband and wife are part of each other; you should love and respect each other so you can take care of the family.
“When Donald Trump is talking about Islam, he is ignorant. If he studied the real Islam and Koran, all the ideas he gets from terrorists would change, because terrorism is a different religion.”
She’s right. He is ignorant about Islam. And terrorism too for that matter.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that learning about Islam would be enough for Donald Trump. His religious illiteracy intersects with his sexism and racism. Had she not worn hijab, had she been white, had she been from Peoria instead of Pakistan, perhaps he would not have focused his attack on her so immediately.
But one thing we know about misogynists and racists is that nothing women or people of color can do, say, or wear will ever allow them to escape this kind of disrespect and hatred.