Khizr Khan’s admonition of Donald Trump’s racist, bigoted rhetoric at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia once again highlights how damaging Trump’s policy of dividing communities can be for America. Considering that Khizr Khan’s son, Captain Humayun Khan, sacrificed his life for his homeland during the Iraq War of 2004, it is reprehensible that Khan and others like him feel compelled to provide certifications of patriotism for their homeland. Although it is encouraging that many Republicans and Democrats have criticized Trump’s attacks upon the Khan family, the power of Trump’s rhetoric still has troubling implications for the United States—for the peace and well-being of its minority groups specifically, and its internal stability generally.
The experience of several South Asian countries has shown the devastating impact that socially divisive rhetoric can have upon on a population over time. Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan all serve as examples where polarizing words and active discrimination against minority groups have had disastrous effects on the social fabric of the state. In Sri Lanka, for example, the Tamil population faced systematic discrimination from the government and violence from the majority Sinhalese population, such as the 1983 riots, in which Tamils were targeted after a deadly ambush by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (an ethnic Tamil terrorist organization) had killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers. Despite a majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka denouncing the activities of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government kept up repression, exacerbating violence against Tamils for decades. In India, recent incidents of Hindu hyper-nationalists targeting Muslims, such as the Dadri mob lynching incident, and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party not reigning in the fringe effectively indicate troubling times. As for Pakistan, the policies of former president Zia Ul Haq to single out ‘non- Sunni’ Muslims not only precipitated wide-spread discrimination against Shia Muslims but also had a bearing on sectarian tensions which continue till today. Although these examples may be excessive and Trump’s rhetoric may not lead to violence, his objective to single out entire minority communities could have a severe impact on social relations and interfaith harmony within the United States, and could even negatively impact relations between Muslim countries and America.
The pushback from a wide spectrum of Americans against Trump’s rhetoric is a welcome sign for all those who believe in policies that promote respect for all cultures, beliefs, and religions. At the same time, however, his rhetoric and surprisingly large popular support base have dangerous overtones, which threaten to undermine the value of inclusivity that is a fundamental benchmark of the American character.