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For Republicans and Democrats both, the patriotism of Muslims is always in question

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It was difficult to pinpoint which of the speeches given at the Democratic National Convention last week was the most electrifying: Michelle Obama, with her stirring reminder that she wakes up every morning in a house built by slaves; Joe Biden, with his befitting incredulity of Donald Trump as a presidential nominee ("It's a bunch of malarkey. He has no clue about what makes America great"); or former mayor Michael Bloomberg who threw the best punches: "I'm a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one."

But it was a speech from an ordinary father, Khizr Khan, whose American Muslim son died in military service in Iraq, that was the most remarkable -- as proven by the political fallout of the past few days. Since Mr. Trump's inflammatory rebuttal to Mr. Khan's remarks on Friday, the candidate has been sharply criticized by leading Republicans, including Arizona Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war; and Brian Duffy, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Both rebuked Mr. Trump's criticism of Gold Star families, those who have lost a loved one in military service to the country. It's unfolding like a dream for those opposed to Mr. Trump. Except when you consider the Democrats' own discomfiting reaction to Mr. Khan's speech.

"Let me ask you," said Mr. Khan, a Harvard-trained lawyer, speaking directly to Mr. Trump as he pulled out a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution, with a photo of his son looming on the screen behind him. "Have you even read the United States Constitution?...In this document, look for the words 'liberty' and 'equal protection of law.'"

Loud cheers ensued. But those comments didn't receive as much applause as had the opening line of Mr. Khan's speech: "Tonight, we are honoured to stand here as parents of Captain Humayun Khan and as patriotic American Muslims -- with undivided loyalty to our country."

That was all it took for the crowd to go wild. The applause went on for so long that Mr. Khan had to raise his hand in a gesture to halt.

From a Canadian lens, the response felt deeply disconcerting. It has become painfully clear that the term "patriotic American Muslim" has become a politically loaded term across the border. Is the idea of a Muslim being a proud citizen so novel that it merits thunderous applause? In the United States, it seems to be. Would a Canadian crowd respond with the same fervour to a Muslim who declared his patriotism and "undivided loyalty" to Canada from the start? I hope not.

I hope that a Canadian Muslim would never feel the need to start any major address to a national audience with a declaration of allegiance. The very idea of doing so -- and of thousands responding to it with such zeal -- would suggest that the speaker's loyalty is in question.

The Democrats' gleeful reaction to that line was reminiscent of another awkward moment at the convention, when, in his own speech, former president Bill Clinton attempted to include Muslims in his vision of America: "If you're a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together....We want you," he declared -- again to rapt applause.

Many American Muslims didn't take kindly to what some said felt like a new rendition of the "you're either with us or against us" mantra of the Bush era after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As policy analyst Yousef Munayyer tweeted, "If you're a Muslim and you hate terror...? Imagine if he said, 'If you're black and you hate crime.'"

And how did Mr. Trump respond to Mr. Khan's address? He evaded the issues and threw out another racial slur. After suggesting that Hillary Clinton's speechwriters wrote the speech, he turned on Mr. Khan's wife, who had stood next to him on stage. "If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say," Mr. Trump said, adding: "Maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say."

It was a new low, even for him. As for Ghazala Khan, she responded with an opinion piece in The Washington Post, saying that she chose not to speak because she was afraid she would be overwhelmed with emotion about her son. "Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?"

The months ahead are more worrying than ever for minority communities in the United States. But if there was one silver lining from the Democratic convention, it was that there is still hope for a Trump-less America. As Michelle Obama put it when describing how she and the President instruct their daughters on how to deal with bullies: "When they go low, we go high."

This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail.

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