Huma Abedin: Refusing to be humiliated

Outspoken Right-wingers have attacked the heritage, upbringing of Anthony Weiner's wife. Is it because she is Muslim?

Laleen Khan June 24, 2011
Generally, the world loves to side with famous women whose celebrity husbands’ extramarital escapades are chronicled by scandalous headlines. Judging by the smorgasbord of sympathetic magazine covers, TV chatter and internet buzz that supported the marital tribulations of Maria Shriver-Kennedy-Schwarznegger (her ‘Governorator’ husband’s affair with their housekeeper that resulted in a ten-year-old son), Elin Nordegren-Woods (whose golfer husband Tiger’d it out with countless prostitutes) and, of course, Jennifer Aniston-Pitt (who continues to get public sympathy six years after the Brangelina coupling), Huma Abedin-Weiner should be the public’s darling by now.

Instead, she seems to be bearing the brunt of the bigoted, self-righteous backlash to Weinergate while she remains maddeningly calm.

Until recently, Abedin, 35, had managed to maintain a reasonably low profile in a high profile career (she is Secretary Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff).  Congressman Anthony Weiner's, 46, (Dem/NY with 7 straight terms) sexting scandal not only ‘exposed’ his lascivious fascination for college students and porn stars but has also threatened his wife’s public image (the same Congressman Wiener who introduced a bill against internet predators five years ago).

Outspoken Right-Wingers have gone far beyond mainstream neo-Con ‘Weiner’s weiner’ jokes (as well Wiener’s own wiseguy-phallic humour), to attacking the heritage and upbringing of his wife (and, thereby, the Democrats) for alleged links to radical Islamists, all in the name of protecting American national interest. While Islamophobic ranting has led to fulsome conjecture and conspiracy theories whizzing across cyberspace, here in Pakistan, it seems absurdly unjust that Abedin’s Saudi upbringing is seen as suspicious; after all, Saudi Arabia is America’s leading ally in the Middle East, but then, so is Pakistan, though Abedin’s half-Pakistani ethnicity has also contributed to the backlash she’s experiencing.

At best, she’s been called “unflappable” by the Washington Post. The Washington Times briefly posted a racist blog (before removing it soon after) by Eliana Benador, former president of Benador Associates (who worked on spin doctoring Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ in the media) and US Representative of the Shomron Liaison Office (Israel-occupied West Bank).

According to Benador,
“Huma and the silent creeping Sharia(h)…” would “advance a socialist-Muslim agenda” in Congress and “bankrupt America, breaking its population and paving the way to surrender to wealthy Muslims” like the Saudi Royals.

Had her name been Jennifer (or Aniston), we could have expected headlines in the vein of “Huma’s Anguish” and more sympathetic covers than being called “Mrs. Crotch” by sex blogger, Shirley Coco. Either Abedin is an easy target or her calm, collected persona prevents her from instigating positive reactions in her favour. In any case, Abedin doesn’t try to appear like a victim and succeeds in coming across as elegantly in her marital crises as she does in her evening gowns. On Facebook, there are only a handful of people who have started fan pages and groups in her name.  As of June 24th, “Huma Abedin for Congress” had a paltry 83 members while Support Huma Abedin—she should leave Anthony Weiner had a dismal 20 members. Anthony Weiner’s official fan page, on the other hand, had 59,671 members.

Now, former Congressman Weiner is heavily into social networking (as his Twitter scandal illustrated), whereas Abedin has always maintained a low profile. She enjoys the rare privilege of being a Muslim woman who enjoys Hillary Clinton’s confidence, from the Office of the First Lady to the New York Senate and the State Department. The only other known South Asian-American Muslim woman in an influential position at the State Depertment is the Srinager-born Farah Pandith, who also reports directly to Secretary Clinton as the Special Representative for Muslim Communities.

Very impressive, ladies!

- Huma Mahmood Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1976, raised in Saudi Arabia and speaks English, Arabic and Urdu.

- She studied at GWU (George Washington University in Washington, DC), and has worked for Hillary Clinton for a decade and a half.

- Her father, Syed Zainul Abedin (who died in 1993), was an Indian Saudi who founded an institute on interfaith dialogue, while her Pakistani mother, Prof. Saleha Mahmood Abedin, is a prominent educationist in Jeddah who pioneered a women’s college.

- She also has a sister, Heba, a fashion stylist in New York, and a brother, Dr. Hassan Abedin, who is a Fellow at Oxford University’s Centre for Islamic Studies.

The Nation newspaper in Pakistan called her “dignified” but that’s about all that’s been said about Abedin here in Pakistan, where male politicians’ adulterous behaviour has never lost them significant political standing, and where the wives of famous figures aren’t given much sympathetic editorial space to begin with. The US media circus and its fixation with the private lives of its elected representatives remains an enigma here. Washingtonian politics, far more conservative than Islamabad’s, have cost many American politicians their careers including several presidential hopefuls and even the impeachment of a former president, all for the sake of an illicit relationship.

The Huffington Post cited the Weiner-Abedin pairing as a living example of their theory that “attractive men don’t make the best husbands,” yet, continued the report, high powered women continue to look for physical attractiveness in their mates. Although Weiner could be perceived by some as attractive, it’s Abedin who’s described more frequently as “beautiful,” along with “well coiffed,” “elegant” and “smart” by political aides, journalists and colleagues. A slender 5’6,” she has distinctly Indo-Pak features with characteristically medium-long dark hair. She’s famously tightlipped about her personal life, which includes ex-boyfriends from Hollywood’s enviable A-list, George Clooney and John Cusack.

In 2010, Time magazine listed her among their complimentary “40 under-40s,” feature describing her as Hillary’s second “shadow.” She has also featured in a glamorous photo shoot for US Vogue in 2007, where Hillary is quoted as saying:
“Abedin has the energy of a woman in her 20s, the confidence of a woman in her 30s, the experience of a woman in her 40s, and the grace of a woman in her 50s. She is timeless, her combination of poise, kindness, and intelligence are matchless.”

However, even the closeness of Abedin with her boss has met with untoward suspicion—‘is she Hillary’s secret lover and does she live with the Clinton’s household,’ went the malicious Republican rumour mill. Even Huma’s elegant wardrobe, penchant for designer handbags and purchasing of an apartment in an upscale Washington DC neighbourhood has conspiracy theorists wondering where her money came from, suggesting that she is a Saudi intelligence officer.Yet, there are others in the American media who identify the backlash as a blatant witch hunt against Huma Abedinand Eliana Benador’s blog as paranoid Islamophobia.

Huma Abedin started her illustrious career as an intern at the Office of the First Lady and has remained by her side since. In 1996, while Monica Lewinsky infamously interned for President Bill Clinton, Huma earned Hillary’s trust during the ensuing scandal and has remained by her side since then; she was her right hand person during Hillary’s meteoric rise to New York Senator, during her presidential campaign, and continues to be her trusted confidante at the State Department. Hillary is always effusive in her praise of her, promoting her from Intern to Staff Assistant to the First Lady’s Chief of Staff, and then to aide and advisor to Traveling Chief of Staff before her current role as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State.

Weiner courted Abedin during Hillary’s presidential campaign in 2008 and, according to a speech he made at their wedding, he pursued Huma relentlessly despite her initial rejection of him. She was aware of Weiner’s playboy past, though unlikely to have guessed that it would continue into their married life together. The besotted couple married in July 2010 with her family’s blessing (aka ‘rishta’), at the fairytale-like Oheka Castle in Long Island, New York, in a garden ceremony with a jazz band playing in the background and the glamorous guests dressed in tuxes and gowns. At a pre-wedding celebration earlier, Hillary had made a touching speech, saying:
“I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma,”

On the Abedin-Weiner wedding day, the bride wore her Pakistani grandmother’s heirloom necklace and a custom designed ravishing east-west fusion gown using a burnt gold palette by Oscar de la Renta. Designer De La Renta, a close friend of the Clintons’ and Abedin’s, spoke fondly of Huma saying that he made her a dress "that reflected her history."

He added:
"It was like dressing Scheherazade, the beautiful queen from 'One Thousand and One Nights.'"

The ceremony was officiated by former President Bill Clinton, who remarked ominously at the time that politicians did not make easy spouses because it is “easy to distrust them, whatever their religion.”

In wake of the sexting scandal and the revelation that she was pregnant with the couple’s first child, she continued her rigorous job and continued to travel with Clinton as she immersed herself into her work since Huma Abedin is not merely the wife of a Congressman but a powerful entity on her own. According to CNN’s Alan Duke:
Her popularity among movers and shakers in the Democratic Party should have been an asset for Weiner's future.”

Although Abedin seems to have received lukewarm sympathy in the media, there hasn’t been an strong outpouring of pubic support as one might have expected in such a case. However, an internet spoof report about Huma Abedin running for Congress caught on as a rumour with a generally positive response (which in itself is no small feat for a Muslim American woman in post-9/11 America). Cairo-born former Assistant Secretary of State Dina Habib Powell once said that Huma “certainly feels a deep responsibility to encourage more mutual understanding between her beliefs and culture and American culture.”

It seems that her husband’s scandal has created an even greater necessity for this.

…And, not that it’s anyone business, but Judaism is passed on from mothers to their children, not from fathers.  Baby Abedin-Weiner is likely to reflect his/her maternal grandparents legacy of interfaith dialogue and respect, as well his/her parents’ interfaith efforts within their own marriage: his/her mother Huma married a man with a secular Jewish background from Brooklyn; his/her father Anthony has fasted with his Muslim wife during Ramadan and given up alcohol. It may not be everything, but it’s more than many couples can claim to share even when they profess the same religion.

A recent photograph of Huma and Anthony showed the two smiling as they grocery shopped on their way to a weekend in the Hamptons. Anthony Weiner may have resigned in disgrace and ended a promising political career but, as her loyalty to Hillary Clinton has already proved, Huma Abedin is not likely to leave his side.
Laleen Khan An international columnist and media consultant who Tweets @laaleen
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Laaleen | 13 years ago | Reply @David Gillis: You do realize this is a blog, don't you? Well, if speaking up for the underdog is "superficial" and "ridiculous" then I'm glad to be "pathetic," as you put it.
Sr | 13 years ago | Reply @nafisa: One of the truest but little crude quote that i have ever heard
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