Daughter of an Indian Muslim father and a Pakistani mother, 39-year-old Huma Abedin was born in America and has lived here unobtrusively for most of her life. She would seem an unlikely candidate to be caught up in political turmoil. Yet, she has been the subject of much innuendo and vilification by some Republican conservative politicians. Abedin has been a longtime loyal and trusted aide to former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the two are personally so close that the latter has nominated her a surrogate daughter. Former president Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have a biological daughter, Chelsea.
Huma Abedin has an interesting family background. Her late father, Dr. Syed Zainul Abedin, was born in India and educated at the famous Aligarh Muslim University. Subsequently, her parents went to America and earned PhDs from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Zainul Abedin was an Islamic scholar who spent a number of years in Saudi Arabia, founding an institute dedicated to the promotion of interfaith harmony and understanding. Huma Abedin moved to Saudi Arabia with her parents when she was only three and spent her growing years there until she enrolled at Washington’s Georgetown University and relocated to the US. She speaks fluent Arabic and Urdu.
While accusations against Abedin belonging to Muslim Brotherhood were dismissed, her tormentors found another issue
While an undergraduate, she joined the then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s staff as a 19-year old internee. Clinton was so impressed with her performance that she promoted her to be an aide on her staff. As Clinton climbed the political ladder, moving from being the first lady to US Senator, to Secretary of State, and now a front-runner seeking Democratic nomination for the presidency, Abedin stayed by her side as her advisor and confidante. In 2010, Time magazine included Abedin in its list of rising stars of American politics who were still under 40. Currently, she serves in the influential position of deputy chairwoman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for president.
Despite her efforts to stay in the background away from the limelight, Abedin has attracted uncommon attention as no other Muslim woman has done previously in the US. She has been featured in the popular fashion magazine, Vogue, as a powerful glamour woman and Hilary Clinton’s indispensible adviser. She also has been the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper articles that have focused on her stylish wardrobe, striking looks and political astuteness.
Norman Jean Roy, a journalist who covers celebrities for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines, quotes Mike Feldman, the former chief of staff of Al Gore, on the close relationship that Abedin enjoys with Hillary Clinton, “The senator and Huma have a unique relationship. Watch them together, and there’s this nonverbal communication between them. Sometimes it’s as little as a glance, but the senator knows she can hand off a head of a state, a senator, or an important donor to Huma and the conversation is going to end well.”
A practicing Muslim, her long exposure to the American society has in some ways transformed her from a young, shy, unassuming undergraduate student into “a channel wearing, deeply confident women whose blackberry contains some of the most famous names in America,” according to Roy.
Abedin courted controversy when she decided to marry Anthony Weiner who at the time was one of the Congressmen from New York and who had pursued her for a while. Their wedding in July 2010 in New York was attended by many celebrities and solemnized by former president Clinton. In a speech before the wedding, he proclaimed, “I only have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would be Huma.”
Abedin’s marriage soon ran into stormy waters when it was discovered that her husband, Weiner, had been texting lewd photos of himself to strange women, a creepy practice. The scandal quickly became the fodder of newspapers and TV shows, causing a great deal of embarrassment and anguish to Abedin. Yet, she suffered the humiliation with quiet dignity and fortitude, earning her a great deal of sympathy from and admiration of many women, who viewed her as the aggrieved wife. The outcry against her husband, however, grew so strident that he was forced to resign from his seat in the US Congress. Subsequently, he entered into a therapy program to help him get rid of the psychological failing.
Shortly after his inglorious exit from the US Congress, Weiner, to the astonishment of many, announced his candidacy for the position of Mayor of New York. Normally, without the scandal, he would have been a strong candidate. But before long, another bombshell dropped. It was revealed that he had resumed in the meantime his practice of exchanging explicit, indecent photos with strange women. Most people expected that Huma Abedin would finally walk away and dissociate herself from her errant husband. Instead, she stood by him and in a news conference in New York even supported his candidacy, if somewhat uneasily. He badly lost the Mayoral race anyway.
Many women groups were exasperated, expressing anger and annoyance at her behavior which they perceived as degrading and pathetic. Some political commentators suggested that her behavior was modeled on that of her boss, Hillary Clinton, who when faced with a more serious case of overt marital infidelity of her husband when he was president decided to stay in the marriage.
More recently, Huma Abedin has been targeted by attacks of a different nature. Five right-wing Republicans Congressmen claimed, without any substantiation, that her late father, mother, and brother were members of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, and she represented a security risk to the United States. These allegations were reminiscent of the events in the fifties, when Senator Eugene McCarthy accused many innocent Americans of having covert communist sympathies and being Soviet spies. These false allegations proved to be baseless. Nevertheless, the careers and reputations of many innocent victims were tarnished. Fortunately, we now live in a more enlightened era than the fifties. A number of Senators, notably Senator John McCain, forcefully denounced attacks on Abedin, praising her as a loyal, patriotic American.
While the accusations against Abedin belonging to Muslim Brotherhood were quickly dismissed, her tormentors soon found another issue. She was accused last July by one of the powerful US senators of collecting salaries from several sources simultaneously while working at the State Department, and that she inappropriately received nearly ten-thousand dollars in back and vacation pay after she retired from Government service. Abedin and her attorney have vigorously denied these allegations and nothing further has happened.
It is difficult to judge how much animus against her is grounded in her status as an influential Muslim woman, and how much of it reflects attempts to get at her mentor Hillary Clinton indirectly, who is currently a front runner for the Democratic Party nomination. She clearly offers an easier target, and Republicans may be hoping that by besmirching her reputation they can also influence public opinion against Hillary Clinton, who herself is under attack for using her private e-mail for conducting official business whilst she was Secretary of State.