Huma Abedin: Refusing to be humiliated

Published: June 24, 2011

Abedin and Weiner on their wedding day

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.


Laaleen Khan

An international columnist and media consultant who Tweets @laaleen

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Mark

    I must be missing something here, isn’t she humiliated every morning when she has to wake up next to her husbandRecommend

  • Shehryar Khan

    Some-how the blame has to fall on her too, not sure why she’s still hanging onto him. Very well researched piece by the way. Recommend

  • nafisa

    ‎”Men are simply not designed to be completely faithful to one lover for life .Male infidelity is apparently a biological inevitability,like farting”.

    Huma Abedin you deserve better. Every woman does. Recommend

  • Laaleen

    Yes–it was unexpected that she’s still with him given the circumstances but not when you look at her character on the whole; she doesn’t seem the type to give up on something easily.Recommend

  • The Forbidden Fruit

    A comprehensive piece. Didn’t think/know that much about Huma. Still my question is “Why Huma why? Why Weiner?”Recommend

  • Laaleen

    On another note: Pakistani women can be very stubbornly loyal to their husbands despite philandering. If his last name had been Butt instead of Weiner, would people in Pk still be wondering why she’s staying with him…?Recommend

  • safir

    what a freedom of hate in american media has since 9/11 against muslims even thaoug
    she is secular american educated what we will say to this.Recommend

  • keen observer

    this made a very informative read.Recommend

  • Moderate

    Then they ask, why do Muslims hate Americans?Recommend

  • safir

    @laaleen i think if her last name had been what so ever she should not live with him
    but america is mixture of world reliegen and peoples so its does not means here and
    i think so called secular america is trating her its a shame and funny.Recommend

  • Sabahat Zakariya

    I certainly would still ask. I find it highly offensive how women choose to play the doormat wives while their husbands go about philandering. Whether they be Butt or Weiner makes no difference. Recommend

  • mustapha

    I would have love to marry this beautiful muslim girl, but already taken by wiener.Recommend

  • Laaleen

    @Sabahat I agree (but it’s their business).

    @Moderate & others: Please don’t make sweeping statements like that because the prejudicial backlash Huma received is from racist bigots with their own agenda, not from all Americans. Every country in the world (including Pakistan) has narrow minded extremists who target minorities or people with different ethnicities, beliefs and lifestyles than their own. So to say something like “they wonder why Muslims hate Americans” is irresponsible and inaccurate and feeding those kinds of beliefs.

    Thank you for reading.Recommend

  • Aline P. Kennedy

    Good little Muslim wives smile, bow their heads and say “whatever, Sir” and “yes, Sir!” and “whatever you say, Sir” and stay. I thought Humu had more intelligence and some sense, not to mention dignity, but she is a Muslim, after all. I assume she is back in bed with him like the good little compliant wifey… much for her “intelligence”. I am sorry – any woman with a sense of self worth would believe he is a disgusting pervert and the thought of being close to the creep again would make one ill because God only knows what else he has.been into and up to that was not reported or “caught”….Humu has no such problem because he could spit on her and she would say “yes, Sir!” Any semblance of respect I could have had for this woman went out the window. Recommend

  • M. Uzair Sukhera

    @Aline: Now lets not get carried away here please! What would you say about hillary than? Isn’t it the couple’s own decision what should be done? Who are you to judge here?Recommend

  • D

    @ Aline…if a woman belonging to some other religion had done this, you wouldn’t be spewing all this hatred. But I guess this article is about sick people like you, who at the end of everyday have to blame Islam for everything.
    It was Huma’s personal choice to marry a Jew, which many Muslims might not even approve of. And now its her choice to stay with him, which many of your dear Amercian wives aren’t capable of doing.
    So here’s a reality check for you, accept it or not…Weiner knows that he is one hell of a lucky guy that he has Huma, the kind of wife many guys, Muslim or not, dream of having. Recommend

  • Laaleen

    @Aline–Muslim women are not meek geishas…if you personally knew any, you would never make that kind of assumption. Have never heard of anyone calling their husband “Sir.” Who the heck does that?!!
    It’s not our business what’s going on in the Weiners’ marital lives but Huma’s smart enough to not be a pushover.

    @D: Huma is an American wife too. No need to create more stereotypes.Recommend

  • safir

    @Aline if chrisian women are became protitute in the name of date and happy with this
    humialation and children with out of wedlock no other word………………….Recommend

  • Laaleen

    More on my blog: Click “follow”Recommend

  • kiran

    this reads more like a recreation of wikipedia than anything elseRecommend

  • Abhi

    Though it is nice blog, but definately it has some propaganda in it. Now if some right winger are harping on her religion and her ethnicity, it is not unusual. This kind of reaction happens everywhere. It is not just about being muslim, many christian people of Indian origin faced same rant (e.g. Nikky Hally and Bobby Jindal)

    Actually this lady is in so much politically strong position should be seen as some thing positive about USA. I don’t think any chistian american will be given so much power in Pakistan without being accused of CIA agent.Recommend

  • Karen H

    I read the post on by Shirley Coco. Although the title was sensational, the article was positive and straight forward. Not humiliating at all.Recommend

  • Leave the Weiner

    Huma should divorce Anthony Weiner. There is NO WAY to rebuild trust in a relationship after such an incident.Recommend

  • Gini

    @Aline P. Kennedy:

    How ignorant can you really be? I am a blonde hair blue eyed American so I really have no right to speak for the muslim women I suppose, but I'm going to. I have known 5 or 6 muslim women through the course of my career and never have I known one that is the meek, compliant little housewife you speak of. They are all very intelligent, strong-willed, successful women. The women you speak of sound more like abused wives that could come from any religion.

  • Nobody

    @Aline P. Kennedy:
    Your comment seems oddly misplaced, as this website is generally for an educated lot of people and you stick out like a sore thumb, spewing your ridiculous nonsensical bigotry and poorly concealed disdain. You make yourself sound extremely childish and foolish. And FYI what rock do you live under? How many American women stand by their filthy philandering husbands?? Don’t kid yourself. And please go spread your racism, short-sightedness and hate elsewhere. Cheers. Recommend

  • Nobody

    *correction on my previous comment, change American wives with non-Muslim. Recommend

  • Salman

    @Mark: No, when a person is gifted with a tremendous sense of confidence they can stand on their own and do not feel humiliated by the action of others, even if that other is the other-half. Huma has done nothing to be ashamed of, and everything to be proud of.

    @Sheheryar: Knowing Huma’s family personally for decades, I can say that one characteristic she is endowed with is her loyalty. A person of character does not abandon a sinking ship at the first instance, without making sure everyone is safely out. I felt the same as you do at first, but then appreciated her consistent loyalty. If she had made the initial mistake of choosing the wrong partner she should stick around and bear it, rather than run at the first sign of fire.

    @Safir: Yes, I too am surprised at the American narrow-mindedness and bigotry. As someone who knows America better than I know Pakistan, I can tell you that Americans did not use to be like this. They were very magnanimous, generous to a fault, courteous and compassionate people, and to a great extent they still are. But something happened somewhere, and it has nothing to do with Muslims, that they have become extremely polarized in their own society, hateful, bigoted, and intolerant. Recommend

  • Laaleen

    @Karen H: I agree, but c’mon, the title was really demeaning…it’s not like Huma tweeted the picsRecommend

  • AnisAqeel

    @Aline P. Kennedy:
    A good blog with well placed quotes. As we read Huma is a dignified, graceful and very intelligent woman who has a balanced decision making power and, in my opinion, has made a good decision to tolerate and forgive. Middle Eastern, Pakistani/Indian culture loyalty is a basic for any woman and man and in this case man was at fault but woman forgave and showed class and dignity and saved the family and friends alike. I salute her.
    For Aline P. Kennedy it may be ‘yes Sir’ in her opinion, but it seems she is ignorant of some cultures and still comment. Women do not ‘yes Sir’ in this culture and mostly have their own opinions and influence the men’s decisions equally and are accepted to their desires.Recommend

  • Irfaan Gilani

    Pray do enlighten us what your implications are by the term,
    ‘she has INDO-PAK features’? Really? Really! Incroyable!!!Recommend

  • David Gillis

    Laaleen Khan’s gratuitous political smears documentn the superficial, ridiculous nature of her column. Nothing of use comes from such a mind, dominated as it is by bias and distortion. Pathetic, to say the least. Recommend

  • Sr

    @nafisa: One of the truest but little crude quote that i have ever heardRecommend

  • Laaleen

    @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.Recommend