Is Huma Abedin’s Muslim faith her fatal flaw with Anthony Weiner? That’s not the Islam I know.
July 30, 2013
In a way, it’s difficult to imagine this playing out any other way.
Anyone who saw the apparently impromptu press conference in which a freshly disgraced Anthony Weiner stood in front of reporters and recited a fairly vanilla post-scandal statement couldn’t help but notice the interplay between the New York City mayoral candidate and his wife Huma Abedin, standing by with her own off-the-shelf statement of marital solidarity. “Awkward,” is what the cool kids would call it, if they haven’t yet invented a stronger term for two people so palpably uncomfortable being in their current situation. And like any uncomfortable situation with this amount of media attention and political stakes, you knew while watching that the spin machines, shock jocks, and wordsmiths on all sides would be processing this scene, ready and willing to propagate their view on the essence and implications of all this by tomorrow’s news cycle.
So no one was surprised when Rush Limbaugh publicly ruminated on Huma Abedin’s Islam and its role as the proximate cause of her “powerless” support of her husband and his bid to succeed Michael Bloomberg as Mayor of America’s first city. More troubling was liberal feminist Maureen Dowd, urging her New York Times readership to remember Ms. Abedin’s upbringing in Saudi Arabia, where “women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet,” as the only way to make sense of this otherwise inexplicable case of marital fidelity. But this, too, is only shocking to those uneducated about the feminist movement’s long history of having white women speak on behalf of black and brown women, without bothering to actually pay attention to the latter group’s unique experiences.
In the same article, conceptually in the same breath, Dowd compares Abedin to her mentor, Hillary Clinton. No stranger to the sexual infidelities of a less-than-scrupulous husband, Clinton made the exact same choice as Abedin: to publicly support her man in the face of loud voices calling for the death of his career and their marriage. Unsurprisingly, Dowd has no qualm with Clinton’s decision–the paragon of feminism is beyond reproach. The painfully relevant point that both Hillary and Huma came of age in the crucible of American politics, where women are routinely mistreated by their politician husbands, isn’t broached.
Dowd seems to justify Clinton’s decision by drawing a superficial and illogical distinction; according to Dowd, Bill Clinton’s transgressions were somehow redeemed by his political genius, whereas Weiner is just a perverted loser. Even if one accepts that Weiner is the lesser politician, what message is Dowd sending to young women here? If your husband cheats on you, it may be worth it to forgive him if (and only if) he’s recognized as a success in our society?
As Dowd mentions, it wasn’t too long ago when Huma was a rising star on the political scene, boasting “movie star suitors and a Vogue spread as the stylish Muslim Garbo silently and efficiently parting the waves for Hillary.” Even back then, she had to either duck or handle questions about her religion that most politicians don’t. Republican senators launched a baseless smear campaign to portray her family as inside men for the Muslim Brotherhood. Her poise and dedication to her service in the face of these attacks does not suggest a woman conditioned to “powerlessness” by her Islamic upbringing. Even her press conference appearance with Weiner (and according to some analyses, her red lipstick) reflects her confidence and assertiveness—she spoke up rather than stand by silently, contrary to the way numerous other political wives have handled similar situations.
Islam, in fact, is one of the sources of her strength. The Vogue article mentioned her faith as a “practicing Muslim” as one of the traits that endeared her to Hillary. “I grew up in a very traditional family,” she says, “but there was never anything I didn’t think I could do.”
That sentiment is one Huma shares with countless female Muslims (and female Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs), living in Muslim countries and in the West, who see no disconnect between their faith and their ambitions, who rely on their faith and religious community as a source of inspiration, not a burden to overcome. This phenomenon of the religious female experience as a liberating, empowering force is unthinkable to both secular feminists like Dowd and reactionary curmudgeons like Limbaugh, because to acknowledge it would upset the respective ways they have chosen to conceptualize the world. But American debate should not be limited by ideology—we need to acknowledge and celebrate the existence of strong Muslim women like Huma Abedin, not use their struggles as launch pads for denigrating their faith.
Asma Uddin is an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Legal Fellow at ISPU, and the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Altmuslimah.com.
This article was published by the Washington Post on July 30, 2013. Read it here.