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Frankly: ‘I was attacked during the 2016 campaign simply because I was a Muslim,’ says Huma Abedin, former Hillary Clinton staffer

DUBAI: Some US politicians made Muslims the bogeyman in the 2016 election won by former President Donald Trump, a prominent American Muslim has told Arab News.

Huma Abedin, chief of staff to defeated Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, said she endured calls for her investigation by a Republican congressman in 2012 over flimsy evidence that she and her family were observant Muslims. , with bias escalating during the 2016 campaign.

“I just want to take a step back and remind people that this was 2012 and I believe the experience we had was really a taste of what was to come – this idea that you could label someone” the other” and make it the bogeyman. . I believe my faith was turned into a bogeyman in this 2016 election,” she said.

Abedin, who recently published a book about his experiences in American politics and growing up in Saudi Arabia, shared his candid perspective on “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with top global decision makers.

In a wide conversation, she also spoke about the growing divisions in American politics and society, the empowerment of women in the American system, and her unhappy marriage to former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. , which ended in scandal and divorce.

Human Abedin is shown onscreen being interviewed on Frankly Speaking.

Accusations of anti-Muslim bias in the American political system are a striking part of his memoir, “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds,” published last year.

“One of the reasons I wrote this book is that I wanted to share with Americans and with people what it’s like to be a Muslim American in this country, and that’s why I wrote in detail about the charges my family faced in 2012 when I worked at the State Department,” Abedin said.

“I was assaulted simply because I was a Muslim and had two Muslim parents.”

The charges were quickly discredited by a State Department review, but Abedin believes they were symptomatic of a broader deterioration in the standards of political life in the United States.

“Do I see a divide in this country? Absolutely, we all do. And unless we are willing to move forward to continue to engage in public service, we have a choice of what kind of country we are going to live in,” she said.

“It’s very scary to see part of the language that exists in the world. Very scary.”

Abedin, who began his political career as a White House intern in 1996, said while there were still differences between Republican and Democratic politicians before 2016, these could be debated and resolved.

“The way I was raised in politics and public service forced differing opinions to the table, being able to leave the office and take to the streets and have dinner together and work out your differences. That has changed,” she said.

“It’s not the same Washington. It’s not. The parties have become so much more divided in terms of basic human decency. It seems to have really been allowed to disappear, and I’m very sad about that.

Abedin was vice president of the campaign to elect Clinton in 2016, when the candidate faced baseless calls from Trump to prosecute and jail her on unspecified charges. A last-minute investigation into Clinton’s emails by the FBI – subsequently discredited – hit his campaign hard, with some accounts costing him the election.

“I would say my boss has done pretty well (considering) the outside forces. I write about it in detail in my book, from misogyny (to) attacks – when someone every day suggests that you could go to jail without explaining why, as had been the case for her, ”she said.

“The attacks (Clinton) had to endure many times a day, those things had an effect. (Plus) the FBI investigation – which played a last-minute role in changing the course of the election, in an election so close that every little thing mattered – it was a big thing,” Abedin said.

“The forces against our party and our candidate were really overwhelming at that time. So I still wake up every day and think about how different our country would have been today if (Clinton) had been elected in 2016.”

Another reason for Clinton’s defeat, she said, was “because she is a powerful, intelligent, ambitious woman and we are, in this country in my opinion, always afraid of powerful women.”

Born in the United States, Abedin’s family moved to Saudi Arabia when she was a child, and she grew up in the Kingdom before leaving for higher education in America. She returns to Saudi Arabia frequently with her son Jordan and is impressed with the changes that have taken place since living there.

“First of all, you didn’t see women in stores (in the 1980s), you didn’t see cultural events on the beach. When I was there a few years ago with my son, we went face painting and on the beach and Ferris wheels. Many young Saudi men and women work in small businesses, entrepreneurs.

She added: “I will always hold a very fond place in my heart for the place that belonged to me for so long, which I associated with my father. My father is buried there in Makkah. So for me to see the progress is amazing, it’s really amazing.

Before embarking on his career in Washington political circles, Abedin was briefly a reporter for Arab News.

“I had applied for an internship at the White House and then left to go home for the summer, and it was Khaled Al-Maeena, who was then editor, who offered me a position with a summer job.”

She said: “Arab News is what we read at home every day. It was our New York Times. So if you asked me in 1995 if I would be doing an interview like this in 25 years, I would say absolutely no way, no how. But it’s a thrill.

In her memoir, Abedin speaks candidly about her marriage and the apprehensions she had when she first met Weiner, a New York congressman of Jewish descent and later a rising star in Democratic circles in the city.

“I think any Muslim who watches will understand our faith, our belief. Men, Muslim men, are allowed to marry outside of religion, (but) it’s much more difficult for Muslim women to marry outside of religion. It really has to do with fatherhood: if there are children born out of this marriage, usually the child takes the father’s religion and so it was a huge crisis of conscience for me,” she said. .

The marriage ended when Weiner was imprisoned for sex crimes spread via social media, but in the process affected the 2016 election campaign. “I felt completely responsible for this defeat,” Abedin said.

She faced intense media scrutiny during the Weiner scandal, but eventually accepted that the press was just doing its job of covering major news. “I understood. It wasn’t easy, but I understood,” she said.

Abedin said Democrats under President Joe Biden face an uphill battle in the upcoming midterm elections, which traditionally go poorly for the incumbent’s party.

“I think the COVID-19 pandemic has presented all sorts of unforeseen challenges, and I think our party has its work cut out for it in November. We have a lot of work to do and we have to keep the enthusiasm going, get people out (to vote). It’s going to be tough,” she said.

Abedin, who combines insider knowledge of the US political system with an understanding of Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, does not rule out an ambassadorial role in the future.

“I’m open to all kinds of opportunities and exploring different things. What is it, I don’t know yet, but the ambassador looks really good. I just have to understand – ambassador of what and for what and how? But I actually like it,” she said.

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