The Chatter Around the Ongoing Saga of Huma Abedin

Photo Credit: Thirteen/MetroFocus
Photo Credit: Thirteen/MetroFocus

By Guest Contributors:  Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi) and Asha Sundararaman (@mixedtck)

We first started informally chatting about Hillary Clinton’s trusted aide Huma Abedin on Friday after the latest email scandal erupted. Seeing Huma and her estranged husband Anthony Weiner once again make headlines quickly inspired us to create this list of South Asian actresses who would be fantastic at playing her. While that was fun, watching Huma be dragged through the mud (AGAIN) hasn’t been.

Lakshmi: I thought it was interesting that people on Twitter seemed to be taken aback by Hillary and Huma’s work dynamic in this much-shared New York Times piece, whereas I thought it was a touching portrayal of friendship in many ways.

Asha: Yeah, I really liked how they portrayed their friendship and working relationship. I guess, having gone to a women’s college, their relationship doesn’t seem odd to me.

And with Huma and her marriage, it’s the classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” problem. Should she have divorced him in 2011 or 2013? probably. but i think the West has such a romanticized view of marriage these days that it’s easy to forget about the practical and their kid.

Lakshmi: I was working at CNN during Anthony’s first sexting scandal in 2011. Huma became pregnant smack in the middle of that summer of terrible stories and headlines. The first time I ever heard an audible gasp throughout the newsroom was when we got the news alert announcing that she was expecting.

But back to your original point, I don’t think it’s fair to pile on an expecting mother as her world is falling apart.

Asha: Agreed. And you want to believe the best in people.

Lakshmi: As for the Huma and Hillary relationship, Hillary has often said Huma is like a second daughter! What kind of mother would abandon her daughter at her lowest moment?

Asha: A bad one? ? I hope Hillary doesn’t abandon Huma, all together.

Lakshmi: I don’t think she will, honestly. The Clintons have a tendency not to abandon people (even when they probably should, which I don’t think is the case with Huma). For example, the NYT article pointedly notes that neither Clinton has ever criticized Anthony Weiner publicly. Bill Clinton performed their wedding ceremony!

Asha: That is true, loyalty and trust are everything.

Lakshmi: Also, it’s interesting to think that if Huma had worked for pretty much anyone else, she would have been fired long ago. Most politicians don’t have any personal loyalty. She’d “take a break to be with her son during this difficult time” or some nonsense.

Asha: Yep, agreed. And after all of the scandals, and all the crap piled on them (for good and not so good reasons), it’s not surprising that the Clintons have a very tight inner circle.

Lakshmi: And she and Hillary have worked for this moment for literally 20 years! She’s going to stick it out!

Asha: Of course she is. It would be hard to bring in someone new at this point.

Lakshmi: Plus the daughter thing.

Asha: Plus that.

Lakshmi: But you know that Mahatma Gandhi quote “be the change you wish to see in the world”? (I don’t know if he actually said that). I wouldn’t be surprised if Hillary decided to “be the friend to an abandoned political wife that you wished you had twenty years ago.”

I wish I said that more articulately, but you know what I mean.

Asha: I do. Hillary’s own history certainly affects her reactions. Can you imagine being made to feel like a fool over and over on a public stage because of your relationship choice?

Lakshmi: If Hillary abandoned Huma because of the ridiculous actions of Huma’s spouse I would give her so much side-eye.

Asha: Huma’s ridiculous spouse’s actions are his own.

Lakshmi: Exactly. And allegedly sexting a minor is HORRIBLE, don’t get me wrong, but Huma didn’t do it and she immediately took action when it was apparent her child was in an unhealthy situation. There was really not much more she could do at that point.

Asha: Agreed.

Lakshmi: I actually thought it was really comforting when the NYT described how protective Hillary and her other trusted aide Philippe Reines were of Huma.

This was my favorite part of the NYT article:

On a campaign conference call the day that Mr. Weiner admitted he had continued to engage in online liaisons, Mr. Reines berated him, yelling that he would “reach through the phone” and “rip out” his throat, adding an expletive.

Asha: Haha, he deserved it.

Lakshmi: The tone of it didn’t seem political, it seemed like they were angry at him because of how he was treating his wife.

Asha: It probably wasn’t political. It was about how he was a horrible husband and it was a loyalty thing.

Lakshmi: May we all be so lucky in our friends.

Asha: Yep, having friends who will stand by you when things get bad is important.

Lakshmi: It feels weird for me to say that because I have had so many mixed feelings about the Clintons over the last 20 years or so, but I genuinely don’t understand why anyone is confused about why they feel protective of Huma.

Asha: I think because “certain” people think that are “evil” and all about themselves. We could probably wax poetic for hours about the breakdown of loyalty in this country?

Lakshmi: (Readers should know that we kind of do this in the messages we send each other that we don’t make public!)

That’s also why this widely shared letter to the editor is right up our alley.

“A woman is betrayed by her husband in the public spotlight. Somehow that becomes a mark against her. A man betrays his wife in the public spotlight and faces multiple accusations of sexual assault. Somehow he remains a major candidate for president of the United States.”

Asha: This is also 100% true.

Lakshmi: But we have to also talk about race and how the fact that Huma is Muslim and was raised by South Asian parents in Saudi Arabia plays into all of this.

Asha: Yes, we do.

Lakshmi: One of our friends noted that when we posted our fun post about actresses who could play Huma on Facebook, a bunch of terrifying “Huma Abedin is in the Muslim Brotherhood” posts popped up as related links underneath. So it’s important to note that Facebook is making money off the fact that anti-Islamic rhetoric surrounds coverage of Huma. The fact that the algorithm treats her name that way is not an accident.

Asha: Ugh, Facebook. If only i could quit you. Also, she’s a Muslim married to a Jew, which is basically everything the white supremacists hate.

Lakshmi: There are many, many confusing things about the rumors that surround Huma. But sometimes I just want to say, ‘Right wingers of America: make up your minds! She’s a terrorist sympathizer who decided to marry a goofy Jewish dude from Brooklyn? And then stayed with him through some of the most ridiculous political scandals in recent history? That makes no sense!’

Asha: You would think they would be excited that she’s preserved the sanctity of marriage!

It’s not that surprising that Facebook is making money off anti-Islamic rhetoric though, since they seem to think nothing racist is actually hate speech.

Lakshmi: Right! And while our Facebook friends are disproportionately South Asian liberals and/or coastal liberal arts grads, many people might see those links and think “SAUDI ARABIA WILL INFILTRATE THE CLINTON WHITE HOUSE THROUGH HUMA” and actually believe it.

Asha: Also, I’m pretty sure Saudi Arabia already infiltrated the White House through the Bushes.

Lakshmi: Hahaha. But look, Huma (like you!) is a third culture kid! This is from her Wikipedia page:

Abedin was born on July 28, 1976, in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Syed Zainul Abedin (1928–93) and Saleha Mahmood Abedin. At the age of two, she moved with her family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she was raised and lived until returning to the United States for college. Abedin traveled frequently during her childhood and teenage years and attended a British girls’ school.

But I think that the fact that Huma is so worldly should be an asset! But people just see the foreignness of it.

Asha: I would say the average American probably doesn’t think about a global childhood as an asset. Huma had a third culture childhood just like both Barack Obama and John Kerry before her. People didn’t understand their foreign childhoods either.

Lakshmi: Yes! And Huma has the added burden of being Muslim.

Asha: Actually being Muslim, unlike being rumored to be so!

Lakshmi: The last tweet Huma posted was about the Hillary for America Iftar over the summer.

Asha: That’s great!

Lakshmi: She’s never run from her faith, even though people have tried to trash both of her parents as being sharia supporters/Muslim Brotherhood members (in reality, they were just scholars who studied Islam.)

It’s important to note here that Huma rarely gives interviews (she seems to dislike the spotlight) so we really don’t know her views on many things, especially when it comes to her experience being a South Asian American. But I know you wanted to talk about how her South Asianness might affect her views on divorce.

Asha: Right. I think it’s slowly changing, but from an Eastern (or at least a South Asian) perspective, marriage is for life unless something drastic happens, you weather it all. So it’s not surprising to me that she stood by him until very recently. Also, she has a young child.

Sometimes it takes a while to see a person’s true colors.

Lakshmi: I was thinking a lot about that view of marriage during the LAST Anthony Weiner scandal. (Which I think was the one where he was sexting with Sydney Leathers. I should note that just typing out that name makes me sad for Huma!) But anyway, Sydney Leathers told one of the NY tabloids that Anthony would constantly complain to her about his in-laws.

Asha: Yeah….

Lakshmi: I wanted to scream “ANTHONY, DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH SHE PROBABLY FOUGHT FOR YOU?!?!” She probably worked overtime to make him acceptable to the auntie network.

Asha: HA, YES.

Lakshmi: And he has the gall to complain about her and her family to his cyber mistress!

Asha: And she probably also stood by him BECAUSE of all the work she would have had to do with the auntie network. This is total speculation of course.

Lakshmi: Oh yes, we should say again that we are projecting a lot here. But it is very easy to imagine, based on personal experiences and what we’ve seen with others.

Asha: Because when you’re in an interracial relationship you don’t want to prove everyone right. Other people are just waiting for your marriage to fail so they can say “I told you so.”

Lakshmi: Right, like I’m sure everyone reading this knows someone (or has been the person) who was in a relationship everyone was disturbed about and stayed longer than they should have just to prove a point.

This is also why this Daily Beast article made me a bit uncomfortable, but I know you thought it was interesting?

“Given Weiner’s consistently self-destructive patterns in recent years, perhaps Abedin should have re-evaluated the cost-benefit analysis of staying in a marriage with someone who was hapless and impulsive enough to exchange inappropriate messages with a minor. “

That line is quite harsh! There’s no evidence that she knew about the underage stuff until just before she filed for separation. She just married an extremely unpleasant person! And then did the best she could after she realized what was happening.

Asha: I don’t agree with the part saying that her wounds are self-inflicted. I think relationships are hard, especially when they involve something as “final” as marriage. Saying her wounds are self-inflicted is letting Weiner off the hook.

Lakshmi: Another thing about this scandal that is really amazing to me is that sometimes it seems like no one in the country knows how email works. Getting thousands of messages isn’t particularly unusual, especially if you work for a public figure. Just planning this chat and setting up a time and sending each other links took 10+ emails.

Asha: But everyone THINKS they know how email works. High powered people get thousands of messages a day easily and of course they delete them. I’m speaking as someone who is not high powered but who used to get hundreds of messages a day because I was CC’d a lot.

Lakshmi: And most emails are out of date after 10 minutes, maximum.

Even though reading other people’s emails makes me feel icky, I will always smile when I think of the time Huma patiently tried to teach Hillary how to use a fax machine.

Asha: Hahaha. Fax machines are the worst. No one should ever use them. That reminds me of the time I tried to teach my coworker how to use a typewriter and she was a good 10 years older than me!

Lakshmi:Why did you have to do that?

Asha: We regularly had to type dates and titles and such into documents. I can’t remember why. This was 2009.

Lakshmi: Huma told NBC News that she didn’t even remember the fax machine incident had happened.

Asha: Yep, it was probably just one more thing that happened in a day of many things happening.

Lakshmi: Out of context emails probably don’t make sense 99 percent of the time.

Asha: I regularly wonder what my old Facebook statuses are about, especially the ones from years ago. For example on this day last year i said “schools should start the day with music class” and i have no idea what prompted that.

Lakshmi: You just wanted the mornings to be filled with music, Asha! (I have no idea what that means either.)

But this section from this Politico piece is really sweet:

But it isn’t all bad, Abedin said. She had heard about a woman who decided to back Clinton after reading her emails because she felt she got to know her better through her personal writing. “She saw what a warm, caring, thoughtful, determined person she was,” Abedin said.

Asha: Yeah, i liked that.

Lakshmi:I felt the same way about Huma when I read about the fax machine incident.

We should probably go soon, what should we wrap up on?

Asha: Let’s challenge everyone to go back to their old emails and/or Facebook statuses and try to figure them out out of context!

Lakshmi: Yes! Go forth, everyone! (And remember to report back!) If you learned nothing from us today, know that emails rarely make sense after the fact and fax machines are hard to navigate.

This post originally appeared on The Lakshmi and Asha Show, our new weekly pop culture newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Lakshmi Gandhi
Lakshmi Gandhi

Lakshmi Gandhi is a journalist and pop culture writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Metro New York, NBC Asian America and NPR’s Code Switch blog, among other sites. She likes it when readers tweet her @LakshmiGandhi with their thoughts on Asian American issues and romance novels.

Asha Sundararaman is a freelance writer and photographer based in Oakland, California. When she’s not discussing pop culture, she can be found in her kitchen blending the flavors of her Southern and Indian roots.

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