As his enemies on both sides of the aisle of American politics continue to revel in New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s admitted misbehavior, the real world is left to wonder about his young Pakistani-Indian Muslim bride.
When the headlines hit that a lewd photograph was sent from Weiner’s account to a young lady who was not his wife, few people were convinced of his total innocence. In the minds of many people, something fishy was going on. There was also the known fact that many of the few people Weiner followed on Twitter were young women who were not even residents of his congressional district – at least one was a professional sex worker.
It did not take a congressional investigation or a detective to figure out that Mr Weiner had an interest in women other than his wife of less than one year – one Huma Abedin, close personal assistant of Hillary Rodham Clinton since the mid-1990s.
She is an American Muslim of South Asian descent – her father, an Iran expert, was born in pre-partition India and her mother, a professor of sociology in Saudi Arabia, was born in Pakistan. She was born in the United States but raised primarily in Saudi Arabia, where her mother still resides, nearly 16 years after Huma’s father passed away.
Beyond the small sphere of her personal friends and family, the public could only wonder at why she married Anthony Weiner – a man whose current scandal is not a great leap from the playboy image he held before he married her.
But now that the confirmation of his post-marital philandering has been admitted to by himself – the exchange of sexually provocative imagery and conversations with women who are not your wife does constitute some kind of marital dishonesty – there are those who no longer wonder at her motives or motivations for marrying him, but outright demand that she step away.
“Don’t be another Pakistani Good Wife” one person posted on Twitter after Weiner’s confession. Don’t follow your boss’s advice, said countless others, referencing Hillary Clinton’s well-known history of standing by her man even after the fact of his cheating was beyond doubt.
What is interesting in Abedin’s case is that despite a public image that puts her allegiance to the US and its foreign policy in little doubt – she could, after all, have pursued a political career in any number of other places considering her heritage, linguistic skills and cultural knowledge – she is still viewed as somehow foreign, even by Americans with a similar heritage.
Even though her boss, a white woman, stood by a cheating husband, if Abedin were to do it, it would be the South Asian wife in her – that traditional notion of a woman who will put up with anything simply because society demands it of her – that will have compelled her to stay, so this argument goes.
There is very little discussion about how her overall political trajectory and life decisions might play into her staying with this man after he clearly has shown little regard for their marriage.
She works for a Secretary of State who has presided over a Pakistan policy that has been anything but beneficial to the people of Pakistan, a Middle East policy that has seen or expanded wars in the predominantly Muslim nations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya, and a Saudi Arabia policy that continues on the American government tradition of avoiding any discussion, let alone criticism, of the kingdom – most recently failing to address the very serious issues to do with women’s rights there. And she is married to a previously reputed playboy twelve years her senior who, until last week, had a very promising career as a possible mayor of New York, or even higher office.
If she stays, the Hillary parallels would suggest political motivations – but even Hillary’s behavior, after decades of marriage, could have at least partially been chalked up to sentimentality. If she leaves, she would prove that she is human, contrary to Weiner’s famous comment that “there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human or not”. She would carry more clout, both with her fellow South-Asian and Muslim Americans, and with her political supporters.
Either way, judging by her past life choices, her heritage would have very little to do with what she ultimately decides.
The writer is a US-based political analyst and a former Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi