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

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Updated 17 January 2022

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

Huma Abedin, longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, warns of a growing split in US political circles. ‘It’s not the same Washington,’ she says. ‘The parties have become so much more divided in terms of basic common human decency.’
  • Abedin has just published a book about her experiences in US politics, her time growing up in Saudi Arabia and her ill-starred marriage
  • She believes the prejudice she experienced were symptomatic of a wider deterioration in the standards of political life in the US

DUBAI: Muslims were made the “bogeyman” by some politicians in the US at the time of the 2016 election won by former President Donald Trump, a leading American Muslim has told Arab News.

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

“I just want to take a step back and remind people this was 2012 and I believe the experience those of us had was really an appetizer for what was to come — this idea that you could label somebody ‘the other’ and make them the bogeyman. I believe my faith was made a bogeyman in that 2016 election,” she said.

Abedin, who recently published a book about her experiences in US politics and her time growing up in Saudi Arabia, shared her forthright views on “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with leading global policymakers.

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




Human Abedin is shown on screen being interviewed on Frankly Speaking.

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

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

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

The accusations were quickly discredited by a State Department review, but Abedin believes they were symptomatic of a wider deterioration in the standards of political life in the US.

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

“It is very scary to see some of the language that’s out there in the world. Very scary.”

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

“The way I was raised in politics and public service was forcing differing opinions to the table, being able to leave the office and go down the street and have dinner together and hash 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 common decency. That seems to have been really allowed to just disappear, and I’m very sad about that.”

Abedin was vice chair of the campaign to elect Clinton in 2016, when the candidate endured baseless calls from Trump for her prosecution and imprisonment on unspecified charges. A late-breaking investigation into Clinton’s emails by the FBI — subsequently discredited — hit her campaign hard, by some accounts costing her the election.

“I would argue that my boss actually did quite well (considering) the external forces. I write about this in detail in my book, everything from the misogyny (to) the attacks — when you have somebody every single day suggesting that you might go to jail without explaining why, as had been the case for her,” she said.

“The attacks (Clinton) had to endure multiple times a day, those things had an effect. (Plus) the FBI investigation — which had a late-breaking role in changing, altering the course of the election, in an election so tight that every little thing mattered — that was a big thing,” Abedin said.

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

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

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

“First of all, you didn’t see women in stores (in the 1980s), you didn’t see the cultural events on the beach. When I was there a couple of years ago with my son, we went for face painting and on the beach and Ferris wheels. A lot of young Saudi men and women are working in small businesses, entrepreneurships.”




Huma Abedin, left, is seen with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in New York during the 2016 US presidential election. (AP file)

She added: “I will always have a very tender place in my heart for the place that was home for me for so long, that 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 she embarked on her career in Washington political circles, Abedin was briefly a journalist for Arab News.

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

She said: “Arab News is what we read in our home every single day. It was our New York Times. So, if you had asked me in 1995 would I 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 talks candidly about her marriage, and the misgivings she had when she first met Weiner, a New York congressman of Jewish background and then a rising star in Democrat circles in the city.

“I think any Muslim who’s watching will understand our faith, our belief. Men, Muslim men, are allowed to marry outside the religion, (but) it’s much more difficult for Muslim women to marry outside the faith. That really in the end has to do with paternity: If there are children born of that marriage, generally 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 jailed for sexual crimes propagated via social media, but in the process affected the 2016 election campaign. “I felt an entire responsibility for that defeat,” Abedin said.

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

Abedin said that the Democrats under President Joe Biden face an uphill struggle in the upcoming mid-term elections, which traditionally go badly for the incumbent’s party.

“I think the COVID-19 pandemic has presented all kinds of unanticipated 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’ve got to keep the enthusiasm, get people out (to vote). It’s going to be hard,” 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 am open to all kinds of opportunities and exploring different things. What that is I don’t know yet, but ambassador sounds really good. I just have to figure out — ambassador to what and for what and how? But I like that actually,” she said.


Paris attacker sentenced to whole life in prison

Paris attacker sentenced to whole life in prison
Updated 12 sec ago

Paris attacker sentenced to whole life in prison

Paris attacker sentenced to whole life in prison
PARIS: The sole surviving member of an Daesh terror cell that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015 was handed a whole-life sentence by a French court on Wednesday, the toughest punishment possible.
Salah Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin, was captured alive by police four months after the bloodbath.
The sentence was read out by the head of a five-judge panel overseeing the marathon trial of 20 men accused of involvement in the worst peace-time atrocity in modern French history.
The other 19 suspects, accused of either plotting or offering logistical support, were found guilty, with their sentences ranging from two years to life in prison.
Hundreds of survivors and witnesses have attended proceedings since their start in September and they packed out the benches of the specially constructed courtroom as the verdicts were read out.
A team of 10 Daesh militants laid siege to the French capital, attacking the national sports stadium, bars and the Bataclan concert hall in an assault that traumatized the country.
The trial has been the biggest in modern French history, the culmination of a six-year, multi-country investigation whose findings run to more than a million pages.
Abdeslam had begun his appearances by defiantly declaring himself as an “Daesh fighter,” but finished apologizing to victims and asking for leniency.
His lawyers had argued against the whole-life sentence, which prosecutors had called for.
It offers only a small chance of parole after 30 years and has been pronounced only four times since being created in 1994.
The former pot-smoking party lover discarded his suicide belt on the night of the attack and fled back to his hometown, Brussels, where many of the extremists lived.
He told the court that he had a change of heart and decided not to kill people.
But prosecutors have argued that he shared the murderous intent of the rest of the attack team and that his equipment simply malfunctioned.
“Those who committed these heinous crimes are nothing more than lowlife terrorists and criminals,” prosecutor Nicolas Le Bris said in his closing statement earlier this month.
The November 2015 attacks deeply traumatized France, with the choice of targets — music and sports venues, the capital’s famed bars and cafes — and the manner of the violence seemingly designed to inflict maximum shock.
The huge loss of life marked the start of a gruesome and violent period in Europe, as Daesh claimed responsibility for numerous attacks across the continent.
France, under then president Francois Hollande, who testified at the trial, ramped up its military campaign to defeat the extremists in Syria and Iraq.
In the absence of the rest of the attackers, the men on trial besides Abdeslam are suspected of offering logistical support or plotting other attacks.
Only 14 out of the 20 appeared in person, with the rest missing, presumed dead.
One of them, Mohamed Abrini, has admitted to driving some of the Paris attackers to the capital and explained how he was meant to take part but backed out.
The 37-year-old also started out justifying Daesh violence as part of a fight against Western countries, but ended by apologizing to victims in the trial’s final stages.
The court handed him a life sentence with 22 years as a minimum term.
Also on trial is Swedish citizen Osama Krayem, who has been identified in a notorious Daesh video showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.
The overall commander of the Paris attacks, senior Syria-based Daesh figure Oussama Atar, was also tried in absentia but is presumed dead.

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
Updated 29 June 2022

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
  • The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy
  • All 10, only some of whom were linked with the deadly Red Brigades group, spent the last 14 months under French judicial supervision

PARIS: A Paris court on Wednesday ruled against extraditing to Italy 10 former left-wing militants, including some former Red Brigades members, convicted of domestic terrorist crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy before they could be imprisoned to serve their sentences.
The crimes in connection with which they were convicted include the 1980 killing of a Carabinieri paramilitary general and the kidnapping of a judge in the same year.
All 10, only some of whom were linked with the deadly Red Brigades group, spent the last 14 months under French judicial supervision as judges deliberated on Italy’s extradition request following the activists’ arrests and police questioning a year ago.
The Paris Court of Appeal said in a statement it rejected Italy’s extradition request for each member of the group of 10 men and women, but didn’t explain its reasoning.
Wednesday’s ruling can still be appealed at France’s highest court.
Italy’s justice ministry said in a statement it respected the French judicial process as they await to hear the assessments of the ruling by the Paris attorney general, who is the only one authorized to appeal the court’s decision to deny the extradition of each of the 10 convicted militants.
“I am waiting to know the reasons behind the ruling that denies all extraditions without distinction,” said Italian Justice Minister Marta Cartabia.
“This is a long-awaited ruling for the victims and the entire country, which concerns a dramatic and still painful page in our history,” Cartabia said.
The French presidency said it will not comment on the court’s ruling.
The unwillingness of French authorities to detain convicted Italian former left-wing militants living in France has long been a thorny issue between Paris and Rome.
Italy has sought the extradition of around 200 convicted former militants believed to be in France over the years.
Italy’s far-left Red Brigades group killed about 50 people in a terror campaign in the 1970s and ‘80s.


Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
Updated 29 June 2022

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
  • The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth and bold tax cuts
  • Otokita was elected to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo

TOKYO: Shun Otokita, member of the House of Councilors, believes that relations with the Middle East is important for Japan.
Otokita is the chairman of the Policy Research Council of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).
The ritzy Ginza district in Tokyo was part of his campaign trail where he gave his support to candidates, Kiyoshi Nakajo and Yuki Ebisawa, and appealed to passers-by saying, “We will stamp down the liar LDP.”
The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth, bold tax cuts and economic stimulus measures, as well as the elimination of the 1 percent GDP limit for Japan’s defense budget. The party sees a need for greater defense spending and military capabilities.
Otokita, 38, was elected to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 2013 and to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo. He serves on the Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defense and sees the Middle East as an important ally.
“Our relationship with Middle Eastern countries will become increasingly important due to soaring energy prices,” Otokita said. “I will do my best to continue building Japan’s diplomatic relations with them as well as with Asia and Europe.”
 


Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
Updated 29 June 2022

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
  • Noor Mohammad, 48, departed from his home in Ghazni province in early May
  • He was stranded in Iran after failing to obtain Iraqi visa to continue journey by land

KABUL: A pilgrim from southeastern Afghanistan, who became a social media sensation when he embarked on a bicycle journey to Makkah last month, has reached Saudi Arabia, Afghan authorities said on Wednesday, after his expedition took a series of unexpected turns, including a sponsored flight.

Noor Mohammad departed from his home in Layeq village, in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province in early May, planning to cover more than 6,000 kilometers to reach the holy city of Islam by July and perform Hajj.

As he cycled through Afghanistan, a Taliban scholar offered him assistance in getting a plane ticket, but the 48-year-old refused, wanting to go the extra mile in fulfilling the sacred obligation.

Little did he know that soon the help would be needed when after three weeks he got stranded in Iran, trying to obtain an Iraqi visa in the border city of Khorramshahr.

“My Afghan friends promised to get me Iraq’s visa there,” Mohammad told Arab News, as he described his further attempts to get a Kuwaiti visa instead. Again, to no avail.

That was when he decided to reach out to the scholar.

“I had no other way. I contacted Shaikh Hammasi through WhatsApp,” he said. “He introduced me to an Afghan businessman who helped with the stay in Iran and return back to Kabul.”

In Kabul, he was immediately accepted for a Hajj preparation course, where officials took care of his departure. His flight was reportedly covered by acting Interior Minister Serajuddin Haqqani, a close aide of Anas Haqqani — the minister’s brother and senior Taliban leader — told Arab News.

“The ministry of Hajj processed my passport on an urgent basis,” Mohammad said, just days before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

He flew from Kabul on Tuesday, after all his travel documents were processed.

“His name was put on the first flight after that,” Mawlawi Israrulhaq, an official at the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, said. “He traveled to Jeddah from where he will join other Afghan Hajjis in Makkah.”

Mohammad was preparing for his flight days after a deadly earthquake wreaked havoc in eastern Afghanistan, killing an estimated 1,150 people last week.

He has been praying for the victims and said he would remember them too when he reached Makkah.

“As soon as I get to Makkah, I will pray to Allah to make it easy for the families who lost loved ones and their houses,” he added. “I am going to ask him to solve all problems of Afghans.”


British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
Updated 29 June 2022

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
  • One million people will perform Hajj this year
  • Sarah Rana said she feels “special and honored” to be performing Hajj next month

LONDON: A British pilgrim has said she feels “very blessed” to be among the 1 million people performing Hajj this year.

Sarah Rana, a management consultant and chartered surveyor, is performing Hajj for the first time and said she feels “special and honored” to be part of the annual gathering.

This year’s Hajj will be the first post-pandemic pilgrimage open to foreign pilgrims, and 1 million people will perform it this year as people across the globe start traveling again. 

Around 2.5 million people performed Hajj in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and approximately 1,000 and 60,000 people from within the Kingdom performed it in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The chartered surveyor said that she started thinking about going to Hajj during the pandemic when she began reading the Qur’an more and learning about the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

A man reads the Qur'an at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana told Arab News that she has done “a lot of the emotional processing” and is now concentrating on preparing herself physically for the journey ahead which starts with her flight to the Kingdom on Friday.

“45 degrees is not going to be easy. That's going to be massive. If it goes over 30 degrees, my hands and feet start swelling,” Rana said. 

An employee hands out umbrellas at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to help beat the heat. (@ReasahAlharmain)

She said that although she walked the London Marathon last year, walking in the heat “is going to be a very different experience. So I’m not not taking it lightly. I’m thinking it through.”

Rana added that her friends and family have been giving her Hajj tips and that she is “quite well prepared.”

The Kaaba can be seen at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

“I’ve been buying clothes. I found that the stuff that was more expensive was more uncomfortable. So I’m just going to take my practical stuff,” Rana said.

Muslims believe that supplications that pilgrims make during Hajj, especially on the ninth day of Dhu Al-Hijjah, are definitely accepted.

A woman supplicates at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana said she believes that God knows her needs and will give her what is best for her. She will be praying for her kids, that the remainder of her life is a good one and for financial independence.

She said performing Hajj represents a new start for her and will give her closure from any painful experiences in the past. 

“As I turn 50 this year, I think it’s closure to a lot of stuff and genuinely about a new start, whatever that new start is. It’s very meaningful.”