In ‘Both/And,’ Huma Abedin expresses her appreciation for mentor Hillary Clinton.
Huma Abedin has been in the shadows for more than two decades.
Abedin, a former wife of disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner and a gatekeeper to one of the world’s most famous women, Hillary Clinton, has often been seen in public but seldom heard from.
Abedin’s book, Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds, tells her life – the good and the ugly. The term alludes to the several identities that constitute her. Although he was born in Michigan, he was reared in Saudi Arabia. Her mother was from India, while her father was from Pakistan. “You are an American and a Muslim,” her Abbu (father) informed her.
Many children of immigrants (like me) enter public service in order to give back to the country that has provided so much opportunity to their family. Abedin is no different. Except that her tenure in the White House, Senate, and State Department placed her in an exclusive group. She learned to fish from Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, stayed at Buckingham Palace, and celebrated Eid with then-President Barack Obama at a White House Iftar feast. It’s even more startling when she reveals an unwelcome and unexpected kiss from an anonymous senator, or when a stranger approaches Abedin in the New York City subway shortly after Clinton’s 2016 defeat to Donald Trump and says, “If you don’t love this country, why don’t you leave?”
She didn’t respond to the stranger at the time, but this book is her response. Nonetheless, her book is less about the “multiple worlds” she lives and more about Hillaryland, the one place that has dominated her existence since her senior year of college.
Hillary Clinton as a mentor and ally
Find a photograph of Hillary Clinton — or HRC, as she is often referred to in the book — and Abedin is almost always close, whispering something in her ear, giving her paperwork, briefing her, or standing somewhere in the wings observing. Her affection and regard for HRC is evident throughout the book. “I want to do everything it takes to support her [HRC] and help her succeed in anything she does,” she declared in one of her early job interviews. Whether it was leaving a family wedding early or working extraordinarily long days that left little time for family, friends, much alone romance, Abedin’s goal has always been to assist HRC succeed because she believes in Clinton and her work.
There isn’t a single negative remark about HRC in this book. Her criticism of the email server is directed at James Comey, and she scarcely mentions the infighting that marred Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Her respect for the lady with whom she has worked for more than 20 years, and who apparently regards Abedin as a second daughter, is palpable. “Having someone in your life you can turn to for sound guidance, genuine thoughts, and secrecy is beneficial.” “It simply happened to be Hillary Clinton in my instance,” she adds.
But, for all the work she did behind the scenes for Clinton, from travel to policy (she hid in a trunk to avoid the press — not the last time she’d do that — to set up a secret meeting between Obama and Clinton and was on a work call while she was in labor), it wasn’t HRC, but her chief of staff Cheryl Mills, who encouraged Abedin, then deputy chief of staff, to have a seat at the table. “You are no longer the person waiting outside for the conference to conclude,” Mills said to Abedin, “you have a place at the table.” You’ve been harboring one for a long time. It is now your turn to occupy it in the outer world.”
Abedin writes extensively on HRC’s support and commitment, which she reciprocated. But you can also see how much pressure Abedin placed on herself to never do anything that would bring Clinton dishonor or embarrassment. Unfortunately, her marriage did not assist her in this regard.
Finding love and experiencing heartache
Weiner attempted to meet Abedin for the first time in 2001, and to put it frankly, she was uninterested, she says. Weiner and her employer, on the other hand, were both New York politicians who saw each other often. Nonetheless, it was an email he wrote her in 2007 that prompted a late-night dinner of French fries and milkshakes. Weiner sat between Clinton and Obama at the State of the Union, where they had a short encounter after both launched their candidacy for president. “This was an occasion when everyone was itching to hear what had happened, but no one really needed to know,” Abedin realized. If there was anything significant, Clinton would let her know. Weiner said that it was a bizarre event and asked if Abedin wanted to hear about it. She did it. In the end, he never said anything — but that chat, which began with politics and then moved on to family and other themes, lasted until 3 a.m. She found him to be intelligent, fascinating, and never dull, she writes. And gradually, that connection grew into something more – her first serious relationship.
She had reservations about marrying Weiner because of their differing beliefs (Weiner gave up pork and alcohol for her) and her desire to stay in the background, which is not expected of a politician’s wife. Her family was equally skeptical. Abedin remembers her mother going to HRC to assuage her mother’s concerns. Looking back, Abedin writes that if there was one warning sign, it would have been while they were contemplating how and when to be married. He was only interested in marrying her, she remembered. “I’m broken,” he said, “and you have to repair me.” She assumed he was joking at the moment.
It’s like driving by a traffic disaster, reading about the sort of relationship she desired (the love and commitment her parents had for one another) and knowing that the sexting scandals and her emails discovered on his laptop would revive the FBI probe into Clinton’s emails that await her. I wanted to turn away, but I also wanted to know why she had stuck with Weiner for so long. The answer is straightforward: for her family. When the initial sexting issue surfaced, she was pregnant with their first child, Jordan. “At the time, it seemed to me that my husband had done something vexing, extremely wrong, childish, rude, and dumb, but nothing that permanently impacted our relationship,” she writes. He requested assistance since they were expecting a child.
When it occurred again during his mayoral campaign, she remained by him and appeared at a news conference in his favor. “The response was quick and harsh,” she writes. It would also be the last time she did anything like that. She even anticipated to lose her job as a result of it, as she remembered people saying HRC she should fire her. Clinton, however, did not. “She stated she didn’t think I should pay a professional price for something that was ultimately my husband’s fault, not mine,” Abedin writes.
But, despite his flaws as a spouse, which Abedin later discovered extended beyond sexting with certain women, she writes that he was and is a decent parent. He got his kid ready for school and bedtime, scheduled play dates and doctor’s visits, and kept the home running while she was on the campaign road for HRC’s 2016 campaign. The marriage had crumbled, but it was the sexting incident, which featured a picture of their kid and resulted in a child services investigation, that eventually drove her to divorce Weiner. If family was what held her in that marriage for so long, it was the danger to her family that eventually drove her to leave. She solely discusses Weiner’s troubles in the context of how they impacted her. (In the end, she writes, it is his narrative to tell.) The two are still co-parenting, but it has required a lot of effort and treatment on both of their parts, which she claims she undertook for their kid.
Her religion and family are her pillars.
One lesson Abedin claims she learned early in Islam class was that “slander, gossip, and exploiting people’s personal weaknesses” were not acceptable behaviors for any genuine Muslim. Both Abedin and Clinton had their husbands’ personal flaws exposed in public. Both depended on religion, family, and friends to get through it. And if they spoke about anything other than what Abedin recounts in the book, you get the impression that it was and is none of anybody else’s concern.
While most people would be drawn to the politics or controversies, it is the tale of her parents — their family background — that offers the greatest insight on who Abedin is. Her ideals and ideas have been founded on the foundations of family and religion. And the things her parents taught her, from responsibility to welcoming visitors, as well as her father’s early passing, influenced who she is today. Much of it may be summed up by something her father wrote — a thought of the day letter that can be seen at the beginning of the biography but is replayed throughout. “As an American, a Muslim, and a member of a good family, I believe that a promise should be a commitment… “You must be fair, honest, and straightforward,” he writes. Get out of the kitchen if you can’t tolerate the heat. “However, your leaving should be gracious, respectable, and legal.” Allow people to do what they like. You are first and foremost accountable to yourself, your ideals, your values, and ultimately to Yahweh (Allah).”
In this novel, her religion is on full show. It is a bit disappointing, though, that she does not address the islamophobia that has been a source of worry for many Muslim-Americans until late in the book. When her family is targeted by a few members of Congress and threats are made against her, it is McCain and others who stand up for Abedin. But it’s the prospect (and then reality) of a Trump administration that has prompted her to come up.
She has no problem limiting how much she discloses in her book, despite the fact that she has had to say “No” to some powerful individuals and is, at heart, a private person.
Sure, there are some details that everyone wants to know (who was the senator who forcefully kissed her, who was the “friend” who advised she divorce Weiner and establish a family later), but just because we want to know doesn’t mean we have to.