This week, Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton’s most trusted confidantes, finally dumped her husband Anthony Weiner, who was caught, once again, sending louche photos of himself to a random woman on the internet. Though Weiner could not be said to have any real ties to the Clinton campaign, his banishment from even the outer reaches of Clintonworld can be considered nothing less than a net positive for Clinton. But in the eyes Donald Trump, the scandal presents an opportunity to vilify a favored scapegoat.
Trump finds Abedin to be irresistible. She’s everything he could want in a target for his brand of paranoid mud-throwing. In addition to being a longtime aide of Clinton and the wife of Weiner, she’s a Muslim-American whose parents are from Pakistan. To most people, the only embarrassing fact here is the marriage to Weiner, which should properly excite pity rather than derision. But for Trump and his campaign, Abedin’s background and closeness to Clinton make her an ideal figure to cast in lurid tales about terrorist sleeper cells and lesbian intrigue.
The fact that the stories about Abedin, taken as a whole, are wildly contradictory hardly matters. She’s meant to play the part of the villain, so gets accused of everything Trump’s camp considers disturbing and/or titillating: passing on national security secrets to her perverted husband, carrying on an affair with Clinton, advancing Sharia law in America. To the Trumpian imagination, Abedin is a bizarre mixture of Osama bin Laden, Rasputin, and Catherine Tramell (the bisexual villain in Basic Instinct).
Speaking on KIRO radio in Seattle yesterday, Trump described Weiner as
“a pervert and just a very sick guy,” and proceeded to make these strange comments:
By the way—check, take a look at where [Abedin] worked, by the way, and take a look at where her mother worked, and works. You take a look at the whole event. But in the case of Anthony Weiner, she’s married to a guy that’s uncontrolled, and uncontrollable. He’s a sick person. And you know she has access to classified information. Huma Abedin has access to classified information. How Hillary got away with that one, nobody will ever know.
Unless you are conversant in the special idiolect of right-wing paranoia, it’s hard to know what Trump is talking about here. Fortunately, Trump’s longtime unofficial aide and hatchetman Roger Stone is a useful translation service. Stone is willing to spell out what Trump only dares hint at.
Why did Trump refer to Abedin’s mother, Saleha Mahmood Abedin? He was making a muffled allusion to claims on the right that Saleha Mahmood Abedin, a sociologist who is a dean at at University in Pennsylvania, is a covert jihadist.
On The Alex Jones Show on August 23, the host and Roger Stone had a grisly discussion about Abedin and her mother:
ROGER STONE: I think she’s a Saudi asset. The media keeps saying her mother’s a prominent feminist. No. Her mother’s a prominent advocate for genital mutilation. She has written extensively about genital mutilation.
ALEX JONES: Did Huma have her genitals cut off?
STONE: That I cannot tell you. But what I can tell you is—
JONES: I mean it’s fair, I don’t mean that to be crass!
On August 28, The New York Post tried to mainstream these accusations by alleging that Saleha Mahmood Abedin “had explored the religious merits of sexual submissiveness, child marriage, lashings and stonings for adulterous women, and even the circumcision of girls.”
Simply as a factual matter, these accusations are absurd. They rest on cherry-picking quotes from a journal Saleha Mahmood Abedin edited, and are belied by the evidence that she’s a feminist who raised her daughter to be an independent woman. (Surely it’s a strange jihadi who would allow her daughter to marry a Jewish man.)
What makes Stone’s conspiracy theory (which Trump echoed) even more strange is that Stone also believes that Huma Abedin and Clinton are lovers. As Stone told the Palm Beach New Times, “She and Huma Abedin sleep in the same room. Bill told Gennifer Flowers—it’s in her book—‘She’s eaten more pussy than I have.’ Those aren’t my words. Those are Bill’s words.”
The theories circulating on the Trumpian right about Huma Abedin amount to this: She’s an undercover jihadi lesbian who is having an affair with Hillary Clinton while being married to a scandal-laden former congressman, to whom she might have shown top secret documents. This is not, to put it mildly, a plausible theory. If she’s a jihadi, why is she also engaged in forbidden sex? And why is she showing documents to a Jewish former congressman? In fact, why is she married to a Jewish “pervert”?
Yet if the image painted of Abedin makes no sense on the level of coherence, it does work very well in the logic of sexism. Like her employer, Abedin is a very strong and capable woman whose rise to prominence upends traditional patriarchy. Men like Trump and Stone react to such women with fear, and develop all sorts of prurient, sexist theories about them. In the past, Hillary Clinton herself has been portrayed as both sexually frigid and a lascivious sexual carnivore, sometimes by the same people.
Such theories are a reflection of the inchoate fears of the people who hold them. They see female independence as monstrous. The nature of monsters is to be mysterious and amorphous, hence the contradictory traits ascribed to Clinton and Abedin.
After her painful week, Abedin may be free of Anthony Weiner, but she’ll have to deal with the sexism of Trump for many more days yet.