Huma Abedin, a veteran Washington insider and estranged wife of the scandalised former congressman Anthony Weiner, has written a memoir – not only about her years within the inner circle, but also about her difficult marriage, pending divorce and being Muslim in America.
While promoting the book Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds Abedin participated in an online chat with Razia Iqbal, London host of the BBC show Talking Books.
Abedin, who was born in Michigan but raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said she initially wanted to be a journalist and eventually White House press secretary. The reporter and news show host Christiane Amanpour was one of her main role models growing up.
“My dream was to be her when I was a little girl,”Abedin said.
“Imagine it's possible for yourself, as a girl sitting in Saudi Arabia on the floor of our apartment, seeing a woman come on TV who looked like … wow, I mean, it was amazing. And everyone else I saw was either covered or didn't look like me.”
Though she was an assistant editor at The Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, a career in public service ultimately won out after a 1996 White House internship increased in scope.
Abedin, 45, served as Hillary Clinton’s back-up aide and was promoted to personal aide and adviser in 2000 after Clinton won her New York senate bid. In 2009, she acted as deputy chief of staff to Clinton, who at the time was secretary of state.
While working for Clinton in her 2016 presidential bid, Abedin was often the campaign’s go-to concerning Muslim-American voters, a role she took seriously. She speaks Arabic and Urdu.
A devout Muslim, her mother is Pakistani and her late father, who immigrated to the US from India, ran a foundation dedicated to the worldwide betterment of Muslim relations.
“It was all about exploring the condition of Muslim minorities around the world and he was pressured about things like Bosnia, and what was it going to be like for the workers in China, and the working NGOs in Myanmar and what was it going to be like for young Muslim men,” she said.
She recalls a time when things got heated on the campaign trail after candidate Donald Trump launched into threats against her community and other minorities.
“On behalf of the campaign, I would go into Muslim-American communities and give speeches about the threat from the other side,” Abedin said.
Many thought she was being over dramatic and saw Mr Trump’s tirades as hyperbole, an entertainer merely stirring up an audience.
While working as Clinton’s deputy secretary of state, Abedin herself was a victim of a smear campaign launched by five Republican members of Congress. They wrote to the state department alleging that she and her family had ties to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and organisations and questioned whether she should hold a security clearance.
Former congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who was running for president at the time, read the letter aloud to the US House of Representatives.
“It may have been the hardest thing I had to endure, and I've certainly had hardships in my life,” Abedin said.
“I've been in politics a really long time I'd seen the ugly… and John McCain goes to the Senate floor and defends me.”
In a speech on the Senate floor, McCain denounced Bachmann's charges as "specious and degrading” and called Abedin a "hard-working and loyal servant of our country and our government" and stated "these attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit. They need to stop now".
She reflects on the episode with a mixture of anger and sadness, as she wasn't the only Muslim American that Bachmann and the others had tried to discredit.
“There were other very accomplished, very successful, upstanding Muslim Americans who are also in that letter. I just happened to be the most high-profile. It wasn't even about me. They were both standing up for the values and the principles upon which this country was founded. It was not okay."