“Why aren’t we talking about Huma [Abedin] and her ties to the Muslim Brotherhood? Why aren’t we talking about the fact that she was an editor for a Sharia newspaper?”
— Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), interview on CNN, Aug. 23, 2016
Huma Abedin is a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, having worked for her when Clinton was first lady, a senator and secretary of state. Abedin is now vice chair of the Clinton campaign. She is married to former representative Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who resigned in disgrace over sex-tinged social media posts.
But Abedin has also been the subject of suspicion on the right, given that she grew up in Saudi Arabia (after being born in Kalamazoo, Mich.) before attending George Washington University.
Roger Stone, a top adviser to GOP nominee Donald Trump, described Abedin on Aug. 23 as a “Saudi asset.” Her name popped in the news again after the New York Post published an article Aug. 21 titled, “Huma Abedin worked at a radical Muslim journal for a dozen years” — what Duffy was referring to when he said she was “an editor for a Sharia newspaper.”
The Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni Islamic movement that is a force in Middle Eastern politics — and labeled by some countries as a terrorist organization.
Duffy made this statement as he decried what he considered the media’s obsession with controversies around Trump, while ignoring issues involving Clinton. Let’s explore whether Duffy’s assertions about Abedin hold water.
The peer-reviewed journal had been founded by Abedin’s late father, Syed, who died in 1993. Circulation figures are not available, but the online resource WorldCat says it can be found in fewer than 600 libraries around the world. (Generally, academic journals are mostly sold to libraries, at high cost.)
The fact that Huma Abedin was listed as an assistant editor between 1996 and 2008 is not news, as that had previously been reported in 2012. The Clinton campaign says Abedin played no role in editing articles; her brother and sister are also listed as staff members.
The New York Post described the journal as “a radical Muslim publication” but that’s ridiculous, according to experts on Islam and members of the advisory board. The New York Post report cherry-picked quotes and mischaracterized articles published over the years, including by Saleha Abedin, according to a review of the articles by the Fact Checker.
“I wouldn’t consider it ‘radical.’ Quite the contrary,” said Noah Feldman, director of the Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at Harvard Law School. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of articles expressing conservative viewpoints, of course. But I’ve never seen anything in any way radical.”
Dale F. Eickelman of Dartmouth College, who is a member of the journal’s advisory board, described it as a “fairly innocuous journal.” He said it was “anything but radical, within the golden mean of what academic journals do.” He said most of the articles are written by emerging scholars who are relatively early in their academic careers. “The authors can vary in quality, as is the case with most academic journals,” he said. “Some are more edgy than others, but you can learn some fresh things.” He added that no one works on the journal full time.
Ali Asani, another advisory board member who directs the Islamic Studies program at Harvard University, said that Abedin’s father was especially interested in issues concerning Muslims who live as minorities in countries, as well as Muslim sects that are minorities in Muslim communities. That interest continues to be demonstrated in the recent issue, with five articles on Muslim life in Australia.
Asani described Syed Abedin as a model of a “moderate Muslim” (though he dislikes the term), who was educated at Aligarh Muslim University in India, founded as a forward-thinking, even liberal institution. Syed later received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Asani said that he attended a conference organized by Syed that featured a speech by Bernard Lewis, the Princeton University scholar whose advice was sought by neoconservatives before the 2003 Iraq invasion. (Lewis at one time also was an advisory board member of the journal.)
Oddly, the New York Post described the journal as a “Saudi propaganda organ” — even though the Saudi government has banned the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Presumably one cannot be both a Saudi propagandist and a Muslim Brotherhood operative at the same time.
This brings us to Huma Abedin’s supposed “ties” to the Muslim Brotherhood. Bear with us, as it’s really a case of six degrees of separation.
Syed Abedin in 1978 founded the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, a think tank which began publishing the journal a year later, with the support of Abdullah Omar Naseef, at the time president of King Abdulaziz University. Later, between 1983 and 1993, Naseef was secretary-general of the Muslim World League, a pan-Islamic nongovernmental organization. (Interestingly, in 1983, Naseef was also awarded the Bronze Wolf, bestowed by the World Scout Committee for “outstanding service to the World Scout Movement.”)
Naseef thus was secretary-general when the Muslim World League, after heated debate, in 1990 endorsed Saudi Arabia’s decision to call in U.S. troops to help defend the kingdom after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Naseef’s name also appeared on the advisory board of the journal until 2004, though members say their duties are limited to reviewing an occasional article before publication.
In 1988, during his tenure at the Muslim World League, Naseef authorized a Pakistani charity called the Rabita Trust at a time when the United States and its allies funded the mujahideen fighting the Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan. Years later, the fund became associated with al-Qaeda (which, after all, emerged from the mujahideen) and was frozen in 2002 by the Treasury Department after the 9/11 attacks. But that distant connection, a quarter-century later, is now used to tar Abedin.
Meanwhile, Abedin’s mother founded an aid organization in the 1990s called the International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child, which at one point was said to be affiliated with International Islamic Council for Da’wa and Relief. IICDR was banned in Israel years later for allegedly supporting Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, under the auspices of yet another group, the Union of Good. The Union of Good was designated by Treasury in 2008 for aiding a terrorist organization.
James Piscatori, an Islamic scholar at Durham University in England who said he was involved with the Institute for Muslim Minority Affairs from its earliest days, described both parents as “pioneers” in the studies of Muslim minorities who edited a serious academic publication. “Associational blame ignores the nuance and contextualisation that individuals bring to their analysis, and seeks to delegitimise them by an unreflective linkage to ‘radicalism,’” he said.
Indeed, the connections are so tenuous as to be obscure. Harvard’s Asani said the alleged connections to the Muslim Brotherhood are “crazy” when you consider the stated purpose of the journal. “The Muslim Brotherhood was the last organization interested in this issue” of the rights of minority Muslims, he said. “Syed Abedin was far from the Muslim Brotherhood. It makes absolutely no sense.”
The Pinocchio Test
Duffy asked why the alleged Muslim Brotherhood connections to Huma Abedin are not being talked about. Perhaps it’s because they are bogus. Abedin has lived in the United States for 23 years, working in the White House, the Senate and the State Department. Vague suggestions of suspicious-sounding connections to her parents don’t pass the laugh test, even at the flimsiest standard of guilt by association.
The journal edited by her mother, meanwhile, is not “sharia newspaper” but a sober academic journal with a range of viewpoints on Muslim life around the world.