Huma Abedin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, has been in the news recently as her husband, the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, tries to worm his way back into the public eye. Weiner paraded Abedin and their six-month-old infant before the cameras of People magazine this week as part of a not-so-subtle campaign to rehabilitate himself. But Abedin has other worries besides those associated with her husband. She was singled out in a letter sent by Rep. Michele Bachmann and four members of Congress that highlighted the ties between her family and the Muslim Brotherhood. The letter asked for the State Department’s Inspector General to conduct an investigation into whether Abedin and others had wrongly influenced American policy to show favor to the Islamist group that is battling for power in Egypt. That prompted a furious response from Sen. John McCain, who blasted Bachmann on the floor of the Senate. McCain described Abedin as a friend and said attacks on her “character, reputation and patriotism” were unwarranted and unfair.
McCain’s counterattack on behalf of Abedin is being echoed throughout the mainstream press. The New York Times editorial page today described Bachmann’s charges as a “crackpot allegation of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to infiltrate the government.” The Boston Globe’s Juliette Kayeem wrote in a column that the mention of Abedin’s mother was a new take on an old theme, a “Manchurian Mom.” While McCain’s speech centered on a defense of Abedin, both pieces poured scorn on the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood was worth worrying about or whether a discussion of the State Department’s conduct vis-à-vis the organization was worthy of scrutiny. The whole thing, they said, was merely a new front in an effort to single out Muslim-Americans and subject them to discrimination.
Prejudice against Muslims is wrong, and conspiracy theories are a noxious weed in political discourse. Those who think the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the State Department are probably wrong, as there is no shortage of diplomats and consultants who foolishly think the United States should be engaging with the Islamist group without any of them being part of a plot. But if the Bachmann letter is used as an excuse to brand as McCarthyism any effort to discuss a possible shift in U.S. policy toward appeasing Islamist groups, that would be a mistake.
Abedin is entitled to a presumption of innocence, and given her history and personal circumstances the notion that she is a Brotherhood mole seems farfetched at best. But her family connections with the Brotherhood should raise some eyebrows. If a Jewish official were similarly tied to an extremist group such as the Jewish Defense League, it would be a matter for some uncomfortable speculation despite the fact that the JDL is utterly marginal. Given that the Brotherhood is a powerful and dangerous organization, it is not unreasonable for some questions to be asked.
But even if we assume, as we probably should, that Abedin has been thoroughly vetted and that mentioning her in this connection was an error, that does not mean members of Congress ought not to be asking questions about the State Department’s willingness to make nice with the Brotherhood. Nor should it lead us to ignore the other issues raised in both the letter to the State Department and another one written by the same group to the Department of Homeland Security about the vetting of individuals with Islamist ties and the use of materials that tend to downplay the nature of the Islamist threat from the Brotherhood and related groups, including those that have rationalized or support terrorism. The government has shown a troubling tendency to be unable to distinguish between patriotic American Muslims and Islamists who purport to speak for American Muslims.
The problem here is that by making a martyr out of Abedin, Bachmann and her colleagues have fed the false narrative about a mythical post 9-11 backlash against Muslims whose purpose is to shut down appropriate scrutiny of extremist groups and individuals. Doing so has aided those who wish to silence the discussion about Islamist terror and portray the Center for Security Policy, the Washington think tank that has documented many of the concerns the members of Congress raised, as a voice of extremism. In fact, it is raising legitimate issues that deserve to be aired.
McCarthyism was wrong not just because some of those who were subjected to scrutiny were innocent of the charge of being Communists, but because unfair accusations served to discredit any questions about Soviet espionage. Despite Joseph McCarthy’s lies about the subject, the issue of Communist subversion was real. While there is no evidence the Muslim Brotherhood has embarked on a similar campaign, the threat from Islamist terror is no less real and should not be ignored because of worries about false charges or prejudice.
Instead of worrying about Abedin and her family or elevating her to the status of Muslim-American heroine, what we should be doing is discussing the mistakes of her boss, Secretary Clinton. It is Clinton who is responsible for the administration’s troubling decisions to edge closer to the Brotherhood. Anything that distracts us from that or from the genuine threat of domestic and international Islamist terrorism is a terrible blunder.