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.