Huma Abedin on Donald Trump's Anti-Muslim Plans: 'I Want My Son to Grow Up in the Same Open, Tolerant, Welcoming America I've Always Known'
Hillary Clinton advisor Huma Abedin suspends the privacy she prizes to speak out to PEOPLE on a personal issue
Huma Abedin is a naturally private person – but when she heard Donald Trump‘s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. she took the unusual step of speaking out, both as a “proud Muslim” and as a citizen of the country that gave her own family refuge.
Channeling her shock, anger and sorrow, Hillary Clinton‘s longtime close aide and vice chair of her 2016 presidential campaign, wrote in an email to Clinton supporters on Monday night: “You don’t have to share my faith to share my disgust. Trump wants to literally write racism into our law books.”
The brief message spread far and fast and by the next morning, the response was overwhelming, Abedin tells PEOPLE. As she made her way to Clinton campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, her phone buzzed with messages and people who recognized her stopped her on the street to say her message resonated with them.
[BRIGHTCOVE “20965437” “” “peoplenow” “no” ]
Now, Abedin, who is teaching her son Jordan, 3, not only Islam but also the Jewish faith of her husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, is speaking out more extensively.
She got on the phone late Tuesday with PEOPLE’s Sandra Sobieraj Westfall to talk about the America that Abedin and her family have known and about the welcoming country of refuge and religious freedom in which she hopes Jordan will be able to thrive:
My initial reaction was shock and anger. I felt like I was living in an alternative universe. That’s just not the America I know and love.
Ironically, the reason I was born in this country is because my parents were immigrants who were worried about going back to their native countries as a married couple. My father was from India, my mother from Pakistan, and in 1964, unrest and instability caused by the recent partition made going back ‘home’ risky.
They met at the University of Pennsylvania as students on Fulbright scholarships. My mom wore saris and my dad Nehru collared jackets. They had a wonderful love story, got married and sought refuge in America. My mom still has the letter from then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk granting them a waiver to stay in this country.
This country – the United States of America – welcomed them and gave them opportunities they may not have otherwise had.
My identity my entire life has been American. As a child, I was blessed. My parents took us on adventures all over the world – from the Middle East to Asia to Southeast Asia, Africa and throughout Europe.
Everywhere we went, we were very proudly American.
When I hear and read what Donald Trump and his supporters – and even other Republican candidates, too – say about Muslims, it just doesn’t ring true to me. Being Muslim is not foreign. Here in America, what’s foreign is that kind of discrimination.
It seems impossible to believe that, fifty years after my parents found refuge here, some people are trying to change our core values and who we are as a country – from acceptance to intolerance, from strength to fear.
Now I’m a mother myself, and I want my son to grow up in the same open, tolerant, welcoming America that I’ve always known.
I’ve been speaking to a lot of American Muslims recently and many of them say they’ve never before felt this level of racism or hate, with people labeling them as ‘the other’ even though they are American as much as they are Muslim.
Today, many say: we feel like ‘the other.’
I know how they feel.
All the American Muslims I know – especially those of us who are parents – want the same things out of life as everyone else. We worry about our kids eating well, being safe, and getting the best possible education. With the recent attacks around the world, we worry about keeping our children safe. And, increasingly, we worry about who will keep us safe in the future.
There are candidates who speak to people’s fears, which is understandable. No one wants to live in a world where you’re worried about going to your office party, or afraid something will happen on the subway. And that includes Muslim Americans. We want peace and security just like everyone else.
For me, it was best summed up by a passer-by on the London subway during the recent terror stabbing who told the attacker: ‘You ain’t no Muslim, Bruv.’
No truer words.
My father, who was a professor, wrote something shortly before he passed away. I always thought it was powerful, and I woke up in the middle of the night thinking of it.
It’s called ‘Let There Be Light’ and reads:
“Wherever there is a slaughter of innocent men, women and children for the mere reason that they belong to another race, color or nationality, or were born into a faith which the majority of them could never quite comprehend and hardly ever practice in its true spirit; wherever the fair name of religion is used as a veneer to hide overweening political ambition and bottomless greed; wherever the glory of God is sought to be proclaimed through the barrel of a gun; wherever piety becomes synonymous with rapacity and morality cowers under the blight of expediency and compromise; wherever it be, in Yugoslavia or Algeria, in Liberia, Chad or the beautiful land of the Sudan, in Los Angeles or Abuja, in Kashmir or Conakry, in Colombo or Cotabatu – there God is banished and Satan is triumphant; there the angels weep and the soul of man cringes; there in the name of God humans are dehumanized; and there the grace and beauty of life lies ravished and undone.”
“When would men ever realize: in this game, there are no winners.”
That was written in 1992. He was referring to what was happening in Yugoslavia and other places in the world at the time – people using religion as an excuse for violence. That kind of behavior is not new. Neither is using religion as the reason to discriminate and divide. It has certainly been part of our past.
But with so many painful lessons from history, hate can’t be how we move forward. As Hillary has said, our fight against radical jihadism isn’t a clash of two civilizations. It’s a clash between hate and hope.
And there is nothing more American than hope.