In America, breaking news is often about immoral indiscretions of male politicians rushing to apologise. These characters jam the news channels when they fall from grace. Public interest is heightened with the tittle-tattle. Never short of scandals, the media has a field day airing salacious details with graphic images pixelated in parts not meant to be exposed to the viewers.
Today’s daily feed is the cringe-inducing photos and lewd text circulating the airwaves and cyber space. This is making many New Yorkers nervous. What if Anthony Weiner, the serial ‘sexter’ (sending his nude pictures to others through a text message) becomes their new mayor? More perplexing is wife Huma Abedin’s role amid the sleaze and vapidity harvested by the media acreage.
Gossip websites, investigative online journals, TV channels and national dailies like the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today wonder why Huma, whose mother is Pakistani and father was born in undivided India, still stands by her sexually deviant husband, Anthony Weiner. Why, ask all.
Mayoral race aside, the man standing for the comptroller’s job too carries extra baggage bulging with a damning portfolio of his past sexual secret rendezvous with prostitutes.
The title of this story can well be ‘Sex and the City.’ It’s a tale of two unfaithful husbands and their forgiving wives. The scene of action is New York, the city that never sleeps for fear it may miss the dizzying pulsations gyrating on life’s conveyor belt. But as the race for a new mayor and comptroller heats up, disbelief and disdain levitates.
The two men continue to say ‘sorry’.
Eliot Spitzer was the governor of New York in 2007. He resigned a year later after admitting that he patronised high-end prostitutes hiring their services for $4,000 a night. Wife Silda stoically stood by her husband’s side at his first press conference. She later moved out and lives in a separate apartment. The couple is not estranged as once more she has rallied around Eliot to support him for the second most important public office in New York City. Silda, like Huma has forgiven her husband. New Yorkers, however, have a different take. Shocked are women especially. They question why the wronged wives didn’t divorce their husbands, leave alone support their candidacy.
“When the significant other forgives you, it makes your road back in politics that much easier,” Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University is quoted as saying. “If the wife goes on the campaign trail or seems really supportive, it makes a huge difference. If she doesn't, it may raise doubts with women.”
The world’s most ‘influential paper’ named after the city is not sitting idly watching Weiner’s drama unfold. In a strongly worded editorial, the New York Times advised the mayoral candidate, addicted to sexting, “should take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the web and out of the race for mayor of New York City”.
Weiner’s posts to women were revealed two years ago. He first denied sending them. Then admitted, promising never to do it again. But he’s done it again. “A website called The Dirty had another woman’s story, another round of sex texts [under his pseudonym Carlos Danger] and another picture of Mr Weiner’s xxxx,” says the paper. The NYT editorial scolds the couple. It’s message: enough! “Mr Weiner and Ms Abedin have been saying that his sexual behaviour is not the public’s business. Well, it isn’t, until they make it our business by plunging into a political campaign … To those who know his arrogance and have grown tired of the tawdry saga he has dragged the city into, this is not surprising”.
Huma Mahmood Abedin, 36, is a practicing Muslim, fluent in Arabic and Urdu. Her father, Syed Zainul Abedin, was born in undivided India and studied at Aligarh University. Her mother, Saleha Mahmood Abedin, is Pakistani, currently teaching at a college in Jeddah. She wears the hijab.
For a decade, Huma has worked as staff chief for Hillary Clinton who once said, “I only have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would be Huma.” She told the Vogue magazine that profiled Huma in 2007: “Huma Abedin has the energy of a woman in her 20s, the confidence of a woman in her 30s, the experience of a woman in her 40s and the grace of a woman in her 50s,” President Bill Clinton officiated at the Weiner/Abedin wedding in 2010.
Abedin is Muslim and Weiner is Jewish.
Aren’t we lucky? Such scandals don’t ‘happen’ in Pakistan. Only honour killings do. We hear gruesome stories of how young, innocent women are ruthlessly killed by their male relatives on suspicion of ‘infidelity’ and must therefore be done to death to save the ‘honour’ of the males in the family. To an outsider, making a distinction between saints and sinners should be easy street: males are pure; unflawed. The women are impure; sinners.
One of the abiding features of a closed, patriarchal society is that the real story remains sequestered under layers and layers of male hypocrisy grounded in male DNA from centuries. Maybe it’s the soil? Maybe it’s the culture? Or maybe it’s tribal?
Surely we have Weiners, Spitzers, Clintons, pedophile cardinals in our midst too. Do we see them ever? The word ‘moral turpitude,’ is non-existent in Pakistani lexicon. Yes, we hear every day of power horses grabbing media attention with financial corruption. Nothing ever about ‘moral corruption.’ But we know it does exist. Why else would Zardari have signed the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2010, aimed at providing a safe working environment?
The president promised the 100 women activists, parliamentarians and members of civil society that “We shall do our utmost by the end of this tenure. All the rights that we enjoy as men shall be enjoyed by women as well.” But promises by politicians carry no currency. They are merely statements in black and white consigned for yesterday’s history.
The only truth that the president’s words carried were: “My wife was much stronger than me. She left a legacy for us to follow, she is guiding us from her grave.” Give him credit for admitting before all that Benazir Bhutto was “stronger” than him. How many men do you know who will make such a statement?