Opposites in Many Ways, but Seemingly Melded Well

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ashley Parker

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When Bill Clinton officiated at the Gatsbyesque wedding of Representative Anthony D. Weiner and Huma Abedin at Oheka Castle on Long Island last summer, the former president reportedly joked that marrying a politician can be difficult, because it is “easy to distrust them, whatever their religion.”

Less than a year later, Mr. Clinton’s warning has proved to be prescient.

Mr. Weiner’s admission Monday that he had conducted sexually charged online correspondence with six women over the last few years — even after his wedding — shocked those who knew him as a doting and adoring newlywed.

But it seemed all the more striking, given the congressman’s elaborate courtship of Ms. Abedin and her Muslim family, whose blessing he sought when he proposed marriage.

During his press conference Monday, Mr. Weiner seemed most choked up as he apologized to Ms. Abedin, 35, a deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose own marriage has been rocked by her husband’s sexual peccadilloes.

Ms. Abedin did not appear alongside Mr. Weiner, 46, during his news conference; instead, she put in a full day of work for the State Department.

“My wife is a remarkable woman,” Mr. Weiner said. “She’s not responsible for any of this. This was visited upon her. She’s getting back — getting back to work. And I apologize to her very deeply.”

Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin have seemed an unlikely couple from the start. They come from very different backgrounds — he is a Jewish man from Brooklyn, she a Michigan-born Muslim-American raised in Saudi Arabia by an Indian father and a Pakistani mother. And Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin have very different personalities.

He is a fiery, publicity-craving wisecracker with a reputation as a Romeo and a habit of turning up in the tabloids. He can be overbearing and intense and pushes his staff and himself unrelentingly.

She is calm, private and glamorous, with a sense of elegance that has earned her attention from fashion magazines. Her close friend Oscar de La Renta designed her chiffon wedding gown, likening her to Scheherazade, the beautiful queen from “One Thousand and One Nights.”

But they complement each other well, said friends of the couple, who described Mr. Weiner as a sweet, supportive partner. Ms. Abedin, a practicing Muslim who speaks fluent Arabic, does not drink, and Mr. Weiner has given up alcohol in solidarity with her, they said. He sometimes fasts with her during Ramadan, and often meets her at the airport when she returns from long trips, even in the early morning hours.

Friends say that Ms. Abedin had been courted by “a lot of very successful, important people,” but it was Mr. Weiner’s persistence and tenacity, as well as his confidence and sense of humor, that eventually won her over.

“I kept on hearing stories of how adoring he was of her and how much he cared about her, and over time it became clear that this was something he was focused on, and it was for real,” said a friend of Ms. Abedin, who asked to remain anonymous because he was commenting on a personal matter. Ms. Abedin got her start in politics in 1996 as an intern in Ms. Clinton’s White House office, and has been her aide since. She and Mr. Weiner met when Ms. Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000, but did not start dating until Ms. Clinton ran for president 2008.

At their wedding, Mr. Weiner’s robust premarital dating life was the subject of considerable roasting, and Mr. Weiner made it clear Monday that Ms. Abedin knew about his rakish past, including his use of social media for sexual communication.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 7, 2011, on page A28 of the New York edition with the headline: Opposites in Many Ways, But Seemingly in Sync.

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43% of Americans Admit to Feeling Some Prejudice toward Muslims

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Analysis by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 4 in 10 Americans (43%) admit to feeling at least “a little” prejudice toward Muslims — more than twice the number who say the same about Christians (18%), Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%). The findings are based on a new Gallup Center for Muslim Studies report, “Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam,” released Thursday.

In a separate question asking Americans to express their overall view about each of the four religions evaluated, Islam is the most negatively viewed. Nearly one-third of Americans (31%) say their opinion of Islam is “not favorable at all” versus 9% who say their opinion is “very favorable.” This stands in contrast to Americans’ views of Christianity and Judaism, which are far more likely to be “very favorable” than “not favorable at all,” while Buddhism draws almost equally positive and negative opinions at the extremes. Gallup conducted the nationwide U.S. survey between Oct. 31 and Nov. 13, 2009, spanning the Fort Hood shooting in which a U.S.-born Muslim military doctor killed 13 people on the Army base on Nov. 5.

The new report further explores variables that are associated with extreme prejudice (“a great deal”) toward followers of Islam as well as variables that may be related to lack of prejudice. To download the full report, go to www.muslimwestfacts.com. Key findings from the report will also be released next month in Cairo, Egypt. The Gallup Center for Muslim Studies conducts its Washington, D.C., and Cairo launches with its Muslim West Facts partner, the Coexist Foundation.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup Panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,002 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct.31-Nov.13, 2009. Gallup Panel members are recruited through random selection methods. The panel is weighted so that it is demographically representative of the U.S. adult population. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.4 percentage points.In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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New Muslim Mayor Inherits Possibility of Uniting Rotterdam

October 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Henry Chu, LA Times Reporting from Rotterdam, Netherlands

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Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb

The veiled women clutch their children’s hands as they scurry past the liquor store, ignoring rows of vodka bottles on their way to the Muslim butcher’s next door.

Across the street, male customers emerge from the Climax sex shop with their purchases and quickly stride away without a second glance at the Turkish kebab restaurant just opening for lunch.

The conservative and liberal, religious and secular, Dutch and foreign stand side by side here in Rotterdam, in a contrasting and at times uneasy coexistence where social and cultural middle ground can be elusive.

The job of finding that middle ground has now fallen onto the shoulders of a thoughtful Moroccan-born Muslim who arrived in Rotterdam just nine months ago. His address: the mayor’s office.

Ahmed Aboutaleb is the first Muslim immigrant to lead a major Dutch city. The son of an imam, he was appointed mayor of Rotterdam late last year and in January became the official face of the Netherlands’ second-largest city.

His is the classic immigrant success story, the saga of a youth who landed in the Netherlands as a teenager, worked hard and climbed the social ladder, first as a journalist, then as a politician in free-wheeling Amsterdam.

But his nomination as mayor by political party leaders in Rotterdam, who sought someone of national stature for the largely ceremonial post, took even seasoned observers by surprise.

This is, after all, a city where the national clash over immigration and integration, particularly of Muslims, has been at its most volatile.

In 2002, Pim Fortuyn, a populist and openly gay politician who slammed Islam as a “backward” religion, was fatally shot by a white assassin claiming to act in support of the Muslim community.

How the 48-year-old Aboutaleb fares as mayor could well have an effect beyond Rotterdam’s borders. With ethnic minorities accounting for almost half its population, the city serves in many ways as a laboratory of demographic change for the rest of the Netherlands, and potentially other parts of Europe.

Thus far into his six-year term, analysts say, the bespectacled Aboutaleb has trod softly, getting a feel for Rotterdam’s tricky political landscape. Though he is a member of the city’s ruling left-wing Labor Party, as mayor he is supposed to hold himself above party politics.

Within the last several weeks, however, Aboutaleb has said that he intends to step into the debate on integration. Although he has not specified how, it will mean navigating a minefield of competing beliefs, agendas and power plays by politicians, activists and bureaucrats.

“That is quite a risk for him, because if he fails . . . there is nobody above him,” said Rinus van Schendelen, a professor of political science at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University.

As mayor, Aboutaleb must gingerly maneuver a cultural war pitting those who believe Dutch liberal, secular society to be under threat from a growing religious minority against others who say that Muslims and other immigrants have been unfairly scapegoated.

Right-wing politicians demanded that Aboutaleb demonstrate his loyalty by giving up his Moroccan passport (he holds dual nationality). Geert Wilders, the country’s most inflammatory public figure, declared that Aboutaleb’s appointment was “as ridiculous as appointing a Dutchman as mayor of Mecca.”

Muslims, by contrast, were excited that one of their own had risen so high — an “Obama on the Maas,” as some have dubbed him, for the river that runs through Rotterdam.

“I was really happy that he became mayor,” said pharmacist Jilani Sayed, 29. “A mayor has to hold the city together. He’s got the potential to do that.”

The mayor’s job is largely ceremonial, with the big exception of public safety and police, which comes under his supervision. But what the post lacks in direct authority it makes up for in influence and longevity.

“After every election, you are the one that stays. . . . So people start trusting you as the consistent part of the city government,” said Marco Pastors, head of Livable Rotterdam, the right-wing party of Fortuyn. “People look up to you, and when you are looked up to, you have powers.”

Aboutaleb declined requests for an interview. A spokeswoman cited the need for him to stay focused on his duties.

Friends and foes praise him for spending his first months on a listening tour of various neighborhoods, to help damp skepticism over the fact that he comes not just from Morocco but — as egregious for some — from Amsterdam, Rotterdam’s big rival.

But there have been missteps. Critics questioned an official trip Aboutaleb took to Morocco in June, during which he met the country’s foreign minister and appeared to step on the toes of the Dutch central government.

In August, a dance party for thousands of beachgoers devolved into pandemonium and brawls in which one man was killed. The mayor, criticized for not assigning enough police officers to patrol the event, ordered a two-year ban on such parties.

And in a foretaste of the challenges that await in the simmering caldron of immigration issues, the city in August fired integration advisor Tariq Ramadan, a well-known Islamic scholar. City officials said Ramadan’s hosting of a show on Iranian state television could be perceived as an endorsement of the regime in Tehran.

Although he had no role in the decision, Aboutaleb expressed support for it. That, in turn, outraged many Muslims here, especially the young, with whom Ramadan was a popular reformist figure.

“Aboutaleb goes with the wind of politics,” said entrepreneur Abdel Hafid Bouzidi, 30, who is of Moroccan descent. “He goes too much to the right.”

Right-wing politicians certainly laud Aboutaleb for criticizing his own and insist that he keep on doing so.

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Rotterdam Mosque, under construction, 2008.

Before his appointment as mayor, his highest-profile moment came during the national uproar after the 2004 slaying of anti-Islamic filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist who shot him and slit his throat. Speaking at an Amsterdam mosque, Aboutaleb sternly told Dutch Muslims that if they did not subscribe to the Netherlands’ values of tolerance and openness, they ought to catch the first plane out.

Pastors, the head of Livable Rotterdam, was a member of the conclave of city leaders who nominated Aboutaleb for mayor, and he took some heat within his party for acceding to the choice.

Now it’s time, he said, for Aboutaleb to start speaking out on “friction points” such as homosexuality and the role of women.

“In that position there are three good opportunities a week to do something about it, and he hasn’t,” Pastors said. “I think it’s OK to have the first Muslim mayor [of a major city] in Europe. But let it be somebody that means something to the integration of Muslims in Europe, and not just an able civil servant.”

Aboutaleb has acknowledged the pressure on him, especially from foes “who expect me to fail.”

“If I can succeed, I will be a key element in persuading immigrant communities that they can have access to power. If I fail, it will have huge consequences for those coming behind me afterwards,” he told a British newspaper soon after taking office.

“My job is to build bridges, and Rotterdam is a good place to do that,” he said.

“This is the city of big projects where the sky is the limit, but also a city with high levels of poverty. My job is to be mayor for everyone, from the businessmen to the kid from Suriname just trying to earn a living.”

henry.chu@latimes.com