JERUSALEM -- It should come as no surprise that Michele Bachmann claims Huma Abedin, an aide to Hilary Clinton, might be a Muslim Brotherhood spy sent to influence the highest levels of America's foreign policy. Conspiracy theorizing, the classic Middle Eastern method of decoding power, is alive and well on the American right.
It is so easy to be a bumptious American about the Middle East. It's such a confusing place. Take for example, our voyage home last night through the streets of Jerusalem. After a fine meal at a restaurant that serves meat AND milk products (non-kosher now rare in Jerusalem) we found ourselves in a bizarre midnight traffic jam, red brake lights stretching over the hills in all directions.
In the Middle East, a midnight traffic jam can have numerous causes, least likely being construction crews repaving a street, the usual reason for one at home. The ultra orthodox were stopping traffic in honor of a dead rabbi. But of course!
We were not going anyplace on wheels, so we got out and walked among hordes of ultra-orthodox men in black hats and suits, passing several miles of idling cars in 100 degree heat. An un-answer-able mantra ran through my head in time with my feet: Who are these people and what motivates them?
Flash-mobs soaked in millennia of mysterious history and ancient internecine grudges are as common over here as shepherds and their flocks in Biblical times.
In Egypt, the day before Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi was declared winner last month, an estimated million Egyptians mobbed Tahrir Square, in a show of numbers designed to remind the ruling military that the Brotherhood could, if it wanted to, probably just take the disbanded Parliament back. And there's not an Arabist on the planet who can tell which of the Syrian fighters are our friends, if any.
Bachmann suggests that Abedin might be a Brotherhood sleeper because of some connections her late father might have had to the group back in the 1970s, back when Abedin was a little kid in Kalamazoo and then Riyadh, where her father taught. Abedin's position "affords her routine access to the secretary and policy-making," Bachmann wrote. "Given what we know from the international media about Ms. Abedin's documented family connections with the extremist Muslim Brotherhood" she should not have had a security clearance.
The Muslim Brotherhood -- which relegates its cloaked and nun-like female members to second-string status (they cannot hold office within the organization) -- has probably not achieved the sophistication, let alone gender equality, to consider deploying a woman to steer American foreign policy in a favorable direction.
Bachmann sits on the House Intelligence Committee with access to intelligence that average Americans do not receive. It is doubly alarming then to understand that she is no farther along in her bumptiousness than the average American.
A funny-sounding name is all it takes to inspire all-American xenophobia, and a decade after 9/11, that passes for "foreign intelligence."
Right wing political operatives still suggest that Obama is a Muslim Manchurian candidate whose puppet-masters await some critical moment at which to issue the code word that will cause America to abandon Israel and install the caliphate in New York. The fact that Obama just gave Israel an historic amount of defense aid, is, in this world-view, just more cover, like Abedin's marriage to humiliated but pro-Israel Anthony Weiner.
Bachmann's fellow Republicans, including Sen. John McCain and House Speaker Boehner, were embarrassed. McCain took to the Senate floor to defend Abedin. "Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully." McCain said. "I am proud to know Huma and to call her my friend."
There is a kernel of truth to Bachmann's paranoia. If she really cared, she could start looking at America's good friend, Saudi Arabia, which, according to political scientist Alexi Alexiev, spent over $80 billion between 1973 and 2002 creating a worldwide network of Wahhabi mosques, Islamic centers, madrassas, and charities "that constitute the actual infrastructure of Islamic extremism worldwide," including in many Western cities. Among the recipients of Saudi money are the Afghan Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists as far away as Indonesia. "This truly colossal sum" Alexiev told a Congressional committee, was "the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever known."
Saudi Arabia's publicists and agents in the United States and on K Street include highly paid men in fine suits and savvy blonde PR girls who tote expensive designer bags and sport gold earrings snagged during layovers in Dubai. They have American and British accents and names that Bachmann's constituents at Lake Woebegone can pronounce. Some of them have probably even walked through the Capital Hill offices of the intelligence expert and Congresswoman from Minnesota.