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The Wahhabi Lobby Loses

Yesterday's primary defeat in Georgia of Rep. Cynthia McKinney marks the latest in a series of serious setbacks to what has become known as the Wahhabi Lobby.

The Wahhabi Lobby is a far-flung network of organizations associated with the agenda of the radical Wahhabist sect of Islam and largely financed, directly or indirectly, by the Saudi Arabian government and its proxies. If such reverses continue, it could mark a hugely significant development in one of the most strategic parts of the war on terror: the home front.

In the course of McKinney's campaign, it came to light that the veteran Congresswoman's often vitriolic criticism of President Bush, his conduct of the war on terrorism and his support for Israel had earned her support from individuals closely associated with various controversial and Saudi-backed organizations. She had the singular misfortune to have received on Sept. 11 checks from a number of people who had ties to entities under investigation for fund-raising for and/or financing terrorists.

Rep. McKinney's defeat by a newcomer to politics was clearly abetted by the perception that the incumbent was out of touch with her constituents' views on the war and in the pocket of people who are on the wrong side of it.

It happens that one of Cynthia McKinney's Black Caucus colleagues, Rep. Earl Hilliard of Alabama, recently met a similar fate. As in Georgia, an attractive black opponent enjoyed considerable financial support from Republicans, Jewish contributors and others appalled by the legislator's stands and voting record on the war and Middle East conflict-related issues -- and by the help the Congressman was getting from the Wahhabi Lobby.

Meanwhile, published reports signal that the Bush administration has begun to terminate the access it previously gave to prominent representatives of the Wahhabi Lobby, an understandable mistake given the extent to which its well-heeled organizations hold themselves out as the only legitimate representatives of the Muslim community in America.

This is, of course, utterly untrue; while as many as 80 percent of this country's mosques may be financed by the Saudis, vast numbers of American adherents to Islam practice a tolerant and peaceable version of the faith that is anathema to, and aggressively suppressed by, the Wahhabists.

Another setback to the Wahhabist cause in America was unveiled last week as relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks filed suit holding the government of Saudi Arabia and its outriders responsible for the terrorism perpetrated by 15 Saudi citizens. The suit seeks  $100 trillion in compensation.

At a minimum, this legal action is likely to illuminate the extent of Saudi involvement in an organized, highly disciplined and skillfully targeted influence operation aimed at U.S. political institutions, the media and businesses, and underwriting ominous recruitment efforts on campus, in the prisons and even in the U.S. military.

This effort has operated for 40 years, largely unnoticed until the attacks of  Sept. 11.

The Saudis have responded to this suit and other evidence of a chilling of relations between the two governments in a way that is certain to further undermine their dwindling number of apologists in this country:

By some estimates, as much as $200 billion in Saudi investment in the U.S. has recently left the country. This is said to be a reflection of the sluggish U.S. economy and a desire for greater diversification on the part of the Kingdom's portfolio managers. But there can be little doubt that this capital flight -- and an even larger one that may happen if the remaining  $400-500 billion in Saudi investments here are liquidated -- reflects growing concern that such funds may be frozen or at least subjected to closer scrutiny as Wahhabist influence in high places evaporates.

It will be interesting to see whether another hotly contested primary race in which the Wahhabists and their friends are championing a candidate -- this time against an incumbent who opposes their views on the Mideast and terrorism -- will follow the Hilliard and McKinney model.

The voters of New Hampshire will shortly determine whether to make Rep. John Sununu or Sen. Bob Smith the Republican candidate this Fall against popular Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. As with the races in Alabama and Georgia, Rep. Sununu's support from many of the same radical Arab Americans and others associated with the Wahhabi Lobby -- some of whom, in a reversal of the McKinney case, are crossing over from their normal, liberal Democratic column -- is hardly the only issue in the election.

Yet if he winds up joining  Hilliard and McKinney in retirement this fall, the ability of Mr. Sununu's most controversial backers to misrepresent themselves as "mainstream" Muslims --and, thereby exercise an insidious and potentially dangerous influence within the U.S.-- is certain to continue to nosedive. And that, as Martha Stewart used to say, is a good thing.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently president of the Center for Security Policy.

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