October’s 10th session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Putrajaya ignited controversy and fury around the world over speakers’ calls for the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims to unite against “a few million Jews” who, they charge, rule the world by controlling the world’s major powers. A number of Oct. 16 statements made by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who retired at month’s end, received particular condemnation from many who, rightfully, condemn violence, terrorism, and anti-Semitism. Here are selections of Mahathir’s words:
- “Are we not allowed at all to criticize the Jews if they do things which are wrong?”
- “Our only reaction is to become more and more angry. Angry people cannot think properly. And so we find some of our people acting irrationally. They launch their own attacks, killing just about everybody including fellow Muslims to vent their anger and frustration.”
- “There is a feeling of hopelessness among the Muslim countries and their people. They feel they can do nothing right. They believe that things can only get worse.”
- “But is it true that we should do and can do nothing for ourselves? Is it true that 1.3 billion people can exert no power to save themselves from the humiliation and oppression inflicted on them by a much smaller enemy? Is there no other way than to ask our young people to blow themselves up and kill people and invite the massacre of more of our own people?”
- “We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”
Mahathir’s anti-Western, anti-Israel comments are indeed incendiary and deserving of condemnation. However, he complains that Muslims are criticized routinely by the world’s media while Israel often gets a free pass — and he is right about that. While I stand fully against anti-Semitism in any form, I can’t help but think that beneath his harsh, sometimes vile rhetoric — de riguere for Mahathir during his 22 years in office — the retired Malaysian PM may have a point.
Mahathir said Israel is involved in anti-Palestine terrorism as it carries out a policy of destroying homes and killing people in revenge for any Palestinian attack against Israel. He is correct about that. Make no mistake: I believe that militant Palestinians are behaving unconscionably in their violent uprisals against the Israeli occupation of the lands in which they live. But I also believe that Israel too is behaving abominably in its anti-Palestine violence. Yes, some Palestinians, tragically, are involved in terrorism, but so is the government of Israeli leader Ariel Sharon.
But that is not the message delivered by Western leaders. Abul Mohsin, editorializing from Dhaka for Bangladesh’s Daily Star, explains, focusing on the US:
No US government has so far asked the Israeli government openly to vacate the occupied Palestinian territories as was demanded by the United Nations Security Ccouncil Resolution no. 242. But they wasted no time to invade Iraq, purportedly to destroy the elusive weapons of mass destruction which even UN inspectors could not find during their prolonged search. Nor the CIA could establish any link between Iraq and the Al-Queda, the latter being accused of the Sept. 11 attack on the WTC and the Pentagon in New York and Washington.
Even the UN fact-finding mission on Jenin massacre in 2002 was abandoned in the face of Israeli opposition, despite UNSC consent to conduct the investigation. The concrete boundary wall with electronic surveillance system that Israel is now erecting in the West Bank sits on Palestinian land. Israeli negtaion to dismantle the fence provides another proof that the US cannot do anything to stop Israel’s illegal activities.
Also consider that while Western leaders — including Dubya Bush — lined up publicly to rebuke Mahathir for his comments, Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, a US defense department undersecretary, got off practically scot-free for his recent anti-Muslim remarks. And note that most Western news reports give little attention to this portion of Mahathir’s OIC address:
We also know that not all non-Muslims are against us. Some are well-disposed towards us. Some even see our enemies as their enemies. Even among the Jews there are many who do not approve of what the Israelis are doing.
We must not antagonise everyone. We must win their hearts and minds. We must win them to our side not by begging for help from them but by the honourable way that we struggle to help ourselves. We must not strengthen the enemy by pushing everyone into their camps through irresponsible and unIslamic acts. Remember Salah El Din and the way he fought against the so called Crusaders, King Richard of England in particular. Remember the considerateness of the Prophet to the enemies of Islam. We must do the same. It is winning the struggle that is important, not angry retaliation, not revenge.
It is clear to any objective eye that Western coverage is often one-sided and that many Western leaders are clearly in Israel’s camp. “Most of them are biased. Not all, most of them. And they feel that while it is proper to criticize Muslims and Arabs, it is not proper to criticize Europeans and Jews,” Mahathir said. “Apparently they think they are privileged people, but we don’t think so.”
But again, much of the criticism of Mahathir is valid. USA Today reports that Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled expressed disappointment in the remarks but said he wasn’t surprised. “It is not new that in such forums there is always an attempt to reach the lowest common denominator, which is Israel bashing,” he said in Jerusalem. “But obviously we’d like to see more moderate and responsible kind of declarations coming out of such summits.”
The US House agreed. In a 411-0 vote, lawmakers passed a resolution saying his comments embodied “age-old stereotypes of Jewish global domination” and could incite secular violence.
While visiting Jerusalem, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Center, agreed, saying that Mahathir making anti-Israel statements is not new, but adding that his summit speech provoked great concern: “What is profoundly shocking and worrying is the venue of the speech, the audience and coming in the time we’re living in,” Cooper said while in Jerusalem. “Mahathir’s speech … is an absolute invitation for more hate crimes and terrorism against Jews. That’s serious.”
Indeed it is. Peter Symonds, commenting from the World Socialist Web Site, explains why:
His remark that “Jews rule this world” recalls the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories propagated by the Nazis that were used to justify the slaughter of millions of Jews in concentration camps during World War II. His outburst was racist to the core: “Europeans” as a whole were no more responsible for the holocaust than “Jews” as a whole are responsible for Zionism, the Israeli regime’s repression of the Palestinians or the militarist agenda of the Bush administration.
And, as Symonds notes, there is clearly an agenda behind Mahathir’s statements and the defenses of it he has made in the past two weeks.
Mahathir’s unabashed anti-Semitism was no slip of the tongue. It was consciously aimed at appealing to the millions throughout Malaysia and South East Asia who are outraged at the Bush administration’s “war on terror” and the assassinations, reprisals and terror carried out against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli regime. The remarks were an attempt to shore up his credentials as “a defender of Muslims” against criticisms–€”and political inroads–€”being made by more extreme Islamists.
Not only did Mahathir make the comment, he has defended it publicly for the last two weeks. During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand, he told the Bangkok Post on October 21 that the backlash in Europe and the US against his remarks “shows” that Jews control the world. The following day he lashed out at the “great exponents of democracy” for “terrorising the world”–€”a reference not only to Israel but to the methods being used by the US military to suppress opposition to its illegal occupation of Iraq. …
[T]he US Senate registered its disapproval by tying $1.2 million in military aid to Malaysia to a State Department review of the country’s attitude to religious freedom, particularly of Jews. Far from backing off, however, Mahathir further exacerbated the controversy by insisting, contrary to the White House, that Bush had not privately rebuked him at the ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] summit for his remarks.[Emphasis mine.]
Publicly, Bush condemned the Malaysian leader’s words and his administration maintains that the US Resident did indeed criticize him on Oct. 20 at the ASEAN summit. But Mahathir’s accusation must be considered by those who question Bush’s veracity. Malaysia is considered an ally of sorts by the Bush Administration; the country is seen as a Muslim-moderate nation. And Dubya opposed the Senate’s action against Malaysia. So it can be seen that US leaders speaking against Mahathir’s statements want to reassure Israel — but not to the point of pissing off other moderate Muslim nations.
Mahathir, of course, had his own agenda for making his controversial comments. As Peter Symonds sees it,
Mahathir’s racist rhetoric over the last two weeks is an indication that he intends to play a major role as senior statesman, even in formal retirement. More fundamentally, however, it is a sign that the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism” and its unstinting support for Israel’s atrocities are unleashing social forces that loyal political allies like Mahathir are finding increasingly difficult to control.
The bottom line is this: What Mahathir said was reprehensible. Most Muslims are peace-loving people who condemn violence and terrorism as passionately as other decent people do. However, we must take a critical eye at what actually was said in its entirety — some of the former prime minister’s statements are worthy of consideration. And when Western leaders leap to cast aspersion, we must look at their motivations too. None of these officials or their words can be taken at face value. We must look at their actions as well and inform ourselves, using many diverse sources. That is how we can determine where truth lies.