By James Harding in Bangkok
Published: October 21 2003 12:24 | Last Updated: October 21 2003 12:24
Mahathir Mohamad, Asia's longest serving prime minister, said on Tuesday that the international outcry over his comments that Jews ruled the world by proxy proved that he was right.
"The reaction of the world shows that they control the world," he said in an interview with the Bangkok Post, during which he expanded on his theories of Jewish power and influence while also explaining that his comments were taken out of context.
Coming the day after he was pulled aside for a rebuke from President George W. Bush and a series of senior US officials heaped criticism on Malaysia's outgoing leader, Mr Mahathir's unapologetic comments ensure that controversy will pursue him into retirement.
Mr Mahathir said that in his speech before the Organisation of Islamic Conference, a gathering of 57 countries with large Muslim populations, "I condemned all violence, even the suicide bombings, and I told the Muslims that it's about time we stopped all these things, and pause and think and do something that is much more productive."
But, he said, the media went on to "pick up one sentence in which I said the Jews control the world. Well, the reaction of the world shows that they control the world."
Five days after Mr Mahathir made his comments, the White House made a concerted display of its displeasure. Australia's prime minister, the international Jewish community and some European leaders have also voiced outrage.
But the condemnation has been far from universal - few Asian leaders meeting in Bangkok for the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit have taken the opportunity to confront Mr Mahathir or criticise his comments.
In his defence, Mr Mahathir said: "I have friends who are Jews." He mentioned that he had invited the Israeli cricket team to play in Malaysia, as well as Israeli schoolchildren to meet Muslim and Chinese schoolchildren in Malaysia. "We don't want to kill them," he said.
Mr Mahathir said his efforts to bridge the gap between Muslims and Israelis got "blacked out" by the press, because "many newspapers are owned by the Jews".
"They have a powerful influence over the thinking of many people," Mr Mahathir said, while "the Muslims, we are pictured as terrorists, unreasonable people, unable to administer our countries."
Mr Mahathir also suggested foreign criticism of cronyism and alleged government control of the media was born of western prejudice: "I believe it to be the assumption of western journalists that these Asians, these brown people, cannot understand what justice is, what fair play is."
In a wide-ranging discussion of his achievements over 22 years in office ahead of his retirement next week, Mr Mahathir said that his greatest success hds been easing racial tensions within his country.
"There's always been a problem of tension between the races. But we have managed to stabilise the situation and we have people live and play together without any confrontation. That is, I think, an achievement, especially by me because I was described as being anti-Chinese at the beginning," Mr Mahathir said.
During the Asian financial crisis, the animosities between the Malays and the Chinese did not erupt into communal violence in Malaysia in the way they did in Indonesia.
Mr Mahathir also criticised the way the US was wielding its power in the world as it pursued its war against terrorism. "There are some people who believe massive retaliation is the answer. You kill one of my people, I will kill 100 of your people. This is not going to work."
The US, he said, needed to get at the root cause of the problem: "You have to find out why they want to crash a plane into a huge building. It is a horrible way to die. There must be a reason."
Financial Times.com, 21 Oct 2003