Tuesday, October 21, 2003
This was to be his political swan song, and he had spent weeks composing it.
And yet, when Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who will retire as Malaysia's Prime Minister next month, addressed the 10th Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur last week, he offered a re-heated hotchpotch of the bizarre fare he has dished out over a 40-year career.
The speech was structured around Mahathir's view of history as a series of conspiracies and counter-conspiracies.
The part of the speech that received most attention consists of a few sentences in which Mahathir reiterated his theory that the modern world is made and controlled by Jews.
He first developed that theory sometime around 1990. He gave this writer, and four other journalists, an exposé of it during a dinner at a restaurant in Davos, Switzerland, in 1998. When I met him in London last July, however, he seemed to have modified his position somewhat, insisting that what he had said about Jews was a reflection of what "religious scholars feel in Malaysia."
Not surprisingly, many people have seen Mahathir's speech as an insult to Jews. A closer reading would show that he was insulting Muslims and Christians more than Jews.
Here is part of what Mahathir said: "The Europeans killed six million out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy."
What does this mean?
It means that all Europeans, not just Nazis, were involved in the Holocaust. It also means that the Europeans, being mass-murderers, are not intelligent enough to prevent a small Jewish community from ruling them.
Mahathir presents the Jews as "a people who think," unlike Christians and Muslims who he regards as too dumb to use their heads.
He says that the "thinking people" have also managed to get "others to fight and die for them."
He adds: "Israelis and Jews control most of the economy and the media in the world."
As the world enjoys a level of prosperity not dreamed of even a generation ago, plus unprecedented access to information, Mahathir's claim, if true, would amount to a compliment to "Israelis and Jews."
The Malaysian leader gives Jews credit for having created the modern world single-handedly.
He says that Jews "invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others." In other words, the idea that all human beings have inalienable rights and that people should be free to choose their governments are "Jewish tricks."
Mahathir levels grave charges against Christians. In a speech at his party's conference last June, he claimed that "European culture" had become "a menace for mankind.
"The Europeans are determined to impose a global culture that includes the practice of free sex, especially sodomy. Marriage between male and male, female and female are officially recognized by them. They no longer regard incest as a sin."
He is harder on what he calls "the Anglo-Saxons." He says they "invent false allegations to go to war to kill children, old people and sick people."
So much for the West's boast about its Greco-Roman heritage.
If the goal of Jews is to impose human rights and democracy throughout the world, the goal of Christians is to spread sodomy and incest.
What about Muslims?
They were the main target of Mahathir's vitriolic verbiage.
Inflating the number of Muslims to 1.3 billion, he lamented that they fail to "deal with" a few million Jews, whatever that means.
He claimed that Muslims, though holding assets worth three-trillion dollars, play virtually no role in global decision-making.
Because Mahathir did not say why Muslims were powerless, one must assume that he believes Muslims lack the "intelligence" of the Jews.
Mahathir received a standing ovation from the leaders of the 57 countries present at the Muslim summit. They did not notice that the doctor was, in fact, insulting Muslims, and lined up to praise him for what Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher called "a very, very wise analysis."
By claiming that the Jews were ruling the world, the good doctor was offering a new version of the old delusion that what has gone wrong with Muslims is the fault of others.
By presenting Christians as sodomites and lesbians engaged in incest, he flatters the vanity of Muslims who, hushing family secrets, can boast about their pious lifestyle.
Mahathir is not the first to play this game. In the 1950s and 1960s, Muslim leftists blamed everything on Western imperialism. From the 1970s, the Islamists chose the left as their punching bag. The finger of blame has been pointed at colonialists, multinational companies, missionaries, communists, liberals, religious and/or ethnic minorities, middle classes and even poor Orientalists.
By blaming others, Mahathir and his predecessors in this game absolve Muslim leaders of responsibility. They also divest Muslims of their humanity, turning them into witless pawns in a game played by others.
With his speech Mahathir did great harm to the cause of those who believe that, as an existential reality, Islam needs to be subjected to serious critical re-examination.
Mahathir's "us-and-them" dialectics belong to a tribal mentality that has no place in the modern world.
His assumption that all Jews and all Muslims and all Christians think exactly alike and have exactly the same interests and aspirations belongs to the discredited "essentialist" school of sociology in which "the alter-ego" is typecast as the antithesis of the self.
He forgets that the Iran-Iraq war, in which a million people died, was not an "us-and-them" conflict. Nor was it "the other" who tried to wipe Kuwait off the map in 1990.
Are Jews raiding Algerian villages at night to massacre entire families, including babies?
Are Jews murdering thousands of Muslim women each year in the name of "honour-killing"?
Are Jews throwing acid at girls who do not wear the hijab?
Is it "the other" who has arranged for Muslim countries to have almost half of all political prisoners in the world?
And who is carrying out those thousands of executions, sometimes by chopping people's heads in public or stoning to death?
Are Jews preventing Muslims from choosing their governments in free elections? Are they arranging those elections in which government candidates always win with 99.99% of the votes?
Are Jews controlling the economies of the Muslim nations or should we look to our own ruling elites whose greed knows no bound? People often talk of the need for the separation of mosque and state in Muslim countries. A more urgent need is the separation of business from government.
Mahathir says Jews have persuaded others to fight and die for them.
Who does he mean by "others"?
If he means the West, let us not forget that Americans and Europeans fought and died to save the Muslim peoples of Bosnia and Kosovo from extermination. Not a single Muslim state provided any help.
Mahathir presented Palestine as a religious conflict.
Yet he did not apply the same logic to Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao, Burma, Cyprus, and East Turkestan, among the many places where Muslims are in conflict with non-Muslims.
The logic of Mahathir's position is that Muslim Cypriots, Chechens, Kashmiris, Burmans, Mindanaoans and East Turkestanis are not as worthy as Palestinians. And yet the number of Muslims killed in those conflicts is many times higher than the total victims of all Arab-Israeli wars.
The question is not what others have done to us in the past, but what we are doing to ourselves right now. And what we are doing to ourselves includes the pack of lies and prejudices that Mahathir is presenting as a world vision fit for Muslims in the 21st century.
Amir Taheri is an Iranian journalist and author.; firstname.lastname@example.org
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