Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad_58.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Ten years ago in the last months of 2003, the since-forgotten yet highly instructive Mahathir Affair took place. At the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in 2003 in Kuala Lumpur, then-Malaysian prime minister Mohamad Mahathir, the conference host, presented relations between Muslims and Jews as a worldwide frontal confrontation.
He stated, “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategize and then to counterattack. We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy.
They get others to fight and die for them.”
Mahathir added, “We are up against a people who think. They survived 2,000 years of pogroms, not by hitting back but by thinking. They invented and successfully promoted socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others.
With these, they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power. We cannot fight them through brawn alone. We must use our brains also.”
It was yet one more wide-ranging illustration of the anti-Semitic motif that Jews “lust for the domination of the world.”
Mahathir was applauded by the attendants at the conference, including top leaders of all Muslim nations.
An editorial in the French daily Le Monde noted that “Such words are common currency in the Arab Islamic world, where they pass for evident truth... and this direct form of racism, purely and simply, is practiced as a normal category of the ‘political debate.’” Reactions to Mahathir’s statement were mixed. Many Western leaders and media condemned him. As to the Muslim world, columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post referred to the standing ovation the summit’s audience gave Mahathir for his speech: “Mahathir’s claque included Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, our guy in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and even Russia’s Vladimir Putin, representing his country’s large Muslim minority.... But what corrupts and enfeebles large parts of the Islamic world is not Jews in either New York or Tel Aviv but its own self-serving and inept leadership – in other words, some of the very people who stood and cheered the speech.”
Since a European Union summit was being held at the same time, it was planned to include in its 19-page final statement a few sentences condemning Mahathir’s remarks. The proposed draft stated: “His unacceptable comments hinder all our efforts to further inter-ethnic and religious harmony and have no place in a decent world. Such false and anti-Semitic remarks are as offensive to Muslims as they are to others.”
However, French President Jacques Chirac opposed the inclusion of these lines in the summit’s statement and was supported in this by then-Greek socialist prime minister Costas Simitis.
As a compromise, it was decided that the Italian presidency of the Council of the European Union would post a statement on its website that deplored the comments.
Mahathir’s reaction, however, exposed Chirac’s maneuver. The Malaysian prime minister thanked him for blocking the European Union Summit declaration.
THE IMPORTANCE of the now unfortunately forgotten Mahathir Affair was that it exposed in a short time and a concentrated way the profound anti-Semitic viewpoints present among major elements of both Muslim elites and society.
There is no shame in using the vilest anti-Semitic expressions in public, including those lifted from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book of fallacies is regularly republished in the Islamic world.
Mahathir had thus created a wide-ranging demonstration of mainstream Islamic anti-Semitism, which analysts previously had to assemble from many different sources. The Mahathir Affair serves as core proof of this anti-Semitism, while the remainder of the abundant anti-Jewish material from the Islamic world provides supporting evidence about its mainstream racism.
There is another major aspect to the Mahathir Affair. His speech was given at the Islamic summit. His words were applauded and later backed by many other Muslims. These reactions show how false the claim is that problems democrats have with the Muslim world are limited to radical Muslims who preach jihad – an Arab synonym for genocide.
The Mahathir Affair demonstrated how problematic the world of ideas of mainstream Islamic society is for the West.
More proof of this has emerged in the decade since. At least for those who care to see it.
The author is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has published more than 20 books. Recently, his book Israel’s New Future has been republished with a new introduction as Israel’s New Future Revisited.