Mahathir says remarks on French attacks taken out of context

30 Oct 2020

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Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad. — Reuters/File
Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad. — Reuters/File

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad said on Friday he is disgusted because his comments on attacks by Muslim extremists in France had been taken out of context.

Mahathir, 95, sparked widespread outrage when he wrote on his blog on Thursday that Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past if "an eye for an eye" law is applied.

Twitter removed a tweet from Mahathir containing the remark, which it said glorified violence, and France's digital minister demanded the company also ban Mahathir from its platform.

"I am indeed disgusted with attempts to misrepresent and take out of context what I wrote on my blog,” Mahathir said in a statement.

He said critics failed to read his posting in full, especially the next sentence which read: "But by and large Muslims have not applied the eye for an eye law. Muslims don't. The French shouldn't. Instead the French should teach their people to respect other people's feelings.”

He said Twitter and Facebook removed the posting despite his explanation, and slammed the move as hypocritical.

On the one hand, they defended those who "chose to display offending caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) [...] and expect all Muslims to swallow it in the name of freedom of speech and expression,” he said.

"On the other, they deleted deliberately that Muslims had never sought revenge for the injustice against them in the past [...] what is promoted by these reactions to my article is to stir French hatred for Muslims,” he added.

The comments by Mahathir, a two-time prime minister, were in response to calls by Muslim nations to boycott French products after French leader Emmanuel Macron described Islam as a religion in crisis and vowed to crack down on radicalism following the murder of a French teacher who showed his class blasphemous sketches.

His remarks also came as a Tunisian man killed three people at a church in Nice, France. The US ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdir, said on Friday that she strongly disagreed with Mahathir's statement.

"Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not,” she said in a brief statement.

Australian High Commissioner in Malaysia Andrew Goledzinowski wrote that even though Mahathir wasn't advocating actual violence, in the current climate, words can have consequences.

Mahathir's second stint as prime minister lasted from 2018 until he quit in February 2020.

He has been viewed as an advocate of moderate Islamic views and a spokesman for the interests of developing countries. But at the same time, he pointedly criticised Western society and nations and their relationships with the Muslim world.