Mahathir Mohamad was, for a time, one of Asia's most iconic statesmen. Mahathir ruled for more than two decades as Malaysia's prime minister and presided over his country's transformation into a regional economic power. He also entered the realm of global ideas, championing the controversial concept of "Asian values" as a rebuke to the universal ideals of Western liberal democracies.
But what has also lingered since he stepped down in 2003 is the considerable stigma of his anti-Semitism. In the last year of his rule, he made an infamous speech at a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference hosted in Kuala Lumpur, inveighing against Israel by demonizing all Jews. Here are excerpts, as reproduced by the Jerusalem Post:
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 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.
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.
His remarks sparked an uproar at the time, with many condemning the anti-Semitism of his rhetoric. He pointed at criticism in the media as proof of a vast Jewish conspiracy.
"The reaction of the world shows that they control the world," he said days later, in a reference to the Jewish community.
Thirteen years later, he is still reading from the same script. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan, Mahathir was given a chance to retract or apologize for his earlier anti-Semitic statements. Instead, the former prime minister chose to double down.
"I believe I am speaking the truth," Mahathir said, complaining about how America was irrevocably "under Jewish influence."
Hasan countered, asking why Mahathir conflated Israel with all Jews, and whether all Muslims then should be likened to, say, the Islamic State militant group. Mahathir evaded this suggestion and reiterated that "Jews are ruling the world by proxy."
Hasan deemed that statement "outrageous" and "anti-Semitic," but Mahathir appeared unflustered and offered no real evidence to support his claim.
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