Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad at the Organization of the Islamic Conference, October 16, 2003.
Editorial, The New York Times, October 18, 2003.
It is hard to know what is more alarming – a toxic statement of hatred of Jews by the Malaysian prime minister at an Islamic summit meeting this week or the unanimous applause it engendered from the kings, presidents and emirs in the audience.
The words uttered by the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, in a speech to the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference on Thursday were sadly familiar: Jews, he asserted, may be few in number, but they seek to run the world.
“The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy,” he said.
“They get others to fight and die for them.”
Muslims are “up against a people who think,” he said, adding that the 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.”
When Israeli officials noted that such talk brought Hitler to mind, the assembled leaders were mystified.
Yemen’s foreign minister said he agreed entirely with his Malaysian colleague, adding, “Israelis and Jews control most of the economy and the media in the world.”
The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, called the speech “a very, very wise assessment.”
Even the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said the speech was “very correct.”
Perhaps the saddest element is just how impotent the representatives of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims feel. When Syed Hamid Albar, Malaysia’s foreign minister, sought to contain the controversy, he explained that because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Muslims feel “sidelined or marginalized,” so please understand why they complain about the power of a tiny competing group like the Jews.
Sympathy for the Muslims’ plight must not be confused with the acceptance of racism. Most Muslims have indeed been shoddily treated – by their own leaders, who gather at feckless summit meetings instead of offering their people what they most need: human rights, education and democracy.
The European Union was asked to include a condemnation of Mr. Mahathir’s speech in its statement yesterday ending its own summit. It chose not to, adding a worry that displays of anti-Semitism are being met with inexcusable nonchalance.