Malaysia's Mahathir defends himself as he gets more flak over 'kill French people' tweet

Dr Mahathir Mohamad's comments came at a time of heightened tensions in France. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad received more criticism on Friday (Oct 30) over his tweet the previous day that "Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past".

He defended himself on Friday, saying that his next sentence that Muslims didn't take revenge though they had the right to, were left out by the media.

And he said that his plea for France to show respect to people's beliefs were also cast aside in the rush to attack him.

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Masing responding to news reports over the comments on killing French people said: "The law of civilised nations is that no one is allowed to take the law into their own hands, let alone take somebody's life just because that person happens to disagree with his beliefs or stance on certain issues."

He added: "Mahathir's comments on the killing of non-Muslims in France is a reflection of who he is as a person. It's not Malaysian. We live and abide by the rule of law."

Tun Dr Mahathir's comments came at a time of heightened tensions in France, soon after two people died in Nice's towering neo-Gothic basilica, including a 60-year-old woman who was nearly decapitated, and a third victim died after taking refuge in a nearby bar.

The attack in Nice came less than two weeks after the beheading of a teacher shook the nation and led to President Emmanuel Macron suggesting that Islam was in need of an enlightenment. The teacher was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen after he was offended that the educationist showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech.

The United States Ambassador to Malaysia, Ms Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, on Friday extended her condolences to the French victims. She added: "I strongly disagree with Tun Dr Mahathir's recent statement. Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not."

On Dr Mahathir's blog, some 6,000 angry comments followed his series of comments..

One commenter said" "Is this the language of a respected leader...?????? It's totally violent".

The tweet by Dr Mahathir had these words immediately after writing that Muslims had the right to kill millions of French, that "by and large the 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."

But these have been drowned out by what many see as his call for violence.

New York Times in a report about the issue in France wrote that "what many French people see as their country's uncompromising defence of its safety and free expression, many Muslims consider to be scapegoating and blasphemous insults to their religion".

Former premier Najib Razak, who was toppled from power in 2018 by Dr Mahathir, tweeted on Friday: "The world should calm down and read @chedetofficial's statement in its full context", referring to Dr Mahathir's blog.

"I'm sure he didn't mean exactly what he said," Najib said. "And even if he did, it's his personal opinion, not Malaysia's."

However, Najib said he agreed with the opinion that Dr Mahathir's social media accounts should be taken away from him before he does "more damage".

Dr Mahathir in separate comments to defend himself said: "Because of the spin and out of context presentation by those that picked up my posting, reports were made against me and I am accused of promoting violence etc… on Facebook and Twitter."

He spoke against Facebook and Twitter as "purveyors of freedom" that only allowed one side of an argument.

"On the one hand, they defended those who chose to display offending caricatures of Prophet Muhammad and expect all Muslims to swallow it in the name of freedom of speech and expression. On the other, they deleted deliberately that Muslims had never sought revenge for the injustice against them in the past."

Dr Mahathir added: "Even my appeal that the French should explain the need to advise their people to be sensitive and respect the beliefs of other people is left out. What is promoted by these reaction to my article is to stir French hatred for Muslims."

In Indonesia, its Foreign Ministry said in a statement: "Indonesia condemns the statements made by the President of France that are disrespectful towards Islam and the Muslim community worldwide. The statement has offended over two billion Muslims globally and has sparked division among different faiths in the world.

"Freedom of expression should not be exercised in ways that tarnish the honour, sanctity and sacredness of religious values and symbols.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.