Mahathir hits back in Jewish row
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Comments about Jews ruling the world made by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad were "taken out of context", the departing leader has told a Thai newspaper.
The outspoken 78-year-old leader defended his speech, delivered at an Islamic summit last week, saying he had condemned all violence and instructed Muslims to better their lives by embracing technology and negotiating for peace.
In the wide-ranging speech to the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Conference, Mahathir launched a verbal barrage against Jews and Israel saying, "Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."
Assertions of Jewish dominance dominated Mahathir's speech, which also called for a modernization of Islam and the embracing of technology and progress to lift the Muslim world out of -- as Mahathir described -- a self-induced state of "oppression."
Mahathir -- who has been no stranger to controversy during his 22 year rule -- said the overall tone of his speech had been conciliatory but blamed the press for quoting it out of context.
"In my speech I condemned all violence, even the suicide bombings, and I told all Muslims it's about time we stopped all these things and paused to think and do something that is much more productive," Mahathir told the Bangkok Post.
"That was the whole tone of my speech, but they picked up one sentence where I said the Jews control the world."
Even as he tried to clarify the intent behind his speech, the Malaysian leader stopped short of contrition.
"The reaction of the world shows that they [Jews] do control the world," he told the Post.
Mahathir dismissed the objections of Western countries who labeled the speech anti-Semitic, saying they backed the Jews and failed to protest against anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The Malaysian leader's comments last week drew intense international criticism, led by the U.S., Israel and the European Union.
U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday pulled Mahathir aside at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference and rebuked him for his statement.
Bush told Mahathir that his comments about Jews "stand squarely against what I believe" and went on to characterize them as "wrong and divisive," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. (Bush rebukes Mahathir)
But Mahathir was unrepentant in the Post interview on Tuesday.
Mahathir said the European Union had done nothing when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Burlesconi made a statement calling Muslims terrorists.
"Did the European Union pass a resolution to say that this was against Muslims? Why is it that when people condemn Muslims the European Union does not try to say anything?'' he asked.
Mahathir also accused the media of being selective in the portions of the wide-ranging speech they reported.
"I even quoted from the Koran, which says that when the enemy offers to make peace you must accept. I told the Muslims you must accept even if the terms are bad. You have to negotiate. This is the teaching of Islam. All that was in my speech. But those things were blacked out,'' he was quoted as saying in the Post.
Mahathir has become notorious for controversial speeches during his 22 years as leader and has been a key proponent of a unified political stance among Muslim nations, often taking aim at Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territory and the U.S. for its Middle East policy.
Malaysia's foreign minister earlier apologized for what he described as misunderstandings over Mahathir's speech, saying no offence from the remarks was intended. (Full story)