Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

2 Nov, 2003

Mahathir’s Assessment Can Be Denounced, but Not Denied

Originally Published: 2 Nov 2003

The most noticeable aspect of the so-called “anti-Semitic” attack by the then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad at the Organisation of Islamic conference in Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago is that it has been denounced, but not denied. The reason is simple: It cannot be.

Like the fundamentalist mullahs who went after author Salman Rushdie and his “Satanic Verses”, even the slightest negative mention of “the Jews” is greeted with a hysterical outpouring of virulent criticism accompanied invariably by this hackneyed “anti-Semitic” fatwa and threats of “consequences” and boycotts.

As possibly the only Bangkok-based journalist to have covered the Organisation of Islamic Conference summit in Kuala Lumpur, witnessed and heard first-hand the full speech, I would request his critics to restrain their fatuous fatwas, revisit his remarks and research for themselves their veracity, or otherwise, of Dr Mahathir’s claim that “Jews rule the world.”

Simply go into Google, type “famous Jews” and see what comes up.

One very recognisable name will be Alan Greenspan, chairman of the federal reserve board. Here’s what publishing company Barnes & Noble had to say about Bob Woodward’s book on Greenspan, called “Maestro.”

“On eight Tuesdays each year, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan convenes a small committee to set the short-term interest rate that can move through the American and world economies like an electric jolt. As much as any, the committee’s actions determine the well-being of every American. The availability of money for business or consumer loans, mortgages, job creation, and overall national economic growth all flows from those decisions.”

Sounds like a very powerful position indeed, and Greenspan’s been at the Fed since August 11, 1987.

Another name will be Robert Zoellick, the chief US trade representative at the World Trade Organization talks, and his predecessor Charlene Baffsky. Asians with memories of the 1997 economic crisis will also see names like George Soros. Those fond of worshipping multinational corporate chief executives will recognise Robert Rubin, Sandy Weill, Gerald Levin, Larry Ellison, Steve Ballmer and Michael Eisner.

Other famous names will be major media players, especially in Hollywood, literary and publicity agents, PR companies and advertising agencies, newspapers and TV stations.

It’s all in the public domain. Check it out and make up your own mind about the level of their influence on global media, politics, finance and economics.

The reference to “others” being sent to fight and die for them was a jab at the so-called neo-conservatives in the US administration who include Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and other key people linked to the right-wing agenda laid out in the Project for the New American Century (NPAC).

Last week, the Baghdad hotel in which Mr. Wolfowitz was staying came under attack. He escaped but one US officer died. Later, Mr. Wolfowitz said, “This terrorist act will not deter us from completing our mission, which is to help the Iraqi people free themselves from the type of criminals who did this and to protect the American people from this kind of terrorism.”

That’s easy for him to say. His children are not dying in Iraq; as Dr Mahathir says, it’s the children of some hapless American family sent there to fight and die in order “help the Iraqi people free themselves” and “protect the American people.” Whatever happened to finding weapons of mass destruction?!!

Others names worth checking out on the Internet for their career links with NPAC and Israel as well as their role in the Iraq conflict are Peter Rodman, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, James Woolsey and Lewis Libby, all holding senior policy-making positions in the US administration.

Additional research will show that Dr Mahathir was not in fact saying anything new.

One widely available quote is an early October 2001 broadcast on Israel radio (in Hebrew) Kol Yisrael, when [former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon] Peres warned [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon that refusing to heed incessant American requests for a cease-fire with the Palestinians would endanger Israeli interests and “turn the US against us.”

At this point, a furious Sharon reportedly turned toward Peres, saying “every time we do something you tell me Americans will do this and will do that. I want to tell you something very clear, don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people control America, and the Americans know it.”

This quote is now claimed to be a fabrication. But they would claim that, wouldn’t they?

How about this quote by Retired Navy Admiral, Thomas Moorer, in “Deliberate Deceptions: Facing the Facts About the U.S.-Israeli Relationship” a book by former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley: “I’ve never seen a president — I don’t care who he is — stand up to [the Israelis]. It just boggles your mind. If the American people understood what a grip those people have got on our government, they would rise up in arms.”

And this: Appearing on the CBS ‘Face the Nation’ television programme, two days after the outbreak of the 1973 Middle East war, the late US Senator J. William Fulbright said: “…the Israelis control the policy in the Congress and the Senate and unless we use the U.N. and do it collectively, we know the U.S. is not going to do that… Somewhere around 80 percent of the Senate of the United States is completely in support of Israel and of anything Israel wants.”

As the controversy involving Dr Mahathir raged on, the BBC website reported on 26 October 2003: “With just six days until he retires, the prime minister is speaking without any apparent regard for the consequences.”

So, that’s it. Anyone who makes remarks that the networks deem to be anti-Semitic can face ‘consequences.’ Such as what? A midnight knock on the door? Economic boycott? Something worse?

Anyhow, what exactly was anti-Semitic about Dr Mahathir’s remarks? Was he being insulting? Abusive? Derogatory? His comments were nowhere as vile and vicious as the reaction to them.

On the contrary, a careful reading of his remarks will show that he was urging Muslims and the Arabs to abandon violence and start rising from the heap by using their brains. Here are two quotes which testify to that:

= “Is there no other way (to solve problems within the Muslim world) than to ask our young people to blow themselves up and kill people and invite the massacre of more of our own people? It cannot be that there is no other way.”

= “We fight without any objective, without any goal other than to hurt the enemy because they hurt us. Naively we expect them to surrender. We sacrifice lives unnecessarily, achieving nothing other than to attract more massive retaliation and humiliation.”

Sounds to me like a pretty clear call for a renunciation of violence and reappraisal of strategy. It is exactly what our own Thai-Muslim leaders like Dr Surin Pitsuwan have been advocating for years.

Yet, show me one international media outlet that printed either of those remarks. Instead, the mainstream media chose to go with remarks they knew would generate more controversy.

Dr Mahathir, too, almost certainly knew they would, because elsewhere in his speech he refers to the reality that arrogant people, like angry people, make mistakes. The venomous criticism has been one such mistake because many are simply researching his comments for themselves.

Dr Mahathir was right on another score. Many Jews can see the truth and realise that the policies of their fellow Jews are giving them all a bad name, just like the terrorists have given Islam a bad name.

These Jews are now getting active in peace groups, alternative journalism websites and through political forums to help ensure that Israel observes UN resolutions, is made accountable for its “extra-judicial killings” and makes peace with its neighbours — the recent “alternative” peace agreement signed by Israeli opposition groups is a clear indication that it can be done.

Clearly, many Jews are conducting some heavy-duty soul-searching about how the policies of the Israeli government are affecting them all. Indeed, of what use is their cultural, artistic, scientific and technological brilliance when they have to build walls to protect their people?

The hue and cry has also focussed attention on the source of funding for the upcoming US election. I urge readers to keep a watch on who will be giving how much to whom, and then relate that back to how the elected politicians vote on future issues related to the Middle East.

Lots of watchdog groups will be monitoring this as part of the normal democratic process of transparency and accountability. It will all be in the public domain.

As Iraq becomes an election issue, many Americans will seriously question the human and financial cost of their government’s pro-Israeli policies, and the ceaseless cycle of conflict it spawns worldwide.

Dr Mahathir knew his remarks would create an international controversy which always helps to get the issue discussed in the media and corridors of academia. In arguably the most brilliant speech of his career, he dropped the bait, and his critics bit right into it.

As for those who think they can silence him, or that retirement will see him fade into the sunset, they may have to think again.