At 95 years old, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who resigned by surprise last February after a domestic power coup, has returned to the spotlight. Mahathir has generated stupor and a great stir on Twitter by posting a series of inflammatory comments shortly after the murder of three people in the Notre-Dame de Nice (France), considered an Islamist terrorist attack. "Muslims have the right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past," he wrote on the social network, among other observations.
The lengthy tirade was not directly related to Thursday's attack in Nice, but to the recent assassination of French professor Samuel Paty, who had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class and was beheaded by a jihadist a couple of weeks ago. Mahathir, in fact, starts the thread on his Twitter account of 13 comments with a direct reference to the crime and the teacher's intention to "demonstrate freedom of expression."
“Murder is an act that, as a Muslim, I would not condone. But, although I believe in freedom of expression, I do not think that this includes insulting other people, "says the former leader of Malaysia, a country with a Muslim majority. Mahathir continues to praise Malaysia's racial and religious diversity (61% Muslim, 20% Buddhist and 9% Christian) and its peaceful coexistence thanks to its "sensitivity to the different."
A sensitivity that Mahathir progressively loses with each comment. From superficially addressing issues such as the differences between men and women or Western dress, he goes on to assess the weight of religion in the West. “They are Christians only in theory. It is your right. But they must not disrespect the values of others, the religion of others. That ability to show respect measures the level of their civilization ”, he adds.
From then on, his speech became radical. Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, and returned to power for two years after winning the 2018 elections, raises the tone when referring to French President Emmanuel Macron. “It is showing that it is not civilized. It is very primitive to blame Islam and Muslims for the murder of the insulting teacher, ”he emphasizes in reference to Paty.
A week after at the end of last September a man stabbed two people at the doors of the headquarters, in Paris, of the satirical weekly Charlie hebdo –In his writing 12 people were massacred in January 2015-, Macron announced a package of measures to defend French secularism against radical Islam. Assuring that it is a religion "in crisis" worldwide, the French president reported that mosques would be subjected to greater scrutiny, among other measures. Macron's plans were criticized in some Muslim countries, which have even called for a boycott of French products. The Malaysian Foreign Ministry, for example, claimed to have conveyed to the French Embassy its condemnation of "any provocative rhetoric" that slanders Islam. A diplomatic criticism light years away from Mahathir's irate reaction: “Regardless of professed religion, angry people kill. The French, in the course of history, have murdered millions of people. Many were Muslims ”.
It is his penultimate post, the twelfth, is the one that ends up sowing controversy. "Muslims have the right to be angry and to murder millions of French people over the massacres of the past," proclaims Mahathir, in what appears to be an allusion to the French colonialist past. Twitter later removed that comment for breaking company rules, leaving the rest of the thread, which was commented on and shared thousands of times. The same French Secretary of State for the Digital Economy, Cédric O., contacted Twitter to suspend Mahathir's account, which is still active.
What has led Mahathir to post such comments is anyone's guess. The politician resigned in February after what appeared to be an internal plot that put Muhyiddin Yassin at the head of the government, and has remained active on the Malaysian political scene ever since. Although contrary to the westernization of Malaysia, Mahathir is known for his sardonic style and considered a moderate-profile Muslim who abhors traditional clericalism. His victory in 2018 was initially seen as an opportunity for reform in Malaysia, although it ended up disappointing in certain quarters. Both this country and neighboring Indonesia, both with a Muslim majority and a moderate tendency, have experienced a certain religious radicalization in recent years.
While the current Malaysian government has not commented on the controversy, another former prime minister, Najib Razak, who lost the 2018 elections to Mahathir, came to his defense. “The world should calm down and read the statement in its full context. I'm sure (Mahathir) didn't mean exactly that. But even if so, it is his personal opinion, not Malaysia's, ”argues Najib, investigated for his involvement in the 1MDB state fund corruption scandal. However, he adds, Mahathir should be removed from his social accounts before he "does any more damage."