Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammad has a long history of trying to upset the wider world with vicious comments meant for his home constituency, which includes pandering to hardline Islamic militants, some with blood on their hands.
His latest dreadful salvo, “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past,” was delivered after the knife attack by suspected Islamic militants on the streets of Nice left three people dead.
Twitter deleted that offending line as Mahathir claimed he was taken out of context. To some extent this was true, because the implication in the media that followed was that he approved the attack and that his rhetoric was an inspiration for terrorists.
But in linking Mahathir to the latest tragedy is to grossly over-inflate Mahathir’s influence inside the Muslim world. He is simply not that important, nor is Malaysia, and his comments had nothing to do with the killings in Nice.
The center of Islamic culture will always be Saudi Arabia, which exerts it’s influence over countries like Malaysia and Indonesia – not the other way around – and Mahathir’s efforts to bolster Malaysia’s influence through the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have often fallen flat.
Late last year, Saudi Arabia shunned a Muslim summit in Kuala Lumpur and succeeded in discouraging others, like Pakistan, from attending a meet designed to address the stark differences within Islam.
Riyadh doesn’t rate Kuala Lumpur, so why should anyone else?
Mahathir has selectively mouthed off about India’s treatment of Muslims, which had no impact, but said little about the plight of China’s Uyghur population, where his opinions matter even less.
As Malaysian writer Nawawi Mohamad once put it, after Mahathir took a swipe at U.S. and U.K. leaders, that he “is sparing with no one except of course, himself… As for the international leaders, they have largely ignored Mahathir’s existence, which only adds to his frustration.”
The Nice attack, the second in two weeks, took place on the day Muslims celebrated the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday – amid rising anger within Islam over the right in France to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet.
France was already a hot topic, and the 95-year-old Mahathir had to have engaged help from an aide in preparing 15 paragraphs broken up and released as a series of tweets not long after the assailants struck in Nice. That attack was not mentioned, although the French, predictably, were.
Mahathir also wrote: “Irrespective of the religion professed, angry people kill. The French in the course of their history has killed millions of people. Many were Muslims.” Nasty stuff based on gross assumptions.
The shame about his latest blunder is that it detracts from the success he delivered after winning office against the odds in 2018, and prosecuting his predecessor Najib Razak for his involvement with the 1MDB scandal.
In his second stint as prime minister, Mahathir tried to improve his country’s standing on human rights. Malaysia has signed onto the International Criminal Court, backed away from the mandatory death penalty, banned child marriages and negotiated better deals for foreign workers.
But he resigned amid a coalition revolt and was replaced in March by Muhyiddin Yassin, who has long enjoyed a tight relationship with Malaysia’s Muslim community – which accounts for around 60 percent of the country’s population – and Mahathir wants his job back.
His tweets were therefore designed to bolster support among hardliners in Malaysia at the expense of a wider, upset public abroad.
Mahathir is the type of character conspiracy theorists dream of. But implications that he has the ability to stir the Islamic terrorist pot in Europe are wrong.
His tweets were equally wrong and backfired badly amid more senseless murders and the anger that followed was justified – which is why he should just shut up.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt