By Wong Chun Wai
LET’S be honest – Malaysia isn’t exactly smelling like roses right now because the world is familiar with our head-turning financial scandals, corruption cases involving top leaders and endless political intrigue.
We are in the news for the wrong reasons most of the time. So, the last thing we need is for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to put us in the world news.
On Thursday, the former prime minister tweeted that Muslims have the right “to kill millions of French people” after a deadly attack in Nice, sparking widespread anger and prompting Twitter to delete his post.
Three people were killed in a church in the southern French city, with the attacker slitting the throat of at least one, in what authorities were treating as the latest terror assault to rock the country.
Shortly afterwards, Dr Mahathir launched an extraordinary outburst in a series of tweets.
Twitter initially declined to remove the comments, but finally did so following a furious reaction from the French government.
He made it into Quotidien, the most popular talk show in France, and almost all major news networks around the world. Just look it up on the Net.
Many of us, including our business associates, were bombarded with text messages to find out if Malaysia had joined the al-Qaeda Club. We had to assure them the country and people, mostly, had not gone bonkers.
Muslims around the world are outraged at the way French President Emmanuel Macron has handled the complexities of a plural society, what with its racial and religious sensitivities. He has appeared condescending in the eyes of the global Muslim population.
At the same time, Turkey has spiked the political temperature by calling for a boycott of French products. It’s likely both want to engage with their domestic audience to score points, which is what politicians do.
We wonder if Dr Mahathir is also doing likewise since his popularity has taken a dip, what with his newly formed party heading nowhere, because surely, even at his advanced age, his faculties are more intact than the younger ones.
Something has gone terribly awry when we can’t draw a line between right and wrong. Calling for violence for reasons drawn from the past or present is simply wrong.
It can’t be justified and seems far worse coming from a senior leader like Dr Mahathir, whom many of us respect and look up to, even if we disagree with his politics.
The world will not merely look at his tweet as his personal emotional response – they will only remember Malaysia as a country for it.
In his blog later, Dr Mahathir expressed disgust with attempts to “misrepresent and take out of context” what he wrote, saying they had wrongly implied that he promoted the massacre of the French.
He noted that his posting, in its entirety, called for the French to teach their people to respect other people’s feelings.
“There is nothing I can do with FB and Twitter’s decision to remove my posting. To my mind, since they are the purveyor of freedom of speech, they must at least allow me to explain and defend my position, ” he said.
Now, there will be many who say Dr Mahathir merely wants to get the attention of the Muslim audience at home.
Wisma Putra took the right approach by summoning a senior official from the French Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to convey Malaysia’s disdain over the disparaging attitude towards Islam, including the publication of caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad.
In a statement, Wisma Putra said it had summoned the chargé d’affaires of the French Embassy in Kuala Lumpur as Malaysia sought to express concern over the “growing hostilities, hate speech and defamation of Islam”.
“During the meeting, the ministry reiterated Malaysia’s position to strongly condemn any inflammatory rhetoric and provocative acts that seek to defame Islam as the world has recently witnessed in the forms of populist speeches and publication of profane caricatures depicting the Holy Prophet Muhammad, ” it added.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the country “strongly condemns” inflammatory rhetoric and provocative acts that defame Islam.
France has painted itself into a tight corner. To be fair, it has also opened its doors to people from its ex-colonies in Arab and African nations.
France has the highest number of Muslim immigrants at over 5.6 million people, or 8.8% of the country’s population. Let’s not also forget that they chose a secular country like France, instead of a Middle Eastern or African nation with similar cultural and religious leanings.
But like many things with people, it’s never easy to give up one’s roots, especially race, religion and culture. If integration is tough, assimilation is near impossible. Never mind that almost all the immigrants speak French.
When an economy shrinks, immigrants will always be the first to face a backlash. They are always the bogeymen, and this happens to immigrants of other races, too.
In France, the economic disparity between whites and immigrants has grown wider, leading to frustrations.
As the Muslim numbers increase, with Islam as the fastest growing religion in Europe, the congregation finds itself in need of more places of worship, but councils are always concerned about approving the building of more mosques.
So, the result is street prayers, but for local French, they find this unacceptable, and as a recent viral video has shown, some of them have taken to provocation by singing loudly to drown out the prayers. The police have done nothing to quell this behaviour.
Such a video, as it goes viral, would surely anger Muslims around the world. As a non-Muslim, I find such confrontations highly disturbing and wonder why the French police allow this. If democracy and freedom of expression are enshrined in that society, why does this continue to happen?
We can argue steadfastly about rights and all, but wisdom is seriously lacking, especially when caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are allowed to proliferate.
So, Malaysia needs to distance itself from Dr Mahathir. His views don’t mirror our sentiments.
Even Turkey has swiftly joined the wave of condemnations on the brutal murders of three people by a suspected extremist in France’s coastal city of Nice, despite being in the midst of an escalating row between Ankara and Paris over a broad range of issues spanning the Eastern Mediterranean to the role of Islam.
The assailant is said to have charged at the victims with a knife in the Notre-Dame Basilica in the heart of the city on the French Riviera.
Two of the victims were female, one a 70-year-old who was “virtually beheaded” as she was praying, the BBC reported. The suspect, who has not yet been identified, was shot and detained soon after.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “It is clear that those who commit such a violent act in a holy place have no respect for any humanitarian, religious or moral values.”
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said: “Terror has no religion, language or colour. We will fight with determination and solidarity against all forms of terrorism and extremism.”
Indeed, there is no religion that encourages any form of violence. If there are ignorant people who want to behead others, in the name of God, then we should thwart that by keeping ourselves level-headed instead.