Once again, Arab Muslim extremists celebrated recent remarks by former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the Young Arab Leaders Forum in Dubai, where he attacked Jews and the west and justified the use of violence.
While his words were exaggerated in the media, they are not extraordinary for a leader who has adopted more popular views in recent years after his numerous visits and meetings across the Arab world.
Without wishing to debate his latest remarks, I appeal to those celebrating Mahathir’s speech to focus on his deeds as Premier and founder of modern Malaysia. He deserves to be recognized for his actions and not his words. A liberal Muslim leader, Mahathir believed in co-existence and incorporated Hindus of Indian origin and Buddhists of Chinese origin into society. He also protected personal freedoms, in theory and in practice. During his rule, Malaysia became a Muslim success story. Mahathir established a tolerant secular government and separated religion from government. Religious leaders were restricted to discussing religious matters and physicists to studying science, thereby enabling Malaysia to achieve untold success in economic and scientific matters.
Unfortunately, it seems we only hear from Mahathir what we want to. I advise everyone celebrating his words to focus on his deeds. Mahathir is not an extremist or an intolerant leader. He was renowned for preaching co-existence and not peddling hate. He devoted his energy to building a better future and not terrorism.
Those seeking to depict the former Malaysian Premier as an extremist Muslim leader are wrong; he is a liberal Muslim who fought against fundamentalists, most recently his Deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, who founded the Muslim Youth movement and whom Mahathir accused of using religion to seize power. Indeed, Mahathir famously once said, “Bribery, murder, religious deception, favoritism and several other means achieve victory for candidates not qualified to lead the nation.”
In his last years in power, in order to counter the extremists’ propaganda machine, Mahathir went along with some of their demands but did not abandon his basic positions on which he founded Malaysia, including coexistence and an emphasis on scientific and economic development.
Leaving Mahathir’s recent remarks aside, let us reflect on his words, on the steps outside the Cabinet office for the last time and which he borrowed from Shakespeare, “Whatever evil one does stays after them but the good is usually buried with their bones.”