Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad defends his widely condemned comments on attacks by Muslim extremists in France, saying that they were taken out of context as he criticised Twitter and Facebook for removing his posts.
The 95-year-old sparked widespread outrage when he wrote on his blog on Thursday that “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past”.
Twitter removed a tweet from Mr Mahathir containing the remark, which it said glorified violence, while France’s digital minister demanded the company also ban Mr Mahathir from its platform.
“I am indeed disgusted with attempts to misrepresent and take out of context what I wrote on my blog,” Mr Mahathir said in a statement.
He said critics failed to read his posting in full, especially the next sentence which read: “But by and large Muslims have not applied the ‘eye for an eye’ law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t. Instead the French should teach their people to respect other people’s feelings.”
He said Twitter and Facebook removed the posting despite his explanation, and slammed the move as hypocritical.
“On the one hand, they defended those who chose to display offending caricatures of Prophet Mohammed … and expect all Muslims to swallow it in the name of freedom of speech and expression,” he said.
“On the other, they deleted deliberately that Muslims had never sought revenge for the injustice against them in the past”, thereby stirring French hatred for Muslims, he added.
On Twitter, however, that sentence was not deleted. A staff member for Mr Mahathir said the entire posting was removed by Facebook.
Facebook Malaysia said in an email that it removed Mr Mahathir’s posting for violating its policies, adding: “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and strongly condemn any support for violence, death or physical harm.”
The comments by the two-time prime minister were in response to calls by Muslim nations to boycott French products after French leader Emmanuel Macron described Islam as a religion “in crisis” and vowed to crack down on radicalism following the murder of a French teacher who showed his class a cartoon depicting the prophet of Islam.
His remarks also came as a Tunisian man killed three people at a church in the southern French city of Nice.
The US ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdir, said on Friday that she “strongly disagreed” with Mr Mahathir’s statement, adding in a statement: “Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not.”
Mr Mahathir has been viewed as an advocate of moderate Islamic views and a spokesman for the interests of developing countries.
At the same time, he has pointedly criticised Western society and nations as well as their relationships to the Muslim world, while he has been denounced in Israel and elsewhere for making anti-Semitic remarks.