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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 06:21 GMT 07:21 UK
Mahathir calls for peaceful Islam
Mahathir Mohamad
Mahathir Mohamad has dominated Malaysia for decades
The outgoing prime minister of the mainly Muslim state of Malaysia has made a strong call for peace and tolerance in the Islamic world.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad told BBC News Online violence had "achieved nothing", for example, for the Palestinians.

But he also accused the West of treating all Muslims as "terrorists".

"A lot of people think the teachings of Islam make them confrontative (sic), but in fact, if you go to the fundamentals of Islam, we are urged to live in peace," he said.

He said that in this "true sense", he considers himself a "fundamentalist" Muslim.

Dr Mahathir, 78, is due to retire at the end of October after 22 years in office, making him South East Asia's longest-serving elected leader.

The Malaysian premier was responding to callers and emails from all over the world in an interactive interview he gave to the BBC's Talking Point programme at his office in Kuala Lumpur.

He appealed to Muslims worldwide to go back to the "original, true teachings of Islam" and embrace values such as "peace, friendship, brotherhood, and tolerance of people".

Exhibition devoted to Mahathir Mohamad's career in Kuala Lumpur this week

Malaysia, he said, did not have a problem with Islamic militants because it had acted to stop the "teaching of the politics of hatred" in religious schools.

"We are very vigilant and know what is happening," he said, adding that the country's tough Internal Security Act had not been passed "just for fun".

At the same time, he added, there was a "clash of civilisations" between Islamic and other states.

"It is a lack of understanding of Islam that has led to this present situation," he said.

But he admitted that there was a problem within Islam with "wrong" interpretations of Islamic teachings.

"The result is that Islam appears to be an obstruction to progress," he said, adding that he believed there was a need for better unity within the Muslim world.

Challenged by one Western caller to defend his condemnation of homosexuality, the Malaysian premier said that each country had its own laws.

"You cannot force us to accept your values," he said, comparing Malaysia to Britain.

Asked about Iraq, he said continuing attacks on US troops showed they were not welcome there.

Malaysia's future

As his time in office approaches its end, Dr Mahathir also commented on other issues affecting his own country, from relations between ethnic Malays and ethnic Chinese to the prosecution of his former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim.

After one caller accused Malaysia of treating its minority communities as "second-class citizens", the premier said that Malays felt oppressed by "rich Chinese".

"Malays feel they are second-class people to rich Chinese - both are second-class," he said. "There are no first-class."

On Anwar Ibrahim, Dr Mahathir said he had not put him in jail himself - the courts had.

"You cannot go around sodomising people," he remarked, referring to one of the charges laid against his former deputy and rival.

Asked about his successor as prime minister, Dr Mahathir said that one important task would be to prevent Islam being used to "subvert people and create hatred".

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