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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Malaysia defends speech on Jews
Dr Mahathir addresses the OIC summit
Dr Mahathir is due to step down at the end of October
Malaysia has sought to play down a row over remarks by its prime minister about Jews "ruling the world".

Mahathir Mohamad's opening speech at a summit of Muslim leaders in the Malaysian city of Putrajaya on Thursday has been condemned around the world.

But the speech, which received a standing ovation, has been endorsed by other Muslim leaders.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the premier's remarks about Jews had been taken out of context.

Mahathir's speech today is an absolute invitation for more hate crimes and terrorism against Jews
Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Simon Wiesenthal Centre

It was a "speech addressed to Muslims asking them to work hard and affirm their personality", said the minister, adding: "I'm sorry that they have misunderstood the whole thing".

Mr Albar said the main point of the speech had been to persuade Muslims against using violence to pursue their aims.

But the speech was criticised by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, as well as the governments of the United States, Germany and Italy, which holds the presidency of the European Union.

Anti-Nazi campaigners described Mr Mahathir's words as "an absolute invitation for more hate crimes and terrorism against Jews".

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which brings together 57 national leaders representing more than a billion Muslims worldwide, has been meeting for the first time since the 11 September attacks on America, and the US-led war on terrorism is dominating the agenda.

'Fight them'

In his speech, Dr Mahathir called on Muslims to use brains as well as brawn to fight Jews who, he said, "rule the world by proxy".

Woman passes in front of OIC flags
The OIC brings together 57 nations home to one billion Muslims

He told the leaders of the Islamic world that 1.3 billion Muslims could not be "defeated by a few million Jews".

"This tiny [Jewish] community has become a world power. We cannot fight them through brawn alone. We must use our brains as well," he said.

Jews, said the Malaysian prime minister, had "invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy" to avoid persecution and gain control of the most powerful countries.

He added that "the Jews" were "beginning to make mistakes" and Muslims could have "windows of opportunity... in the future".

The Malaysian prime minister also condemned what he called irrational terrorist attacks motivated by anger and suggested the Arab world should negotiate for peace.

Dr Mahathir, who has used such conferences to make scathing attacks on the West in the past, bows out as prime minister in a week's time after 22 years in office.

His speech was defended by several Muslim leaders.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai praised those parts of Dr Mahathir's speech that concentrated on the need for education and development in the Islamic world, and said he did not consider it anti-Semitic.

"Dr Mahathir spoke of the inhibitions within the Islamic world and that those inhibitions must go away and I entirely agree with that," said the Afghan leader.

'Invitation to hate'

His remarks about Jewish influence swiftly brought condemnation abroad.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre - which pursues the perpetrators of the Nazi genocide of the Jews - have expressed shock that Dr Mahathir could make them, and at such a level.

"What is profoundly shocking and worrying is the venue of the speech, the audience and coming in the time we're living in," he said .

Mahathir's speech was an "absolute invitation for more hate crimes and terrorism against Jews".

The speech was also condemned by the European Union and Germany in particular, as well as by the United States, Australia and other Western states.

Germany summoned Malaysia's charge d'affaires in Berlin to protest at the "totally unacceptable" comments.

Speaking for the EU, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that Dr Mahathir had employed "expressions that were gravely offensive, very strongly anti-Semitic and... strongly counter to principles of tolerance, dialogue and understanding".

Mahathir calls for peaceful Islam
10 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Mahathir in his own words
08 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Mahathir Mohamad
22 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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