Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has said social media platforms Twitter and Facebook “misrepresented” what he was saying, after they deleted part of a blog post in which he wrote Muslims had “a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past” after the comments triggered an outcry.
In a new blog post, Mahathir said he was “disgusted with attempts to misrepresent and take out of context” what he had written, saying that that section of the post needed to be read with the subsequent paragraph in which he wrote: “But by and large, the Muslims have not applied the ‘eye for an eye’ law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t.”
The two sections appeared as separate tweets on Twitter, where they were posted as a thread. Their publication coincided with Thursday’s knife attack at a Nice church in which three people were killed.
Separately, the Malaysian government said it “strongly condemned” the Nice attack.
In a statement on Friday it said the incident was a reminder of the “urgent need for a concerted effort to eliminate acts and threats of terrorism”.
It added that the international community should stand together to promote “mutual respect, and harmonious and peaceful coexistence while opposing persecution, provocation, prejudices, as well as religious or racial hatred.”
‘Explain and defend’
Mahathir, 95, who resigned from his second stint in the job in March and is a respected leader in the Muslim world, said he believed in freedom of expression but it should not be used to insult others.
He reiterated that point on Friday.
“There is nothing I can do with FB and Twitter’s decision to remove my posting,” he wrote, adding that he had tried to “explain and defend” his position.
“That is what freedom of speech is to them,” he wrote. “On the one hand, they defended those who chose to display offending caricatures and expect all Muslims to swallow it in the name of freedom of speech and expression. On the other they deleted deliberately that Muslims had never sought revenge for the injustice against them in the past.”
His initial posting – entitled RESPECT OTHERS – was in relation to the French reaction to the brutal killing of Samuel Paty, a teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a discussion in a civics class.
Twitter initially flagged the tweet as “glorifying violence” and later removed that section from the thread.
Mahathir also said that French President Emmanuel Macron was “not showing that he is civilised”, adding he was “very primitive”.
“The French should teach their people to respect other people’s feelings,” he said.
But by and large the 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.
— Dr Mahathir Mohamad (@chedetofficial) October 29, 2020
Mahathir’s original posting prompted Cedric O, a junior minister with responsibility for the digital industry and communications, to urge the platform to suspend Mahathir’s account.
If it did not do so, the platform would be an “accomplice to a formal call for murder,” he said.
The United States Embassy in Kuala Lumpur also criticised Mahathir’s comments. “I strongly disagree with Tun Dr Mahathir’s statement,” US Ambassador Kamala Shirin Lakhdir wrote on Twitter, using the former prime minister’s title. “Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not.”
Leaders of several Muslim-majority countries have also condemned remarks by French officials, including Macron, defending depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. The caricatures are seen as blasphemous by Muslims.
French officials have said Paty’s murder by an 18-year-old of Chechen origin was an attack on France’s core value of freedom of expression and defended the right to publish the cartoons. Macron has also said he would redouble efforts to stop conservative Islamic beliefs subverting French values.
Mahathir is known for his outspoken views and has previously drawn criticism for remarks attacking LGBT and Jewish people.