Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has denied promoting violence after saying Muslims have a right to “kill millions of French people” and criticised Facebook and Twitter for taking down his posts.
Mahathir, 95, 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”.
The comments came as an attacker, alleged to be a refugee from Tunisia, slashed people with a knife in a church in Nice, France, killing three and wounding several others.
Twitter removed a tweet from Mahathir containing the remark, which it said glorified violence, and France’s digital minister demanded the company also ban Mahathir from its platform.
“I am indeed disgusted with attempts to misrepresent and take out of context what I wrote on my blog,” Mahathir said in a statement.
He said on Friday critics failed to read his posting in full, especially the next sentence that 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 post despite his explanation, and slammed the move as hypocritical.
“On the one hand, they defended those who chose to display offending caricatures of Prophet Muhammad … 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 Mahathir staff member said the entire post was removed by Facebook.
Facebook Malaysia said in an email it removed Mahathir’s post for violating its policies. “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and strongly condemn any support for violence, death or physical harm,” it said.
The comments by Mahathir, a 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 promised to crack down on radicalism following the murder of a French teacher who showed his class a cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad.
The US ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdir, said on Friday she “strongly disagreed” with Mahathir’s statement.
“Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not,” she said in a brief statement.
Australian High Commissioner in Malaysia Andrew Goledzinowski wrote even though Mahathir was not advocating actual violence, “in the current climate, words can have consequences”.
Mahathir’s second stint as prime minister lasted from 2018 until he quit in February 2020. He has been viewed as an advocate of moderate Islamic views and a spokesman for the interests of developing countries.
But at the same time, he pointedly criticised Western society and nations and their relationships to the Muslim world.