'Listening to Mahathir'
Jude Wanniski
October 22, 2003


Memo To: Jewish Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: "Jews Rule This World by Proxy"

I wasn't going to comment on Mathahir Mohamad's assertion last week that "Jews Rule this World by Proxy," although I did post the report of his speech as a Recommended Reading. And I did say the speech should be taken seriously, because it did represent the views of the Islamic world, not just Mahathir. Now President Bush, who does not read newspapers but gets the news conveyed to him by Condi Rice, bumped into the Malaysian Prime Minister at a gathering in Bangkok. He took the opportunity to tell Mahathir how outraged he was at this anti-Semitism and then issued a press release trumpeting news of this private conversation. Then Tuesday, Paul Krugman of the New York Times devoted his column to an explanation of why Mahathir did what he did, and why he thinks President Bush does not understand how he and his administration have brought America's relations with the 1.3 billion Muslims to this pretty pass. In today's Times there are several letters to the editor denouncing Krugman for being an apologist for an anti-Semite.

The complete transcript of Mahathir's speech can be found at this link. Here are excerpts as reported by AP:

October 21, 2003

Views on Jews By Malaysian: His Own Words

Following are excerpts from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's speech on Thursday at the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia:

We need guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships for our defense. But because we are discouraged from learning of science and mathematics as giving us no merit for the afterlife, today we have no capacity to produce our own weapons for our defense. We have to buy our weapons from our detractors and enemies. . . .

Today we, the whole Muslim ummah [community], is treated with contempt and dishonor. Our religion is denigrated, our holy places desecrated. Our countries are occupied, our people starved and killed. . . .

Our only reaction is to become more and more angry. Angry people cannot think properly. And so we find some of our people acting irrationally. They launch their own attacks, killing just about everybody, including fellow Muslims, to vent their anger and frustration. . . .

There is a feeling of hopelessness among the Muslim countries and their people. . . . But is it true that we should do and can do nothing for ourselves? Is it true that 1.3 billion people can exert no power to save themselves from the humiliation and oppression inflicted on them by a much smaller enemy? Is there no other way than to ask our young people to blow themselves up and kill people and invite the massacre of more of our own people? . . .

We are actually very strong; 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy: They get others to fight and die for them. . . .

We also know that not all non-Muslims are against us. . . . Even among the Jews, there are many who do not approve of what the Israelis are doing. . . .

We are up against a people who think. They survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by hitting back but by thinking. They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power. . . .

Of late, because of their power and their apparent success, they have become arrogant. And arrogant people, like angry people, will make mistakes, will forget to think. They are already beginning to make mistakes. There may be windows of opportunities for us now and in the future. We must seize these opportunities.

* * * * *

I'll append Krugman's column, but also recommend you read a Mahathir speech he gave last year, which got no attention, but which may at least persuade you that Krugman has a point that should not be dismissed out of hand. I have been privately responding to Jewish clients on this issue by pointing out that a political leader knows how to get in front of an angry mob that is moving in the wrong direction. He gets its attention by first telling it that it has every right to be angry. He can only then hope to move it by degrees in a more constructive direction, away from its violent path. Read the speech and you will see that is what Mahathir is doing and why the response from the leaders of the Islamic world was so enthusiastic. There is no anti-Semitism here. Anti-Semitism requires that you wish to do harm to Jews in some way or another and Mahathir is clearly stating the opposite goal, urging his fellow Muslims to instead think through strategies that will bring about peaceful solutions to the issues that confront the Islamic world.

Listening to Mahathir
By Paul Krugman
NYTimes Oct. 21, 2003

"The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy: They get others to fight and die for them." So said Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia, at an Islamic summit meeting last week. The White House promptly denounced his "hate-filled remarks."

Indeed, those remarks were inexcusable. But they were also calculated -- for Mr. Mahathir is a cagey politician, who is neither ignorant nor foolish. And to understand why he made those remarks is to realize how badly things are going for U.S. foreign policy.

The fact is that Mr. Mahathir, though guilty of serious abuses of power, is in many ways about as forward-looking a Muslim leader as we're likely to find. And Malaysia is the kind of success story we wish we saw more of: an impressive record of economic growth, rising education levels and general modernization in a nation with a Muslim majority.

It's worth reading the rest of last week's speech, beyond the offensive 28 words. Most of it is criticism directed at other Muslims, clerics in particular. Mr. Mahathir castigates "interpreters of Islam who taught that acquisition of knowledge by Muslims meant only the study of Islamic theology." Thanks to these interpreters, "the study of science, medicine, etc. was discouraged. Intellectually the Muslims began to regress." A lot of the speech sounds as if it had been written by Bernard Lewis, author of "What Went Wrong," the best-selling book about the Islamic decline.

So what's with the anti-Semitism? Almost surely it's part of Mr. Mahathir's domestic balancing act, something I learned about the last time he talked like this, during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

At that time, rather than accept the austerity programs recommended by the U.S. government and the I.M.F., he loudly blamed machinations by Western speculators, and imposed temporary controls on the outflow of capital -- a step denounced by all but a handful of Western economists. As it turned out, his economic strategy was right: Malaysia suffered a shallower slump and achieved a quicker recovery than its neighbors.

What became clear watching Mr. Mahathir back then was that his strident rhetoric was actually part of a delicate balancing act aimed at domestic politics. Malaysia has a Muslim, ethnically Malay, majority, but its business drive comes mainly from an ethnic Chinese minority. To keep the economy growing, Mr. Mahathir must allow the Chinese minority to prosper, but to ward off ethnic tensions he must throw favors, real and rhetorical, to the Malays.

Part of that balancing act involves reserving good jobs for Malay workers and giving special business opportunities to Malay entrepreneurs. One reason Mr. Mahathir was so adamantly against I.M.F. austerity plans was that he feared that they would disrupt the carefully managed cronyism that holds his system together. When times are tough, Mr. Mahathir also throws the Muslim majority rhetorical red meat.

And that's what he was doing last week. Not long ago Washington was talking about Malaysia as an important partner in the war on terror. Now Mr. Mahathir thinks that to cover his domestic flank, he must insert hateful words into a speech mainly about Muslim reform. That tells you, more accurately than any poll, just how strong the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among Muslims in Southeast Asia has become. Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low.

And bear in mind that Mr. Mahathir's remarks were written before the world learned about the views of Lt. Gen. William "My God Is Bigger Than Yours" Boykin. By making it clear that he sees nothing wrong with giving an important post in the war on terror to someone who believes, and says openly, that Allah is a false idol. General Boykin denies that's what he meant, but his denial was implausible even by current standards. Donald Rumsfeld has gone a long way toward confirming the Muslim world's worst fears.

Somewhere in Pakistan Osama bin Laden must be enjoying this. The war on terror didn't have to be perceived as a war on Islam, but we seem to be doing our best to make it look that way.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company