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Bigotry and recantation - Mahathir Mohamed and General Boykin


Two cases of bigotry this week and two unsatisfactory recantations.
At the opening of a conference of Islamic leaders, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia ranted to Muslim Leaders that the Jews run the world. In the United States, General Boykin has been going around telling church groups that Muslims worship idols and that "we are fighting Satan."

Both were forced to "explain" their remarks and apologize. They didn't mean it really, they are not bigotted people and all the usual excuses. The truth is, that they did mean it . They just don't see themselves as particularly prejudiced or bigoted, because where they come from, everyone thinks like that.

Prejudice and bigotry are determined by the norms of society. One hundred years ago, it was normal in European and American society to talk of Jews as sly and pushy, and it was normal in the United States to consider that Africans and other non-white people are "inferior" - less intelligent, lazier and less creative than "white" persons. Those views were held by respectable people - novelists, anthropologists and philosophers.

Times have changed for Jews and Africans in the USA, but bigotry against Muslims or Jews is still "OK" in certain circles in the United States, and bigotry against Jews is the respected norm in many Muslim countries. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly at all, nobody in the Arab or Muslim world seems to have found anything wrong with Mohamed's remarks. Even the Egyptian government, supposedly at peace with Israel, did not see anything anti-Semitic in remarks that deplored the fact that Hitler did not succeed in killing the Jews, and asserted that Jews control the world.

There is not much anyone outside of Malaysia (or in Malaysia for that matter) can do about Mahathir Mohamed, though Muslim countries can chose a different leader. A European move to censure Mohamed for his remarks was predictably blocked by French President Chirac, ever-ready to appease Muslims. Instead, Italian PM Berlusconi read a statement condemning Mahathir Mohamed's remarks. That is a bit unfortunate, since Belusconi himself made some highly anti-Islamic remarks at one time.

There is a lot that can be done about General Boykin, since generals are forbidden from making political statements of any kind, and certainly are not supposed to go about making racist statements, but the Pentagon and the US Army have thus far refrained from more than weak verbal criticism of Boykin's remarks, which were made in full dress uniform.

Ami Isseroff

Last Update: 17/10/2003 12:43

World reaction to Malaysian PM comments on Jews

By The Associated Press

Reactions by world leaders to comments about Jews
by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at a
summit of Islamic nations in Malaysia.

On Thursday, Mahathir said Jews
"rule the world by proxy" and
"get others to fight and die
for them." He said the world's
1.3 billion Muslims "cannot be
defeated by a few million
Jews," and called for political
and economic tactics, not
violence, to achieve a "final

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar
"I'm sorry that they have misunderstood the
whole thing. ... Please forget about
anti-Semitism ... The PM's message is to stop
violence, which is not the answer for us to
succeed in our struggle. People may not be very
happy but this is the reality: the Jews are
very powerful."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
"The speech correctly addressed the issues
confronting Muslims and regarding what Muslims
should do. Muslims must educate themselves,
they must begin to be progressive and develop
themselves." Asked whether the speech was
anti-Semitic, he replied: "No, I don't think

Eqyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher
"This was a pep talk to the Muslim countries for
them to work hard and look to the future, but
as soon as you have any criticism of Israel,
then there are people who are very eager to
rush to condemnation, even without comprehending what it's all about."

Somalian President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan
"The prime minister was not inciting war. He was
just saying that we should be united to face
threats from many quarters, including Israel."

Yemen Foreign Minister Abubakar al-Qirbi
"I don't think they were anti-Semitic at all. I
think he was basically stating the fact to the
Muslim world."

European Union
"His unacceptable comments hinder all our
efforts to further interethnic and religious
harmony, and have no place in a decent world,"
EU leaders said in a statement. "Such false and
anti-Semitic remarks are as offensive to
Muslims as they are to others."

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli
Said Mahathir's remarks were offensive and
inflammatory. "We view them with the contempt
and derision they deserve."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini
"The prime minister used expressions that were
gravely offensive, very strongly anti-Semitic
and ... strongly counter to principles of
tolerance, dialogue and understanding between
the Western world and the Islamic world."

German Foreign Ministry
Denounced the comments as "totally unacceptable"
and said it summoned Malaysia's charge
d'affaires in Berlin to protest the
"anti-Jewish remarks."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard
Said the comments were "offensive" and
"repugnant," and that "any invocation of
rivalry between Jews and Muslims is very

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan
Peled "It is not new that in such forums there is
always an attempt to reach the lowest common
denominator, which is Israel bashing. But
obviously we'd like to see more moderate and
responsible kinds of declarations coming out of
such summits."

Malaysia apologizes for PM's statement that 'Jews rule world'

By The Associated Press

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - Faced with furious criticism
from the United States and Europe over Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad's assertion that Jews
rule the world, Malaysia apologized Friday for any
misunderstanding and claimed that no offense was

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid
Albar struggled to contain the
damage wrought by his
blunt-spoken boss, who told a
summit of Islamic leaders
Thursday that "Jews rule the
world by proxy. They get others
to fight and die for them."

Repeated assertions of Jewish
dominance dotted the speech to buttress
Mahathir's analysis that Muslims needed to
embrace modern knowledge and technology and
overcome divisions over religious dogma that
have left them weakened on the world stage.

"I'm sorry that they have misunderstood the
whole thing," Syed Hamid told The Associated
Press. "The intention is not to create
controversy. His intention is to show that if
you ponder and sit down to think, you can be
very powerful."

Syed Hamid said the world's Muslims were in a
"quagmire" and feeling "sidelined or

The perception is widespread in the Islamic
world as the war on terrorism has evolved into
U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and increased
Israeli repression of the Palestinians.

"The ones who are facing all the problems at
present are the Muslims," Syed Hamid said.
"There are no feelings against any Jews. Why
should we have feelings based on ethnicity?"

On Thursday, Mahathir, a respected leader in the
developing world with a long history of making
articulate, provocative comments, told leaders
from 57 Islamic nations that Muslims had
achieved "nothing" in more than 50 years of
fighting Israel.

"They survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by
hitting back but by thinking," Mahathir said.
"They invented sodeletedm, communism, human
rights and democracy so that persecuting them
would appear to be wrong, so that they can
enjoy equal rights with others."

Mahathir said the world's "1.3 billion Muslims
cannot be defeated by a few million Jews," but
suggested the use of political and economic
tactics, not violence, to achieve a "final

"In today's world, we wield a lot of political,
economic and financial clout, enough to make up
for our weaknesses in military terms," Mahathir

The speech drew a standing ovation from the
assembled leaders, who included Saudi Arabian
Crown Prince Abdullah, Afghan President Hamid
Karzai, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo were special guests
because of their large Muslim minorities.

Many focused more on the aspects of the speech
that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher
called "a good road map" toward Muslim

"This was a pep talk to the Muslim countries for
them to work hard and look to the future,"
Maher said. "But as soon as you have any
criticism of Israel, then there are people who
are very eager to rush to condemnation, without
comprehending what it's all about."

Karzai, asked by The Associated Press whether he
thought the speech was anti-Semitic, responded:
"No, I don't think so."

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

"I don't think they were anti-Semitic at all,"
said Yemen's foreign minister, Abubakar
al-Qirbi. "I think he was basically stating the
fact to the Muslim world."

It wasn't seen that way in Washington or Europe.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called
Mahathir's remarks offensive and inflammatory.
"We view them with the contempt and derision
they deserve," he said.

The leaders of the European Union, meeting in
Brussels, planned to adopt a statement saying
the EU "deeply deplores" Mahathir's words,
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

"The prime minister used expressions that were
gravely offensive, very strongly anti-Semitic
and ... strongly counter to principles of
tolerance, dialogue and understanding between
the Western world and the Islamic world,"
Frattini said.

The German Foreign Ministry denounced the
comments as "totally unacceptable" and said it
called in Malaysia's charge d'affaires in
Berlin to protest.

"It was made clear to (him) that repeating such
prejudices and combining them with the tragic
chapter of European and German history, the
Holocaust, is irresponsible," the ministry said
in a statement.

Malaysia is one of the world's most successful
Muslim countries, and its high-tech economic
development and religious tolerance have made
it admired in the developing world and held up
by Washington as a model Islamic country.

Mahathir has locked up terror suspects without

The Malay Muslim ethnic majority generally lives
peacefully alongside large, non-Muslim ethnic
Chinese and Indian minorities. Islam is the
official religion, but freedom of worship is
part of state policy. But an Islamic
fundamentalist opposition party has made gains
in recent years against Mahathir's ruling

EU 'strongly deplores' Malaysian PM's remarks on Jews
By Haaretz Service and Agencies

The European Union on Friday released a statement
of strong condemnation of comments made the day
before by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir
Mohamad, who said that "Jews rule the world by

After a move by French President
Jacques Chirac to block the EU
from ending its two-day summit
with a harshly-worded statement
condemning Mahathir's remarks
on the grounds that the
conference was not the correct
forum for such a statement, the
EU issued a statement
"forcefully deploring" the

Backed by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis,
officials said, Chirac objected to a few short
sentences in a 19-page summit statement
deploring Mahathir's comments.

The draft by foreign ministers Thursday night
said: "His unacceptable comments hinder all our
efforts to further interethnic and religious
harmony, and have no place in a decent world.
Such false and anti-Semitic remarks are as
offensive to Muslims as they are to others."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told
reporters Thursday night that the remarks were
"gravely offensive."

But when the paper was handed to EU leaders
Friday morning, Chirac said there was no place
in an EU declaration for a text of this kind,
diplomats said. Other leaders agreed, although
the Netherlands wanted the wording to stay in
the declaration.

The leaders then compromised by having Italian
Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the summit host,
criticize Mahathir at his closing news

The French Embassy in Israel issued a statement
saying that Chirac condemned the Malaysian
prime minister's statements, but that he felt
that the EU summit statement was not the
appropriate place to express this.

Officials said the draft text also would be
issued as a separate statement and would be
posted on the EU presidency Web site,

Berlusconi told reporters Mahathir's comments
about Jews undermine efforts to bring different
religions closer.

"All of our efforts must go toward a dialogue
between the Western world and the Islamic
world, between Christian religion and Islamic
religion," he added.

Malaysian PM refuses to back down on remarks
Mahathir on Friday accused Western countries of
using a double standard for criticizing Jews
and Muslims, and refused to apologize for his

"Lots of people make nasty statements about us,
about Muslims," Mohamad said Friday. "People
call Muslims terrorists, they even say ...
Mohammed the prophet was a terrorist."

"People make such statements, and they seem to
get away with it. But if you say anything at
all against the Jews, you are accused of being
anti-Semitic," Mahathir told a news conference
after the close of a summit of the Organization
of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest
Muslim grouping.

In his speech, Mahathir used allegations of
Jewish dominance to underline his chief point:
that Muslims needed to embrace modern knowledge
and technology, and overcome divisions over
religious dogma that have left them weakened on
the world stage.

Mahathir said Muslims had achieved "nothing" in
more than 50 years of fighting Israel. He also
said the world's 1.3 billion Muslims "cannot be
defeated by a few million Jews."

Mahathir, 77, a senior statesmen in the
developing world who will retire October 31
after 22 years in office, has long been a
leader who takes pride in calling things the
way he sees them. He is a staunch advocate of
the Palestinians and strongly opposed the war
in Iraq, but he also has jailed terror suspects
from the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah

The United States, Canada, the European Union,
Israel, Germany, Britain and Australia all
condemned Mahathir's remarks.

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli
called the speech offensive and inflammatory.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said it was
"a desecration of the memory of 6 million
victims of anti-Semitism."

Britain summoned Malaysia's top diplomat in
London to express concern, the Foreign Office

But Mahathir was unapologetic - stressing that
remarks by his foreign minister expressing
sorrow over misunderstandings were not an
apology for the speech - and he told the news
conference he opposed terrorism, suicide
bombings and Israel's policy of massive
retaliation in response to Palestinian

"What I said in my speech is that we should stop
all this violence," Mahathir said, noting that
historically, Jews had sought refuge in Muslim
lands to escape persecution in Europe.

But since Israel was established a half-century
ago, "there seems to be no more peace in the
Middle East," Mahathir said.

Mahathir said most European leaders - in which
he generally includes Australia and the United
States - were biased and "feel that while it is
proper to criticize Muslims and Arabs, it is
not proper to criticize Europeans and Jews.
Apparently, they think they are privileged

U.S. General says he's not "anti-Islam"
Sat 18 October, 2003 04:36 BST

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Pentagon intelligence officer, under fire for his comments about Islam, says he is "neither a zealot nor an extremist" and apologised to those offended by his statements but did not take back any of his remarks.

Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, whose comments at churches and prayer breakfasts cast the U.S. war on terrorism in starkly religious terms, sought to explain comments including one that Muslims worship an "idol" and said he was not "anti-Islam."

Democratic lawmakers, including presidential candidates Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, criticised Boykin's remarks and chastised President George W. Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for failing to criticise the general. And a Saudi diplomat called Boykin's remarks "outrageous."

A statement released late on Friday by the Pentagon public affairs office represented Boykin's first attempt to publicly explain himself since his remarks came to light this week.

He did not address his future, but Defence officials said he had no plans to quit. The officials also said he planned to "tone down" his remarks. One official said, "I would not expect him to engage in those sorts of speaking engagements in the future."

"I am neither a zealot nor an extremist. Only a soldier who has an abiding faith," said Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defence for intelligence and war-fighting support.

"I do believe that radical extremists have tried to use Islam as a cause for attacks on America," he said. "As I have stated before, they are not true followers of Islam.

"In my view they are simply terrorists, much like the so-called 'Christians' of the white supremacy groups, or extremist (sic) of any faith," Boykin said.


"I am not anti-Islam or any other religion," he added. "I support the free exercise of all religions. For those who have been offended by my statements, I offer a sincere apology."

NBC News this week broadcast videotapes of Boykin, an evangelical Christian, giving speeches while wearing his Army uniform at various Christian functions.

He portrayed the U.S. battle with Islamic radicals as a clash with "Satan," saying they sought to destroy America "because we're a Christian nation."

In one speech, Boykin recalled a Muslim fighter in Somalia who said U.S. forces would never get him because Allah would give him protection. "Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol," Boykin told his audience.

In his statement, Boykin said his comments about that Muslim fighter "were not referencing his worship of Allah but his worship of money and power; idolatry. He was a corrupt man, not a follower of Islam."

Boykin added, "My references to Judeo-Christian roots in America or our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable." He also said he defends the right of every American to worship "as he or she chooses." He also said he was an invited guest speaker at churches.

"I have frequently stated that I do not see this current conflict as a war between Islam and Christianity. I have asked American Christian audiences to realise that even though they cannot be in Iraq or Afghanistan, they can be part of this war by praying for America and its leaders," he said.

Lieberman called on Bush to condemn Boykin's "hateful remarks." Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan said "it is outrageous that someone who holds such extreme, closed-minded, zealous views would be allowed such a prominent position in our military."

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Replies: 2 comments

You are comparing apples and oranges. One general, not a leader of his country or his religion, makes a statement. Then you are comparing this to a statement made & applauded by leaders of Islamic countries at an Islamic conference (that is what they themselves called it). So these are the top guys of Islamic countries and have a lot more responsibility than one general. America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and that is what part of what makes us great, the other is separation of church and state. Do you think the US president would go to a conference of Christian countries?!! Sorry, but don't tell me Islam is a religion of peace, the Moslems are involved with persecution of Christians all over the globe. Every time Bush bleats that I just cringe. Now you will tell me I'm a bigot but I'm stating facts here.

Posted by An American @ 10/21/2003 02:14 AM CST

I am fully aware of the despicable nature of Mahathir Mohamed's remarks and likewise of the fact that most Muslims seem to agree with him. However, one reason Mohamed's society looks the way it does is because nobody criticizes and everyone is busy finding excuses for faults. "The Jews are to blame" is one excuse. "We are less bad than the other guy" is another. If you don't do something about Boykin, then Boykin will make many little Boykin's and soon you will have a Mahathir Mohamed, USA style.

True, Boykin is not the leader of a country, but he is supported and promoted by the leaders of his country, even though he has violated regulations that say generals should not interfere in political matters, as well as disgracing the uniform by racist remarks. As a soldier, his business is to carry out policy, not to make it. If he is not punished by the U.S. government, they are certainly making a statement.

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 10/29/2003 02:00 AM CST

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