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West accuses Malaysian PM of racism

John Aglionby, south-east Asia correspondent
The Guardian, October 18, 2003

International condemnation rained down on the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, yesterday after he launched an extraordinary attack on Jews at the start of a summit of Islamic leaders.

Britain and Germany summoned Malaysian diplomats to complain formally about his complaints that Jews were "ruling the world".

Many other countries, including the US, strongly criticised the Malaysian leader.

At the end of a summit in Brussels, EU leaders decided not to formally condemn Mr Mahathir, but they released a copy of a draft statement containing several sentences castigating him.

Mr Mahathir has refused to comment.

His foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, has apologised for any misunderstanding or offence, but has defended the underlying assertion.

Mr Mahatir told the Islamic conference summit on Thursday: "The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."

The world's 1.3 billion Muslims would not be defeated by "a few million Jews", he said. "They, this tiny community, have become a world power."

"[But] we cannot fight them through brawn alone. We must use our brains also."

The Foreign Office said: "It is particularly regrettable that some positive and welcome messages in Mahathir's speech, such as the emphasis on negotiation being the path to peace, were obscured and overshadowed by racist remarks."

The EU response which was withdrawn from its final draft statement after objections by the French president, Jacques Chirac, said: "His unacceptable comments hinder all our efforts to further inter-ethnic 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."

The US state department said Mr Mahathir's remarks were "inflammatory". "We view them with the contempt and derision they deserve," it said.

Most of the leaders who were present when the speech was delivered were less critical. The Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, said: "It was a brilliant speech. Very logical." He added: "Anti-semitism is a product of the west. Muslims are not anti-semitic."

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

A senior editor of the US-based New Republic magazine has apologised for writing in his column that the producers of the film "Kill Bill" are "Jewish executives" who "worship money above all else".

In an apology on the magazine's website, Gregg Easterbrook admitted "mangling words". He said: "What I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologise."

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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