As the former Prime Minister of the country, Dr. Mahathir – as with former heads of state all over the world – has been accorded much respect. Not only that, he is given liberties as befitting a leader who has served the country for over two decades, and whose experience and advice is thought of as being given with the best interests of the nation in mind.
But the public also knows that Dr. Mahathir is approaching – if not already reached – the stage of senility and dotage that is associated with old age. Threfore he is given some slack – in fact more than is due to any other political leader in Malaysia. His past controversial statements – many found in his blog and others made at public events – would fill up more than a book but they are mostly ignored as the ramblings of an old leader trying to remain in the public eye.
A fair government that is insistent on keeping the Sedition Act which criminalises speech and writing as that which would “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against” the government or engender “feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races” would have thrown the book at Dr. Mahathir long ago.
But although guilty of racial and religious stereotyping and hate mongering and one of the main reasons why Malay racial intolerance has reached this serious stage today, Dr Mahathir has remained untouchable and for this reason is a loose and dangerous cannon.
Dr Mahathir says “Okay” to burn bibles if you have good intentions
To his record of race baiting can now be added the sin of religious extremism. In comments made at a press conference following his address at an event named “The Extraordinaire Forum 2014” in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, Dr Mahathir said that he saw no harm in the call by Perkasa for Muslims to burn the bible so long as it was done with good intentions.
Perhaps Dr. Mahathir, caught up in the excitement of the event, was trying to be extra-ordinarily clever. Perhaps he wanted to play to the Malay/Muslim media and gallery by making some outrageous statements that would distract the Malay audience and have them forget about his recent statements about the alleged dishonesty, laziness and untrustworthiness of his own race. Or perhaps he was caught off guard and was making his comments tongue-in-cheek.
How should we – ordinary Malaysians take his latest comments on the long running national controversy over Ibrahim Ali’s call to Muslims to burn the bible containing the word “Allah” last year? We can be sure that a great many right thinking Malaysians would have cringed at this latest attempt by Dr. Mahathir to get some cheap publicity. Some would be kinder and would say that he is simply demonstrating his infamous “foot in the mouth” tendency“.
But others that have followed Dr. Mahathir’s career see a consistency in his thinking and speaking. They are asking the following questions.
What was Dr Mahathir standing up for when he made his comments. He was standing up for Perkasa, the extremist right-wing Malay grouping of which he is Patron which has openly threatened to initiate racial violence should it feel that the Malay agenda – as defined by this grouping of ultra nationalists – is not given its due.
Dr. Mahathir was also standing up for Ibrahim Ali. This was a man whom he had no time when he was Prime Minister and who he, most likely, thought lowly of. In fact because he received little support from Dr. Mahathir for his political ambitions, Ibrahim Ali had jumped ship – initially into Semangat, and then PAS in the 1980’s and 90’s. Reviled in his later political career within UMNO as a “has-been”, “buffoon”, and “super-frog”, Ibrahim Ali has now reinvented himself as a Malay supremacist fighting to uphold Malay rights and privileges.
Why Dr. Mahathir Should Retract His Statements
In defending Perkasa and Ibrahim Ali, Dr. Mahathir may feel that he is being consistent in his espousal of an ultra-nationalist version of “ketuanan Melayu” and “ketuanan Islam” But he should realize that there is a thin line between religious extremism and religious militancy and terrorism. By commenting on the bible burning case in the way that he has done, Dr. Mahathir is encouraging – in fact inciting – Perkasa and Ibrahim Ali wannabes to cross that line.
For the sake of religious and racial peace in the country, Dr. Mahathir needs to issue an apology for the way in which he has commented on the bible burning issue.
If he does not act immediately to retract his comments, he can be sure that members and supporters of Perkasa and similar Malay/Muslim extremist groups looking for justification to undertake acts of disrespect and violence will take his advice or go even further in their ‘jihad’ against non-Muslims.
Worse is if it encourages the younger generation to think that unacceptable actions done with “good intentions” to protect Islam is justifiable. We already have young Malaysian Muslims joining ISIS to engage in religiously sanctioned war, brutality and terror. Is Dr. Mahathir proposing that they also do this in Malaysia?