Malaysia’s former leader Mahathir Mohamad tweeted on Thursday (Oct 29) Muslims had a right “to kill millions of French people” after a deadly attack in Nice, sparking widespread anger and prompting Twitter to delete his post.
Three people were killed at a church in the southern French city, with the attacker slitting the throat of at least one of them, in what authorities were treating as the latest act of terrorism to rock the country.
Shortly afterwards, Mahathir – who was prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia until his government collapsed in February – wrote a series of tweets.
Referring to the recent beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty in Paris, who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Mahathir said he did not approve of that attack but freedom of expression does not include “insulting other people”.
“Irrespective of the religion professed, angry people kill,” said the outspoken 95-year-old, who has in the past drawn controversy for remarks attacking Jews and the LGBT community.
“The French in the course of their history has killed millions of people. Many were Muslims. Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” But he added that “by and large the Muslims have not applied the ‘eye for an eye’ law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t.”
Mahathir, who served as Malaysian premier twice for a total of 24 years, said that French President Emmanuel Macron was “not showing that he is civilised”, adding he was “very primitive”.
“The French should teach their people to respect other people’s feelings. Since you have blamed all Muslims and the Muslims’ religion for what was done by one angry person, the Muslims have a right to punish the French.
“The boycott cannot compensate the wrongs committed by the French all these years.” He made no direct reference to the Nice attack.
Malaysia’s Mahathir sparks uproar with his response to Macron
Cédric O, France’s junior digital affairs minister, said he spoke with the managing director of Twitter in his country and called for the immediate suspension of Mahathir’s official account. “If not, Twitter would be an accomplice to murder,” the minister wrote on the social media platform.
Mahathir’s post was immediately criticised by both foreign and local audiences, many of whom said he was encouraging violence.
Referring to Macron’s comments, Mahathir demanded France teach its people to respect others.
“Since you have blamed all Muslims and their religion for what was done by one angry person, the Muslims have a right to punish the French. The boycott cannot compensate the wrongs committed by the French all these years,” he wrote, in an apparent reference to French colonialism
“But by and large the 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.”
In what some people saw as his most inflammatory remark, Mahathir appeared to reference French colonialism, saying: “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.”
Australia’s ambassador in Malaysia, Andrew Goledzinowski, was among the more than 24,000 people who have responded to that remark – shared on the politician’s Twitter account – by quoting it. “I am deeply disturbed by this statement from Tun Dr Mahathir,” wrote Goledzinowski. “I know that he has not, and would not, advocated actual violence. But in the current climate, words can have consequences.”
Malaysian cleric and politician Fathul Bari Mat Jahya urged the nonagenarian to “delete” his comments. “Tun, this is not right. Islam does not teach its adherents to punish wholesale,” the cleric wrote on Twitter, using Mahathir’s honorific title.
“This is a reprehensible tribalism. As a statesman, and a figure popular abroad, with due respect I request Tun to delete this remark.”