In 2018, at age 92, Mahathir Mohamad was supposed to be living his best life.
Improbably, the former Malaysian leader — widely seen as a strongman during his first tenure in office between 1981 and 2003 — had managed a scarcely believable comeback.
In a general election shock, his coalition had managed to defeat the party that had ruled the majority-Muslim Southeast Asian country since its independence in 1957.
That was enough of a feat to get worldwide coverage, almost all of it laudatory. Much like Alfred Nobel — who established the prize named after him after reading a false obituary which derided him as a “merchant of death” for his role in arms sales — Mahathir was supposed to be enjoying an improbable final act of his life, one where he redefined his legacy.
Instead of the word “strongman” being used to describe him, he was hailed for effectively bringing democracy to a country with a one-party system embroiled in a massive corruption scandal.
One thing most of laudatory coverage missed was the fact that Mahathir had a troubling history of anti-Semitic remarks.
Jewish publication Tablet noted some of his greatest hits in this department.
In 2003, he told the Organization of Islamic Cooperation conference that “Jews rule this world by proxy.”
He said in a 2012 blog post that sympathy for Holocaust victims was “wasted and misplaced.” Also in 2012, he said that he was “glad to be labeled anti-Semitic” because “[h]ow can I be otherwise when the Jews who so often talk of the horrors they suffered during the Holocaust show the same Nazi cruelty and hard-heartedness.”
This was him as late as 2016, being grilled on Al Jazeera about his views regarding Israel and Jews:
Twitter FINALLY deleted the disgusting tweet by the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir who thinks it’s ok to promote genocide. These scandal-ridden (ex) leaders need to seriously back off with their warped sinister logic. pic.twitter.com/49cMpfVuvj
— Amro Ali (@_amroali) October 30, 2020
In 2018, however, most of that was ignored.
So was his anti-Western bent, another common theme of his first tenure in office. In 2003, as he was about to leave office for the first time, he rather memorably said that “[t]he September 11 attack on America, which supported Israel, was made an excuse for the Anglo-Saxon Europeans to return to their violent old ways.” That was about par for the course for him.
It turns out Mahathir’s final act didn’t go quite as planned. In February, his coalition collapsed and he was replaced as prime minister. The new ruling coalition, as The New York Times’ Hannah Beech noted, was aligned with many of the elements of the old ruling party.
And Mahathir’s final act may have been charting just how far a major political figure not named Donald Trump has to go before Twitter will censor their tweets.
This time, surprisingly, it wasn’t anti-Semitism that did him in, it was the anti-Western sentiment.
Hours after three victims were killed in a French church by an attacker who allegedly yelled “Allahu akbar” before the murders, Mahathir tweeted that “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people.” It was quickly deleted by Twitter.
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