Late last week, I was on the road in Alberta when I heard of comments from Mahathir Mohammed, Malaysia’s Prime Minister directed at the world’s Jewish peoples that can only be described as hateful, hurtful and deeply offensive (I won’t repeat what he said because I believe to do so only rewards intolerance). In my view, it is important to speak out against such comments – if for no other reason than to make clear that from Canada’s perspective, this is unacceptable. It is hate-mongering and it should be called out as such without equivocation. For that reason, I was pleased to see the swift reply of my friend Bill Graham, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
While it may not be the diplomatic thing to do, I believe it is also important to point out that this is far from the first inexcusable outburst from Dr. Mahathir. For years he has used language that can be barely described as code with respect to Jews. And in 1999, he had his own Minister of Finance – my friend Anwar Ibrahim – jailed on trumped up charges simply because Anwar had done his job too well and had become a symbol of hope and optimism to too many Malaysians. In other words, he became a threat to Dr. Mahathir. Since that time, I have repeatedly added my voice to the howls of international protest but to no effect. My friend and former colleague remains imprisoned, suffering and kept apart from his family.
I don’t, for a second, believe that Dr. Mahathir’s actions or language reflect the mainstream opinion of Malaysians. Indeed, I believe that they suffer his views, rather than embrace them. Hopefully, in time and through the grace of the democratic process, those who disagree will find their own voice. In the meantime, those of us in the international community who differ must continue to say so whenever possible.