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Tun Dr Mahathir on Talking Point BBC World TV

The programme was broadcasted on BBC World Service radio and BBC World TV on Sunday, 12 October at 1400 GMT (10 pm Malaysian time)

Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Malaysian Prime Minister has held office since 1981, making him South East Asia's longest serving head of government. After 22 years in power, he is due to retire in October 2003.

Dr Mahathir has overseen the transformation of Malaysia to one of Asia's richest countries, with a strong electronics export sector and the world's tallest buildings. He is critical of what he called the endless wars of Europe and its colonies and argued that the response to the 11 September attacks marked a return to old ways of attacking Muslim countries and Muslims, whether or not they are guilty.

The Malaysian prime minister has also condemned the US-led war on Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has also called on Muslim countries to embrace modernity.

In July, Dr Mahathir opened a global conference of Islamic scholars with the aim of countering misconceptions about Islam.


Lyse Doucet: Hello and welcome to Talking Point from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, I'm Lyse Doucet. We're broadcasting on BBC World Television, BBC World Service Radio and BBC News Online on the internet.

Our special guest is Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He's Asia's longest serving head of government and he steps down at the end of this month after 22 years in power. He's with us here in the prime minister's office in Kuala Lumpur.

He joins us as part of our series which brings together Islamic leaders and Muslims and non-Muslims from all walks of life to discuss the changing relationship between Islam and the West after the events of September 11th and the American-led invasion of Iraq.

Dr Mahathir calls Malaysia a model Islamic state and he's repeatedly called on Muslims worldwide to acquire the skills and technology to, as he puts it, strike fear in the hearts of our enemies. And he's had an equally blunt message for the West; criticising them for their treatment of Muslims and as well condemning the American-led action in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad welcome to Talking Point. We've received many e-mails from around the world and people who wish to speak to you by telephone. But if I could ask you first of all, you have set yourself up to be a standard bearer for a tolerant, moderate Islam, does it trouble you that particularly since the events of September 11th that what we often hear mostly is reports of violence and violence involving Muslims?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well we did not set ourselves up to be a model of tolerant Islam. All we did was to do what we think is right according to the fundamentals of the Islamic religion. It is others who make this remark that we appear to be a model of tolerant Islam, not us. As far as we are concerned, we will do what we think is right by our religion.

Lyse Doucet: But certainly the public discourse has been dominated by Muslim leaders who want to use violence as a tactic to achieve their aims. You yourself have criticised that saying killing does not get us anything.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well that is a fact. We have been at it for the last 50 years in Palestine, for example, and we have achieved nothing. We have escalated the attacks against Muslims and we don't see any victory in this - there's no light at the end of the tunnel. So that is why we feel that that is not the right way. There must be other ways of doing these things.

Lyse Doucet: Were the bombings in Bali in October of last year, a wake-up call for Islamic leaders in South East Asia? There are now said to have been links between the plotters of this attack and the madrassas, the Islamic schools, here in Malaysia?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: It can be seen to be a wake-up call. But in Malaysia we took action against this violent extremist group before 9/11. Once we discovered that they want to overthrow the government and gain power outside the democratic system, we had to act against them before people are killed by them.

Lyse Doucet: But it's ruing isn't it, even here in Malaysia, where you've tried hard to fight against this, it could happen even here under your watch?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Yes on the one hand there is an attempt but it did not happen. There was some minor

Lyse Doucet: The bombing took place and some would say that the strategies were actually discussed right here in Malaysia.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: It doesn't happen in Malaysia - that's the important thing. We are very vigilant and we know what is happening. We have good intelligence and we act before things happen.

Lyse Doucet: Let's now take one of our callers. Our first caller is on the line from the United States. Shariq Shahbazi. Shariq welcome to Talking Point what is your question for Dr Mahathir?

Shariq Shahbazi: Thank you. It's an honour and a privilege to speak to you sir. I read your comments on the BBC website and I agree with you sir that the Muslims are not united and are completely dependent on the West for their survival. My question is sir, if you feel you've done your part in helping the Muslim nations unite and shifting their reliance onto one another instead of the West? Also sir, do you intend to achieve this goal as the next head of OIC and if so how?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: It's difficult to get 1.3 billion Muslims to unite, neither can we get all the over 50 Muslims countries to unite. But we feel that we can perpetrate perhaps a number of them to unite and also we can act effectively, despite the fact that there is not full unity. We are not too ambitious. We think that we should have a different strategy which can give us better results. So that is what we hope to do at the OIC meeting.

Lyse Doucet: Shariq, do you think that Dr Mahathir should have a different kind of an answer? Do you have something specific you'd like to suggest that Muslims should do to work together?

Shariq Shahbazi: Well I believe that King Faisal of Saudi Arabia had a vision about Muslim unity and I don't think anybody - any leader - since has been able to implement that. People like me can just have the vision that Dr Mahathir is talking about, but I just don't think we are in the position that Dr Mahathir and some other leaders are in and they need to come up with something to unite and use their intelligence, for example, how well Malaysia has done economically and maybe Dr Mahathir can guide other Muslim nations to follow that path and use some of the other countries where they have done well. But I am not sure - I just don't see any progress in this regard and hopefully things will change when he is the head of the OIC.

Lyse Doucet: Shariq, thank you very much for joining us from the United States. We have another caller on the line, coming from Hong Kong. Andrei, joins us.

Andrei: Good morning, Dr Mahathir. My question is this: during your term as prime minister, you have highly appreciated the West for its various achievements. On the other hand you, sir, often would curse the West for various misdeeds. So can these contradictions be seen in one way or another as a manifestation or reflection of the so-called "clash of civilisations"?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We there is apparently a clash of civilisations because today a lot of people feel that Muslims are terrorists led by a prophet who was a terrorist. Obviously there is enmity towards the Muslims. But we have a need to explain what Islam is all about. A lot of people think that the teachings of Islam make them confrontational. But in fact if you go to the fundamentals of Islam, we are urged to live in peace with each other and with others. It is the lack of understanding of Islam that has led to this present situation. No only a lack of understanding among the non-Muslims, even Muslims are subjected to different interpretations of Islam. We seem to emphasise the need for Muslims to be apart from people of other religions. That is why, because of these teachings, which I think is wrong, the Muslims, seem to be confrontational and unable to cooperate with others.

Lyse Doucet: Andrei?

Andrei: I would like to add one remark. Dr Mahathir, we can see Islam all over the planet in countries which mainly are poor and they are underdeveloped. Do you think that Islam really plays some - or could play some negative role in their economic and scientific development?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: No, not Islam. But the wrong interpretation of Islam can bring about that result. As you know, the same thing happens with Christianity. At one stage, Christians were very superstitious and very extreme - they used to burn people at the stake, they used to reject science, they used to reject learning. But that is not because Christianity teaches them that, but it is because they get the wrong interpretation of their religion. The same thing is happening with Islam. A lot of people make different interpretations and people believe in these wrong interpretations and the result is that Islam appears to be an obstruction to progress.

Lyse Doucet: Andrei thank you for joining us from Hong Kong. A number of the people who e-mailed us had similar questions. David Hebblethwaite, e-mailed us from London, England: He wanted to know whether you thought there was a need for, what he called, an "Islamic Reformation", to allow that modernisation to take place? If so, is not the battle within Islam itself, rather than between Islam and the West? The "clash of civilisations" which you seem to have agreed with?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: To a certain extent yes. But as I made the comparison with Christianity - even among Christians before there were different interpretations which led to some taking very extreme action. For example, the Spanish Inquisition is not a manifestation of Christianity but it is the result of people with vested interests interpreting Christianity in a way that suits their purposes.

The same thing is happening with the Muslims. We have people who are making interpretations which are contrary to the true teachings of Islam. There is no need for a reform of Islam. But there is a need to go back to the original true teachings of Islam.

Lyse Doucet: Now you, in the first question from Andrei, talked about the "clash of civilisations", but is that a really useful tool for us to use? Because Islamic states have criticised it, saying you cannot talk about Islam as one - there are many kinds of Islamic states in the same there are many different kinds of western countries. Isn't it possible for it not to be a clash but for them to work together?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well the Muslims are divided - there are clashes between them. But the non-Muslims seem to think of the Muslims as being monolithic and their attitude towards Muslims is uniform whether the Muslims are Sunni or Shias or whatever. They seem to think that any Muslim is incapable of being normal or being rational.

Lyse Doucet: Is that true though sir because we have western nations working with Afghanistan, which is an overwhelmingly Muslim state, working now in Iraq and other Muslim states? Is it really fair to tarnish them all with the same brush?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well there may be some who can understand people - we know of Christians who have helped Muslims but this doesn't reflect the general rule.

Lyse Doucet: And what about European nations - European leaders who call for a dialogue with the Islamic world, does that count for nothing?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: This again is an attitude of a select few. But generally - I'm talking generally - the attitude is that well these Muslims they are terrorists and you have to confront them.

Lyse Doucet: But of course even those who want with the Islamic world, they do talk about the threat posed by those who would advocate violence - and you would agree with that. We had an e-mail from Arun Karna, New Delhi, India: How do you envision Malaysia's role and relevance in the region in the light of emerging economies like China and India? Also what would be Malaysia's role in the light of the emerging terrorist threat in the region?

You talked about closing down some of the religious schools, the madrassas, what more can Malaysia do?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We don't have that kind of serious problem but we admit that there are serious problems in the region. We have been able to manage our people quite well. We have differences between the Muslims in this country - we're not united - there are lots of Muslims who tend to be extreme. But we try to arrest such tendencies early once we notice that they have been making use of schools to inculcate feelings which are contrary to the teachings of Islam. We had to put a stop to that. They can go to religious schools to learn about religion but they are not learning about religion they are learning about politics - the politics of hatred. So we had to put a stop to that before Islam is hijacked by them and made use of to perpetrate all kinds of violence.

Lyse Doucet: It's a difficult balance though isn't it? How do you stop the more intolerant forms of Islam but how do you promote those which are part and parcel of your culture? And of course your main Islamic party, the pan-Malaysian Islamic party, says you don't allow them to have freedom of expression, you don't allow them to publish freely their newspapers. What about those who say to you, why don't you have a more open debate on Islam in your country?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We have an open debate with them. They publish their own papers and their papers.

Lyse Doucet: But fortnightly not and only to their party members.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: No they have been distributed all over the country - it's illegal but we have never taken action against them. And they meet - almost every night there will be any number of talks given by them all over the country. To say that we stop them is sheer nonsense and they are able to influence people with their campaign of hate.

Lyse Doucet: Campaign of hate?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Yes.

Lyse Doucet: They say they're trying to convince Malaysia of the true Islam.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: No. It is not true Islam at all because the first thing that you have to think of if you are Muslim is that all Muslims are brothers - that we should live in peace with each other. Their preaching has only resulted in several violent actions by their powers.

Lyse Doucet: Let's take another caller. We have on the line now from Japan. John Tytherleigh, joins us. John what would you like to say to the prime minister?

John Tytherleigh: Dr Mahathir, personally I'm very against fundamentalism in any religion and I see Malaysia as a very successful, democratic, modern, Muslim nation which you've presided over for the last 22 years. I'd like to know how you've promoted and encouraged a more pragmatic approach versus the more extreme views that you just touched upon?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well actually I'm a fundamentalist in the true sense. That is to say, I follow the fundamentals of religion and the fundamentals of the Muslim religion are actually very good; they advocate peace, they advocate friendship, brotherhood and tolerance of people. Those are the fundamentals. But for over 1,400 years people have been interpreting and re-interpreting the religion to suit their own purpose. If they are fighting against someone then they advocate not peace but war and if they feel that they need to get the support of people through hatred then they will preach hatred. These are not Islamic fundamentals any more than the Christians who burned people at the stake are fundamentalist. They are actually deviating from the teachings of the religion. We had the same phenomena in Malaysia and we countered this by explaining the true fundamentals of Islam to the people and by and large Malaysian Muslims they agree with our views. Of course there will always be a minority who tend to be extreme and who love to hate people unfortunately.

Lyse Doucet: Thank you very much John. We had a lot of e-mails on this question. People ask a lot of questions - what does it mean to be a fundamentalist? Mark Smith, London asks: Malaysia's constitution is secular so why do you insist on describing Malaysia as an Islamic state? Does it have the fundamentals of Islam?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Yes, but in the constitution it states that the official religion of Malaysia is Islam although other religions may be practised without hindrance. So it is the official religion of the country and we do not do anything that is against the teachings of Islam. Even our laws they may be laws which were formulated by the British before or by us now, they are only accepted or allowed to be used if they are not contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Lyse Doucet: You've described Islam as the perfect religion and you've just described yourself as a fundamentalist. But of course, the PAS party would say that you're not adhering to all of the fundamentals as they've talked about having an Islamic state at least in the two northern states that they control in Malaysia. So they would say that perhaps in their eyes you're not a true Muslim? They want Sharia law.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: They are not an Islamic party, they are a political party which makes use of Islam and not even the right Islam.

Lyse Doucet: But to advocate Sharia law - other Islamic states have done this as well.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: That is just a political gimmick. They know very well that we have the Sharia laws which applies to Muslim families. But we cannot apply Sharia laws throughout the country simply because 40% of our population are not Muslims. Supposing we were to sentence a person who steals to have his hands chopped off? If there are two persons, one is a Muslim and one is not and you chop off the Muslim's hand - that is an injustice. An injustice is something that is not advocated by Islam. So if you then chop off both hands, then we are going to have trouble in this country and again Islam forbids people from creating unnecessary trouble. All this is in the Koran. So what we are doing is Islamic. What PAS is advocating is un-Islamic.

Lyse Doucet: But it's a difficult balancing act, isn't it to try to reconcile, as you've always said, these different interpretations? Rob Lawrence, London, UK asks: What have been the difficulties in encouraging and developing an Islamic state without promoting fundamentalism?

Because some would say that in the way that you've promoted your Islamisation, it may have actually encouraged those in other Islamic parties who want a stricter form of Islam?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well they have done this even before - a long time ago - we starting talking about holding to the fundamentals of Islam. They make use of Islam for political purposes. They know people are ignorant. They wear these garments and all that and they go to the villages and they start preaching hatred which they say is Islamic. It is not Islamic. Our duty is to explain the true teachings of Islam. We don't counter them by saying, well Islam is outmoded, it cannot be applied to these modern times. It's not true - Islam is for all times. We explained this - according to the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet - why we advocate this. We think and we are convinced that we are Islamic and they are not Islamic even if they call themselves an Islamic party.

Lyse Doucet: Let's take another caller. We have on the line from Singapore, Sean Worrall. Sean welcome to Talking Point, what would be your comment or question for Dr Mahathir?

Sean Worrall: Good morning prime minister. Invariably you're described in the world media as the outspoken prime minister of Malaysia and indeed over the years you have said some things that many people have found shocking and sometimes provocative. I'm referring to, for example, the things you said about a conspiracy of Jewish bankers in 1997 financial crisis; issues about western values spreading sodomy and corruption and generally gay rights and things like that. Now that we're in a time where world leaders are preaching tolerance and mutual respect across racial and cultural divides, do you regret saying any of those things or do you think you've been grossly misrepresented by the media?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: I speak what I think is the truth. The financial crisis was caused by a man called George Soros and he was a Jew and I complained about that. I didn't blame all the Jewish people - I've got a lot of Jewish friends. But Soros did this to us and we feel very angry about him. So I say what I think is true and I say what I think is true also about sodomy and other things.

In our country we don't tolerate homosexuality - other people can tolerate it but people must respect the norms of this country. If you do that then you will punished according to the laws of this country. People of course who are homosexuals they cannot understand why we are taking this stand against homosexuals. But that is the law of the country, that is the norm of this country and people cannot say that we cannot have our own moral values and only other people can have moral values which we must accept. I don't mind if they don't accept our values but you can't force us to accept your values.

Lyse Doucet: Sean?

Sean Worrall: I think that sometimes if you choose a particular trait of some people in some communities, the danger is that you stereotype everybody. For example, if you talk about something on the website about gay politicians in the UK and maybe that makes people think are all politicians in the UK gay or is everybody corrupt or does everybody have these kind of values - when the truth is that we probably share more values - ordinary western people and ordinary people in South East Asia probably have much more in common than we have not and I think it should be the job of world leaders to emphasise that.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: I must say that in the UK people are more tolerant of gays - in our country we are not tolerant. So what we say is that you can be gay in your country but if you come to our country and do that, well local laws will apply - that is all. You should respect our laws as much as we respect British laws when we go to their country. So that is the way to respect people and respect their norms, their values and their laws.

Lyse Doucet: Thank you Sean. You described though Islam as a religion of tolerance. Should it not be tolerant of other people's customs and traditions?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well it is tolerant in other countries, we wouldn't mind. But in our country, that is the norm and people must respect our attitude towards any particular issue. We're tolerant, for example, of the other religions practised by Malaysians - in this country they can pray in their own way and we pray in our own way - that is tolerance. We accept in this country that there are Chinese and Indians and they are different from us and we are different from them. They accept us as we are, we accept them as they are and that's tolerance.

Lyse Doucet: We have an e-mail from Daniel in Jerusalem, Israel: Mr. Mahathir, as an Israeli, reading your comments about the Jews I almost lose hope of any chance of understanding between our people. I cannot even visit Malaysia in order to try and show you and your people that we are also human beings, and that there is a way to bridge the gaps between us. How do you hope to make people "understand Islam" and lead your fellow Muslims to modernity when you are not prepared to see the other side?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We have allowed or we have arranged for Israeli children to come to Malaysia to meet Malaysian children, Muslim children, here. That was a programme we thought would help us understand the Israelis and the Israelis to understand us. But unfortunately after these terrible attacks by Sharon's government, we cannot proceed with this kind of thing because people get very angry here - they are not ready to interact. At one time when there was talk of peace, we did that - we allowed an Israeli cricket team to come here. We have allowed an Israeli who is open-minded to come here and talk to the people and his name is Israel.

Lyse Doucet: Let's go back now to Malaysia. We have a caller from Malaysia itself. Noorul, joins us on the line. Noorul welcome.

Noorul: I have a local question from Malaysia. I find that most of the Malays are not happy with the current situation here and that many of them are left behind. There are only a few chosen elite allowed to come up the corporate ladder and the Islamics say that charity begins at home. Do you think it would be better to improve the whole lot rather than a select few?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We have made during the time of our administration some 7 millions Malays have shares in the biggest companies in this country. We can give them a million dollars and ask them to do business but if they don't know how to do business it will be a waste of time. There are some people who have done very well and that's because they put in an effort and we mustn't deny them some help simply because they are doing well. But if anybody makes an effort to do something, the government is ready to help them but they must begin from the beginning. Some of them expect to get a contract when they have no experience whatsoever in doing contract work. Some want a licence so that they can go back and sell the licence.

We have given millions of opportunities to Malaysians but I am sorry that only a few seem to have made the effort and have succeeded. Just because they succeed doesn't mean that the policy is wrong. Would we like to see all the Malays fail? There is not a single Malay millionaire because we think that any Malayan must be crony of the government - if we have that kind of attitude then of course there will be no Malays, no indigenous people who can succeed at all. But our duty is to help. We help everybody and we can give you figures to show how much money we spend to help the Malays but a lot of them waste the money. We give them contracts, they sell the contracts, we give them the facility to import cars, and they sell this - they sell away everything. In fact, given half a chance, they'd sell all their lands to other people.

Lyse Doucet: Noorul, are you satisfied with your prime minister's answer.

Noorul: Thank you. The other thing is that on the popular chat shows you are not very popular with the Malays, is there any reason for that?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well I don't care whether I am popular with the Malays or not - I'm on my out anyway. All I need to do is to make sure that the party wins. If I'm not popular and the party wins, then that is ok.

Lyse Doucet: Thank you very much Noorul. But you've often expressed your frustrations haven't you sir, with the performance of the Malays. You wanted them to be entrepreneurial. You started as an entrepreneur and then a doctor and you've expressed frustration that they haven't shown that spirit that you had wanted to develop in them with all of the special subsidies and concessions given.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: All I can say is that if the same subsidies and concessions are given to the Chinese, the Chinese would be way ahead by now. But we give them to the Malays because they say they lack the opportunities, they lack the funds - we created funds for them, we have created everything to make sure that they succeed. But unfortunately only a few know how to make use of all these opportunities. The others fail and when they fail they blame the government.

Lyse Doucet: Dr Mahathir, we're going to take a caller now from Pakistan. Shah Jahan Bhatti, joins us. Welcome to Talking Point. Your question for Dr Mahathir.

Shah Jahan Bhatti: Dr Mahathir, do you know that the digital divide is increasing day by day and the Muslim world is situated in the dangerous zone of the digital divide? And due to this digital divide some criminals and other Muslims are using Islam as a religion against the USA and Europe and they are using it as an agenda of anti-globalisation campaign. Are you aware of this situation? And couldn't it have been avoided if the Muslim leadership could have come forward and given some sense to people like Saddam and Osama?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: I know the digital divide is really a function of the wealth of the people. Poor countries will show a greater divide than rich countries. It's simply because the hardware and the software costs a lot of money and we just cannot afford it. We try in Malaysia to have smart schools where we provide the necessary training so that people can understand the use of computers, the internet etc. But like all things, there will be people who will abuse facilities. You give a knife to a person - that man may use it in order to carve a beautiful flower but another person may take the knife and stab another person and kill him. So you cannot blame these things for what happens - it is just that if people are wicked and they want to do the wrong things, they will do it whether they have a computer or they don't have a computer. It is just human nature rather than the problem of having instruments to do these things.

Lyse Doucet: What about Afghanistan and Iraq? He said if Muslim leaders had done more to help peoples there perhaps the West needn't have intervened.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: I cannot comment on other people.

Lyse Doucet: You do all the time, sir - this is your trademark.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well in Malaysia we manage and I think it shows that it can be done if you want to do it. Unfortunately, if the wrong people get into a place of power - for example, if the Islamic party in Malaysia were to become the government of this country, we'd see horrible things.

Lyse Doucet: You might have to ban them then?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: No, if they are in power I can't ban them, they can ban me.

Lyse Doucet: But they would say that it's the way that your labelling them that helps to create divide between the Muslims because you say that they are not real Muslims.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: It is true. If you look at the two states which are ruled by them, they have become the most backward states in the country.

Lyse Doucet: But they were voted in there - it's a democracy obviously people did support them and they could win even more seats in the next election.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: I think there is this feeling that the majority of the people must be right. But some people just do not know how to distinguish between good and bad. They think that these people, because they are called the Islamic Party, they must be Islamic but they are not.

Lyse Doucet: But they quadrupled their vote in the last election - that's what the people decided.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: It was the circumstances - there were times when we beat them hollow, there are other times when they win - they made use of certain issues in order to get popular votes - this will happen all the time, that's what democracy is all about.

Lyse Doucet: We have an e-mail from Avesta, Iraq: Why did Muslim leaders keep silent on Saddam's crimes? Why did they support him? Where were the Muslims when the dictator killed us?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well Saddam has committed crimes but so have others - a lot of others have committed crimes about which the whole world is aware of. There were lots of crimes in Africa - 5 million were killed - more than in Iraq but nobody does anything about it because there's no oil there. We think that there is an agenda which is quite different. Yes, Saddam is bad and a dictator and all that - but there are dictators everywhere. If you want to take action, take action against everybody. Why pick on Iraq?

Lyse Doucet: But, for example, you have picked on Iraq. You have condemned the Americans for invading Iraq and Afghanistan but even Iraqis and Afghans would say well we had to turn to the United States because our Muslim brothers let us down.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: What we see is that they are now shooting Americans in Iraq. They don't seem to welcome them as liberators. It was a different scene that you saw after the last war when the American troops reached Paris and all the girls kissed them. But today we don't see that thing happening in Iraq.

Lyse Doucet: But did events in Iraq and Afghanistan make you reconsider the role of Muslim leadership in the world? You've called for unity among Muslims and as Shah Jahan said, if Muslims worked together to try to solve these problems, if they were critical of atrocities and oppression within their own ranks, perhaps they could solve the problems themselves without having to resort to the West.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Yes, but it is not so easy to be critical when you yourself are subjected to attacks from the West. People are critical of Malaysia where we are told that we are being ruled by a dictator called Mahathir - I have to be elected to be a dictator and now I am a dictator who is stepping down. But this kind of distorted vision of the world is what is creating problems in this country. They make no difference between me and Saddam Hussein.

Lyse Doucet: Shah Jahan are you still on the line from Pakistan?

Shah Jahan Bhatti: I would like to draw the attention of Dr Mahathir Mohamad to world affairs among the European and Americans who fear that the world's technology will be used against them and that's why the transfer of technology is so slow. If the Muslim leadership does not come forward and allay the fears of the Europeans and Americans, I don't think the Muslim world will be sensible enough to understand the disastrous situation they are confronting today.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well I think we can get access to technology if you want to - in fact in Malaysia we have access to technology because we are not using it in the wrong way and I think people trust us and all other Muslims can do the same.

Lyse Doucet: What do you mean about this - acquiring technology - you've said to Muslims, knowledge can free us, you've talked about cars, aeroplanes - what about technology like nuclear power? Do you think that Muslim states need that as well, to take your phrase, to strike fear in the hearts of the enemy?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: My view is that nobody should have any nuclear weapons - whether you are good countries or bad countries, powerful countries or weak countries - you should not use nuclear power. It is an inhuman way of killing people in order to achieve a political end - that is very bad. I don't even agree with this continuous development of so-called conventional weapons which are costing more and more and that money can be spent in other ways to help people rather than to improve the efficiency of killing people. It is very primitive as far as I'm concerned. So I don't the Muslims should have nuclear weapons and I don't think America or Britain or France or anybody else should have nuclear weapons. The best thing we can do is to get rid of all nuclear weapons.

Lyse Doucet: One policy for all. A number of callers have raised the issue of racial discrimination and we heard comments from Noorul here in Malaysia. We had an e-mail from PT, in the United Kingdom who asks: Don't you consider the system under which one race of people, Bumiputras, have special privileges based solely on their race, to be a kind of apartheid in disguise?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: It is not based solely on their race, it is based on the fact that they are far behind the others in their economic development and this disparity will cause tension within the community and can end up with violence. We have seen this happen and we have a duty to reduce the disparity because this is what is causing the bad feeling between different communities. In America you have affirmative action - of course you went to the court and said that it is against the constitution. But here every race in Malaysia supports this policy otherwise why do they keep on returning the same government to power every time?

Lyse Doucet: We've had an e-mail Tan Chin Look, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: As a Malaysian Chinese, I feel that I have been treated as a second class citizen, and I am definitely not the only one who feels this way. Why haven't you done more to allow the citizens of Malaysia to be treated equally so that we would all feel that we truly belong to this country that we love?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well the Malays feel that they are second class citizens despite all their privileges because they are the poor people. They have to work as drivers for the very rich Chinese. So they that they are second class - so both are second class, there's no first class.

Lyse Doucet: Let's take a caller from Singapore - Avinash Chandramouli. Avinash, what is your question?

Avinash Chandramouli: Hello Dr Mohamad. I was hearing all your comments about Islam and Sharia law and one of my primary concerns is that PAS, the opposition party in Malaysian, is very known for their maxims of introducing very radical fundamental elements of Sharia law in Malaysia's already very fragile legal system. Already they have a majority in two states and are creating havoc in those two states and those states are extremely backward. Can this party be controlled and completely stopped from creating havoc in Malaysia or is it a possibility that under Abdullah Badawi, your successor, is it possible that this party can actually extend its influence?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We are a democratic country, we allow the freedom to form political parties and to campaign for public support. But of course if they step over the laws and they break the laws, we have a right to take action against them. They cannot ask for any law they like unless it is conformity with the provisions of the national constitution. So to enforce the law, they need the police - the police are a federal police and the police will not act unless of course the federal government says that the laws that are going to be implemented are legal - if they are not legal they cannot implement them.

They pose a threat to this country, but I don't think the majority of people in this country are going to support this party. For one thing, there are only 60% Muslims in Malaysia and 40% are non-Muslim and all political parties require the support of the non-Muslims in order to win and rule this country. So there is no likelihood that this party can gain power and pass laws which are unfair to the races in Malaysia. Those laws are not even Islamic - they are against Islam.

Lyse Doucet: You mentioned a number of times that you see PAS as a threat to Malaysia. But what about the threat though posed by Jemaah Islamiah? Because they're now described by the international crisis group as being damaged but still dangerous after the trials for the Bali bombings that have been taking place in Indonesia. Do you worry there still could be cells here in Malaysia?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Yes, there will be cells in Malaysia, but by and large they are a small minority and we can deal with them. There are sufficient laws in this country to deal with such groups of people. We are not worried about it. That's why, as I said just now, long before 9/11 we had taken action - of course we were criticised for taking action against them - these are preventive laws. They would like these people to explode bombs and kill people before we take action.

Lyse Doucet: Your talking about the Internal Security Act, the ISA, which has been criticised even here in Malaysia?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Yes it is criticised in Malaysia but there are lots of people who support it.

Lyse Doucet: But there are those who say it is so draconian. People can be held up to two years without any charges, without evidence against them.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Do we do that just for fun?

Lyse Doucet: But does it have to be so draconian? Even your human rights organisations - the Bar Council has said it should be moderated.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: The Bar Council will have its own say all the time - it is almost like an opposition party, the Bar Council. But the fact is that it is better to prevent the crime from happening than to let the crime happen and then punish the criminal. Here we know these people have got bad intentions. They want to explode bombs, they want to kill people and we say, he's not being killed yet, they are just aiming the gun at him and he hasn't shot anyone yet - let him shoot first and then we'll arrest him - is that the way we treat a situation like this?

Lyse Doucet: Do you anguish sometimes because in some countries if you crack down too hard on what you regard as Islamic threats it could backfire and it could actually increase sympathy?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: No.

Lyse Doucet: Because some would say that you're action against Anwar Ibrahim actually increased support for the opposition including for the PAS and hence their showing in the 1999 elections?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: I didn't take action against Anwar Ibrahim other than to tell him that he is no longer wanted in the government. The rest follows the law. The law of this country says that you cannot ask a police officer to threaten people because that is abuse of power - that was what he was tried for.

Secondly, you can't go around sodomising people, that is against the law and he was tried in a court of law for nine months, defended by the best lawyers that he could find and he was found guilty by a judge who took the trouble to write his judgement - 380 pages of judgement - and he was sentenced according to the law.

I did not just throw him into jail under the ISA, he was tried. Of course, had the court decided that he was not guilty everybody will say this is great. But if we were to detain him under the preventive laws then you say well he's not tried - when you are tried, you say the court is being manipulated by the government - you can't win - you can't win.

Lyse Doucet: Well return to the political questions a bit later. We're going to take a caller now from Brazil. Luciano Monteiro, what is your question for Dr Mahathir?

Luciano Monteiro: Good morning Dr Mahathir. Nowadays the world economy is led by a few rich countries, especially the United States and the European Union, whereas most developing countries have been stripped of their economic autonomy and treated as second class nations. However at the last WTO conference in Mexico, it saw 22 countries courageously standing up for positions that improved the lot of developing countries. Because of the action of this group, the US and EU were unable to push their agricultural policies and the meeting came to a deadlock.

Agriculture was the main issue but the problem goes far beyond it. The G22 initiative, led basically by Brazil, India and South Africa, is an attempt to restore a multi-polar balance of power in the world so that more countries can have say in deciding the world's future. Many Asian countries have taken part; India, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and as far as know Malaysia has stood out of it. Wouldn't you agree that it would benefit Malaysia to join forces with other countries in the developing world in order to assert its rights instead of submitting to the threat of economic retaliation on the part of the rich countries?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Are you saying that Malaysia did not support the Group of 22? I can't believe this because our minister was among the people right in front condemning the action taken by the attempt to force the developing countries to accept the agenda prepared by the rich countries and yet you are saying that we are not with you. All I can say is that everybody else acknowledged that Malaysia was the first to make a stand about this and this is our policy.

We have always been saying that we cannot allow the rich countries to bully us in the WTO and force an agenda prepared by them to be accepted by us. I don't know where you get your information. But if you like you can get the verbatim report from the Cancun meeting.

Lyse Doucet: Thank you Luciano for calling us all the way from Brazil. Let me return back to this idea of the clash of civilisations - again when it comes to globalisation on which you have been a very strong critic. Isn't it more the case that the West and the Islamic world can actually cooperate in ways that the Islamic world can take what's good from the West, as some Islamic leaders put it, and reject what they regard as bad? For example, your country, it is said, aside from Singapore, has been the country in the world to benefit the most from trading with the United States - your development has been developed along these lines - so can't you see it less in terms of black and white?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We appreciate what they have done - the investments by American companies - we have no problem with them. But it is a different thing of course if you want to come in and take over the economy and this is what will happen if you allow the giant banks and companies to come into Malaysia without any restriction and to literally push aside all our companies and maybe take them over or bankrupt them. That is something that we cannot appreciate. So we made a distinction.

Lyse Doucet: So the West is not all bad?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: I never said that the West was all bad. But the West must accept that when you do wrong you must face criticism. As much as when we do wrong, you criticise us far beyond it just being justified.

Lyse Doucet: Let's take another caller. Dominic Nardi is on the line from Washington in the United States. Dominic, welcome, your question?

Dominic Nardi: Dr Mahathir, good morning, it is a great honour to speak to you. I want to ask you a question about Burma. Soon after the military regime in Burma arrested Aung San Suu Kyi over the summer, you stated that you were very disappointed with the turn of events in Burma and as a last resort ASEAN should consider expelling Burma. Since then the Burmese government has made very little progress - it has made some superficial changes - but it has not released many details for its proposed roadmap and has not said when it would release Aung San Suu Kyi. Don't you think it's time for ASEAN to take some stronger measures against Burma - possibly consider even expelling Burma from ASEAN?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Yes, when you expel people you lose contact and you can do nothing any more beyond that unless of course you are a great power which can apply sanctions etc. and in the process of course make the people of Burma suffer and not their government. So we tried to find a way out of this and the Burmese people or Myanmar people have done something to show that they are trying to comply and we should appreciate the little progress that they have made.

It is not so easy to rule a country like Myanmar where they have 100 different ethnic groups - most of them are rebels and they carry guns and machine guns and bombs. That is the kind of country that has to be ruled - it is not so easy. Merely because you release Aung San Suu Kyi - and they have done before - it does not solve the problem. There are lots of other problems and we have to give people a chance to manage their own country. We are talking from outside. You have to be there to see what is the problem that is faced by their government. We do not expel people unless it is the last resort - we said last resort - but we haven't reached that stage yet.

Lyse Doucet: Indeed Dr Mahathir, several people e-mailed us, asking us this question about speaking up for human rights and human rights when it comes to the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. They raised similar concerns to Dominic - especially leaders in this region - shouldn't they do something to try to improve democracy in the wider region?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: We try, we try but it is not easy. Some people think that democracy is a medicine that can cure all ills, it is not, it can create more trouble also. If you don't understand democracy, you'll have anarchy.

Lyse Doucet: You yourself took a trade delegation to Burma - you said that didn't work - the sanctions you don't want. So what's left then? Would the release of Aung San Suu Kyi be a bad thing for Burma?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: It wouldn't be a bad thing but we will have to progress slowly. We have to persuade them to do what we think is right.

Lyse Doucet: A number of people also wanted to ask you about your retirement and your thoughts as you step down. Ahmed, Male' in the Maldives who asks: What would be your advice to those Asian leaders who refuse to step down after half a century in power?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Advise Asian leaders? No, I don't think I should advise Asian leaders. I can tell myself what I should do but I don't tell other people what they should do. As far as I am concerned, I've worked for 22 years and I think it is time to retire - so I retire.

Lyse Doucet: An e-mail from Michael, Brisbane, Australia asks: Do you see a move toward fundamentalist Islam coming to Malaysia after your retirement?

Do you think that Mr Abdullah Badawi, your replacement, will be able to deal with the strength of Islam in your country? The threat, as you called it.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: It is not I who dealt with these Muslim groups. But as I said, I'm a fundamentalist, they are not. The government, the cabinet is still there. So when I go, the cabinet is still there so they can deal with it.

Lyse Doucet: Mr Abdullah is an Islamic scholar, will he have an easier time with it than you do you think?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Maybe.

Lyse Doucet: Is it his greatest challenge do you feel, dealing with the Islamic opposition before the 2004 elections?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Well it will be one of the challenges and I think he can deal with it.

Lyse Doucet: Or his main challenge?

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: One of the challenges will be of course the use of Islam in order to subvert people and to create hatred between Muslims - that is one of his challenges.

Lyse Doucet: Dr Mahathir Mohamad thank you very much for joining us here on Talking Point, just weeks before you step down after 22 years in power. We want to give a special thank you for taking part and of course we want to thank all of you who called us and e-mailed us right around the world including Malaysia itself. You can keep sending us your e-mails to Talkingpoint@bbc.co.uk and of course you can find this programme and other talking points at www.bbc.co.uk\talkingpoint. I'm Lyse Doucet, from me and the rest of the Talking Point team here in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, goodbye for now.

Source : Utusan Online