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International Mail Call

Malaysia’s Magician
/ Source: Newsweek International

Our Nov. 3 piece on Mahathir Mohamad drew cheers and jeers. A fan said,”He converted an agrarian backwater into a model nation of tolerance, peace and prosperity.” Critics found a recent speech anti-Semitic.


You are right to describe former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as “Malaysia’s Master Juggler” (Nov. 3). It’s a fitting analogy on many levels. No one, not even Mahathir’s most hardened critics, can deny his success in preserving racial harmony in Malaysia. Despite a clear affirmative-action plan favoring bumiputra (meaning native sons or, ethnic Malay Muslims), Chinese and Indian Malaysians are among Mahathir’s most ardent supporters. This speaks volumes for his prowess in juggling the competing, even conflicting, interests of different races. I just hope his successor, Abdullah Badawi, is as good a juggler. He will need to be one.

G. R. Butt

Hong Kong

Malaysians of all ages and from every walk of life appreciate our former prime minister, a man whose vision, brilliance and patriotism had a great impact on the lives of more than 24 million Malaysians. In a short 22 years, Malaysia was dragged by its bootstraps, on the strength of Mahathir’s iron will, from being a provincial agrarian backwater into becoming a model nation built on a foundation of multiracial tolerance, peace and prosperity. In addition, Malaysia is a progressive, liberal Muslim nation, a role model for other Muslim countries. Why then do foreign media highlight our so-called problems? Most Malaysian citizens—whose opinions ultimately matter the most—are perfectly content with the direction in which Mahathir took our country. As to his stern rhetoric over controversial issues, remember that only politicians skirt controversy; true leaders and statesmen confront difficult issues head-on, calling a spade a spade while risking the political or diplomatic fallout, even if it only means forcing these issues out into the open so that meaningful discussions and necessary action can be taken in the interests of a more prosperous and peaceful world.

Arvind Patmarajah

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysia’s outgoing prime minister caused an international storm by saying “Jews rule the world by proxy.” He showed a total lack of understanding of President Bush’s statement that “America has Jews, Christians and Muslims,” and of how a democratic society functions. In the West, one is not supposed to be judged by race, faith or national origin but rather by ability. It is understandably a strange concept to a man who has ruled as a dictator for more than 30 years. The problem for Mahathir is not that the Jews rule the world but that children grow up these days hearing about Islam only in the context of extremism, bombings and mayhem—in Israel, the Palestinian territories, India, Iraq, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Russia, et cetera. Though most Muslims do not support terrorism, almost every time one hears the word Islam these days it is in connection with violence. This is not just a problem for the West, but for the Islamic world as well: as long as the Islamic world is ruled by dictators, it will never achieve its potential and its people will never know freedom and peace.

Tsvi Mikael Golan

Uuplands Vasby, Sweden

InsertArt(2087338) It did not take long for prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s inflammatory statements at the OIC Conference in Kuala Lumpur last month to set off the killing of Jews worldwide, beginning with Istanbul’s synagogues. He is a really dangerous man.

Alfred Tan


In regard to Mahathir Mohamad’s speech, I’d like to inform him that I am the sole survivor of my big family, which was exterminated by the Nazis in Poland with all the other 6 million Jews. Prime Minister Mahathir, at the opening ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, made an openly anti-Semitic statement. The real tragedy, however, is that this venomous speech got a standing ovation from the honorable members of the many Muslim states who attended the conference—not a single delegate dared to stand up against it. The dark ages are gaining momentum. It is time for the free world—especially Europe—to wake up before there is a clash between civilizations.

David Gofer

Moshav Nir Banim, Israel

Prime Minister Mahathir’s out-pouring about Jewish influence in the West, though not untrue, was negative in its approach. Judaism has lived in relative peace and security for most of its exile under the Arab and Ottoman regimes. Its future, too, is tied in a golden splice with the Arabs’. A powerful media can provide the catalyst to create confidence-building measures between the two communities. Remember, peace in the Middle East is a prerequisite for the coming of Jesus Christ. Let us pave the way for the coming of this prince of peace. America needs to redefine its approach. But the onus is on the Muslim ummah as it has to provide a bridge of peace and tolerance to both Judaism and Christianity.

Sher Mohammad

Karachi, Pakistan

The greatest legacy Mahathir leaves behind is proving to us Asians that we can compete with the best that the Western world throws at us. If Henry Ford made the Model T, Dr. Mahathir has his Proton to make all Asians proud that what was a backward nation 30 years ago can also build a good-quality car of its own in the span of just a few years. More than that, he never blinked against the International Monetary Fund or any U.S. president, despite the tremendous odds. Kudos, Mahathir Mohamad for a job well done.

Fernando H. Lopez

Manila, Philippines

I commend you for predicting that the new prime minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Badawi, is expected to concentrate his efforts on improving education and tackling corruption. This is exactly what he has done. You also say, “Many wonder if he has the right stuff to end the cronyism and graft that is endemic in Malaysia,” and quote author M. Bakri Musa as having referred to Abdullah as “a Malaysian Jimmy Carter [whose] only redeeming quality, apart from his legendary honesty, is his humility.” As one familiar with Abdullah’s political track record, I believe that his working style can best be described by what a Malaysian journalist said: “Those who think Abdullah will be less combative [than his predecessor] may be right about the rhetoric but wrong about the resolve.” Such people base their observations on superficials without discerning the steel behind a calm demeanor. Abdullah is not a case of all sound and fury signifying nothing. During his early political career as a minister in the ’80s, Abdullah earned the P.M.’s trust to handle many crucial matters. Later, as the minister of Education, he showed his mettle in dealing firmly with students’ demonstrations. Judge a person by the effect he creates, not on the political rhetoric that he expounds.

B. Subramaniam

Tasek Gelugor, Malaysia


It’s bad enough that German 10-year-olds are streamed into three classes in elementary school (“Class Revival, Aug. 11). Worse, it’s the teachers who decide the educational path a child will take—based on his parents’ socioeconomic background. This is not true. Parents are encouraged to select the path they want their child to take. Increasingly, however, parents ask teachers to decide for them because they feel incapable of making this decision. It is also not true that a “child of a broomsweep has to get astronomical grades to enroll at the gymnasium while someone from an academic household does not even have to be average.” An elementary-school pupil needs an average grade better than 2.5 (equivalent to a B-) to enter the gymnasium. A lower average requires passing a test—not easy for fourth graders—for pre-university study.

David Hlavac

Gechingen, Germany

Germany does have comprehensive schools, but it has not improved social mixing or created upward mobility. There are no easy answers. Your conclusions are faulty because you compare apples with oranges: we have no “colleges”—our educational institutions fall between secondary and graduate schools. You should focus on more relevant social problems—unemployment, achieving equality between east and west Germany and teaching immigrants and their children the German language.

K. E. Schumacher

Romerberg, Germany


Congratulations on your thorough investigation and analysis of the cost of rebuilding Iraq (“Bush’s $87 Billion Mess,” Nov. 3). I hope every member of Congress reads it and comes up with constructive solutions to the mess we’re in because of this unnecessary war. Please continue your investigation into the political, legal and financial costs we’ve been saddled with.

Eugene Baron

Oak Park, Michigan

This is in response to your Nov. 3 article “What Will Iraq Cost Bush?” Could it be the presidency? They say that those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. I also wonder if the Bushes, father and son, will suffer the same fate—losing reelection to a former governor?

Abel Nuque

Iringa, Tanzania

I believe that our representatives in Washington are missing the big picture by spending far too much on military support and operations. The $87 billion proposal fails to focus on the areas that will breed prosperity. As a Peace Corps volunteer serving in a country that was controlled by the Turks for more than 500 years, it is easy for me to see that foreign occupation inspires hate among the local population long after the occupiers leave. The Turks were expelled 100 years ago, but the Bulgarians still resent them. Now—with $65.6 billion being allocated for military expenditures and only $20.3 billion going toward reconstruction—we, too, are sending the wrong message to the Iraqis and to the world. More troops and weapons only fuel the terrorists’ anger and may even lead to a change of heart among the “liberated” people of Iraq. If we spend more money on rebuilding and humanitarian efforts in Iraq, people would see real positive changes instead of more guns held by soldiers—this time around, not by the Iraqi national guard, but by Americans. A key element of the terrorists’ spreading of hate—which plays upon a society’s desperation and poverty—will thus be removed. Further-more, fueling this hatred is the cultural insensitivity of U.S. soldiers. I understand that they are sacrificing their lives, but so have the Iraqis, and most of them are not terrorists. Let us invest in cultural-sensitivity classes for our soldiers. This would not cost a dime; it would just need time. Let’s play more music in Iraq—it’s a universal language. Finally, I’d like to ask a question: is America becoming an empire that uses military might to force-feed U.S.-style democracy to other nations? There’s a fine line between liberation and occupation, and this $87 billion proposal is transparent in its focus on military dominance rather than humanitarian rebuilding efforts.

Chad Chernet

Yambol, Bulgaria

Your Nov. 3 cover headline, Bush’s $87 Billion Mess, begs a defense. The word “mess” implies a confusing and troublesome state of affairs. But which war isn’t a mess? You can hardly compare the trouncing of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard 10 years ago to what’s going on today. Why don’t more people realize that this is more than a conflict? It’s a war against terrorism that’s been put off for far too long.

Dan Sloyer

South Haven, Michigan

Iraq may be a mess, but it is not President Bush’s mess. Congress was in favor of going into Iraq, and so was a majority of the American public. Now not many are swayed by the political cry that we were lied to. I’m glad we went into Iraq and am appalled by the idea that we should leave.

Ronald E. Smith

Merlin, Oregon

Our invasion of Iraq has caused this 57-year-old grandmother to lose respect for the man I thought would be a sensible, honorable president. I am deeply saddened by this war; it is too similar to the quagmire of Vietnam. Why are we surprised that Iraqis try to kill our brave soldiers when, to them, we are the occupying army, the interlopers who disrupted their lives? When will the good ole boys in Washington stop playing war games and commit America to peace for all time?

Kay Martin

Greenville, South Carolina

Etched in my memory is the picture of Bush returning to the White House against all advice on September 11 to pull America up from its knees. Now a few people are shouting, “Off with his head.” The economy is recovering, and Iraq is stabilizing. Bush will breeze back into the White House next November. You can count on it.

Shirley McJunkin

Red Lodge, Montana

As one who was against the war in Iraq from the beginning, I thought your series of articles finally clarified the real reason for the war. It all boils down to the unjust enrichment of politically well-connected contractors at staggering taxpayer expense. The expense is more than monetary: the lives of our dedicated young men and women continue to be wasted as the administration searches for WMD to try to justify its pre-emptive strike. We will pay for this one for a very long time. Let us not forget it in November 2004.

Benjamin C. Langstroth

West Islip, New York

© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.