KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Friday denied promoting violence by saying that Muslims have a right to “kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past” and criticised Facebook and Twitter for taking down his posts.
Mahathir, 95, a respected leader in the Muslim world, posted the comments on his blog, Twitter, and Facebook on Thursday, saying he believed in freedom of expression but that it should not be used to insult others.
Several Muslim-majority countries have denounced remarks by French officials, including President Emmanuel Macron, defending the use of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a French school classroom. The caricatures are seen as blasphemous by Muslims.
The dispute flared after a French teacher who showed his pupils satirical cartoons of the Prophet during a civics lesson was beheaded in the street by an attacker of Chechen origin.
“Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past. But by and large the Muslims have not applied the ‘eye for an eye’ law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t,” Mahathir said in his posts.
“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,” he said, adding he did not approve of the killing of the French teacher.
Twitter removed the tweet about the right to kill saying it had violated the platform’s rules on glorifying violence. The post was also deleted on Facebook.
Mahathir accused the media of ignoring his subsequent remarks saying Muslims had never sought revenge for the injustice against them in the past and that the French should respect the beliefs of others.
“What is promoted by these reactions to my article is to stir French hatred for Muslims,” Mahathir said in a statement.
He also criticised Facebook and Twitter for removing the posts.
“To my mind, since they are the purveyor of freedom of speech, they must at least allow me to explain and defend my position.”
Facebook said in an email Mahathir’s post was removed for violating its policies on hate speech.
On Thursday, a Tunisian migrant beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a French church, prompting Macron to double down on his vow to stop conservative Islamic beliefs subverting French values.
French officials have said the killing was an attack on the core French value of freedom of expression and defended the right to publish the cartoons.
Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Jon Boyle, Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie
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