Pakistani journalist and writer Kunwar Khuldune Shahid expressed his outrage over three leaders in the Islamic world: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of the Republic of Turkey, Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia.
In an article published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Khuldune emphasized the three leader’s latest actions justifying the recent terrorist acts in France. These three leader have also expressed their unanimity regarding the hypocrisy of a widely circulated argument in the Islamic world, which is how Western countries turn a blind eye when it comes to the publication of offensive anti-Muslim cartoons, yet at the same time, Holocaust denial is strictly forbidden and denounced.
As we have noted, the three leaders voiced the same argument with the same level of hostility, and their argument would have been valid if France had allowed the publication of content offending Islam, while prohibiting the publication of content offending Christianity or Judaism, but that is not the case.
As for this recent trend to compare the latest events with denying the Holocaust, I can only say it is simply foolish and outright ignorant. It is important to remind everyone, that when it comes to discussing the sensitive topic of the Holocaust, we are not talking about a few offensive words or pictures, we are talking about six million known victims whose names and pictures are documented.
We must remember that these are victims with living relatives who can recount their stories, not to mention the few Holocaust survivors who are still alive today and they still live with the physical and mental scars of the horrors of that time.
These three politicians are known for making such arguments. We have also witnessed this obsession with denying the Holocaust or reducing the number of its victims expressed across Islamic and Arab media since the late forties.
In this context, what is truly disastrous is that these three leaders have influence over tens of millions of citizens. When the leaders themselves have this low level of awareness, then we cannot blame the public for their unsophisticated backward reaction. As for the global response to such statements and arguments, it ranges from despair to shock to ridicule.
However, this line of thought and simpleminded comparisons is not new, in fact, between 1962 and 1965 the Second Vatican Council, under the rule of Paul VI, decided to exempt Jews from the collective responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This led many Arab and Islamic figures to strongly denounce this exoneration, and questioned its historic accuracy, despite the fact that Muslims do not even believe that Jesus was crucified in the first place.
In this regard, we can safely say that there is a prevalence of ignorance among these leaders. What makes this ignorance even more dangerous is that the three aforementioned leaders are often praised for bringing about an “economic renaissance" and sometimes a "cultural renaissance."
Indeed, the first government formed by Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia (1981-7) witnessed rapid industrialization and remarkable economic growth, to which he is credited. This paved the way for the establishment of a highly impressive infrastructure for his country. These accomplishments ensured Mahathir’s repeated return to power.
Meanwhile, Imran Khan, ten years before his electoral victory in 2018, established an institute for technology called "Namal Institute," and in 2005, this institute partnered with the University of Bradford in the UK. Under his rule, Pakistan made a major leap as a business-friendly country.
In 2019, according to the World Bank’s classification, Pakistan was considered among the top 10 countries in the world most responsive to economic reforms.
Similarly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose popularity is currently plunging in lockstep with Turkey's collapsing economy, had a very successful start. In 2003, during his first years in power as prime minister, Turkey recovered from the financial crisis it faced in 2001, negotiations to join the European Union were accelerated and intensified, not no mention the massive investments he encouraged in infrastructure reforms, including roads, airports, and high-speed trains.
How can we begin to justify this dualism, how do we explain the lack of alignment between the positive outcomes accomplished by these leaders and their recent ill-advised actions, and what do these leaders have in common? These questions can be answered in two ways. Firstly, all three leaders are neoliberals who have little interest in changing society and fostering new convictions that strengthen relations between society members by establishing rational and modern foundations.
Secondly, aside from neoliberalism or any other Western ideological doctrine, these three leaders are all Islamists, albeit to varying degrees. Their Islamism, in this case, pushes them to adopt that old theory that says: ‘we can import Western science and technology, yet we must reject their ideas.’
The continuation of this theory says: ‘Science and technology are the key to Western strength, and we must acquire this key by arming ourselves with science and technology in order to win the fight and defeat the West.’
If we combine these two justifications together, we can understand why Mahathir Mohamad made his last statement regarding the terrorist acts committed in France. He stated that ‘Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.’
In my opinion, we can clearly note that many Islamists have no qualms about being close to the West, learning their sciences, importing their technology, and even immigrating to their countries, yet at the same time, they remain resolute in their refusal to adopt any Western beliefs and values. Recent crimes can be attributed to these prevalent mindsets. As long as both sides continue to believe that the other side seeks its destruction then this mutual animosity will keep growing.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet Asharq Al-Awsat.