Round up the usual suspects

Posted: Oct 25, 2003 12:00 AM

 It’s usually not good to be known as a “one-trick pony.” And a recent offering proves that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has become just that. He’s finally ridden his lone pony off into the sunset while chanting his mantra: “Everything is Bush’s fault.”

 His Oct. 21 piece is supposedly about the anti-Semitic comments of Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia. Krugman predictably uses those comments to stick pillory the Bush administration.

 “Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low,” Krugman writes.

 First of all, the administration hasn’t “squandered” anything. If the rest of the world will show us sympathy when thousands of innocent Americans are slaughtered but can withdraw that sympathy because they disagree with our political policies, than they can keep their sympathy. We don’t want it, or need it. What we do need is simply their help in the war against terrorism, a war that no civilized country can afford to lose.

 Second, let’s consider exactly what Mahathir said. “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy,” he told a group of fellow Muslim leaders on Oct. 16. “They get others to fight and die for them.” The leaders gave Mahathir a standing ovation.

 Krugman allows that Mahathir’s blatantly racist comments were “inexcusable.” But he quickly goes on to explain them as a mere response to Malaysian politics.

“Almost surely,” he writes, they are “part of Mahathir’s domestic balancing act, something I learned about the last time he talked like this, during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.”

But the reference to the past undermines Krugman’s entire argument, which is that the Bush administration has alienated Muslims and, by doing so, inspired Mahathir to lash out. In 1997, Mahathir blamed Jewish currency traders for his country’s economic problems and claimed, “the Jews are not happy to see Muslims progress. If it were Palestine, the Jews would rob Palestinians. Thus this is what they are doing to our country.”

And, in 1986, Mahathir intoned, “the expulsion of Jews from the Holy Land 2,000 years ago and the Nazi oppression of Jews taught them nothing. If anything at all, it has transformed the Jews into the very monsters that they condemn so roundly in their propaganda material. They have been apt pupils of the late Dr. Goebbels.”

Mahathir’s comments this month weren’t some politically inspired response to George W. Bush’s policies, as Krugman would have us believe -- they clearly represent his deep and long-held anti-Semitic beliefs.

As if to prove that, the prime minister didn’t apologize. Instead, he lashed out at his critics. “Lots of people make nasty statements about us, about Muslims. People call Muslims terrorists,” Mahathir said. “People make such statements, and they seem to get away with it. But if you say anything at all against the Jews, you are accused of being anti-Semitic.”

It isn’t just Jews who feel the prime minister’s wrath. In June, Mahathir called “Anglo-Saxon Europeans” proponents of “war, sodomy and genocide.” Well, let’s return to Sept. 11. The 19 terrorists who attacked us that day were all Muslims. They declared war by attempting genocide. It isn’t racist to point that out. Even so, President Bush has gone out of his way over the past two years to avoid calling Muslims terrorists. In fact, he’s met with Muslim clerics and repeatedly called Islam a religion of peace.

Mahathir has shown no such restraint. The BBC reported, “when he himself was subjected to rigorous security checks at a U.S. airport [Mahathir] said American ‘anti-Muslim hysteria’ had led to him being treated like a terrorist.”

Well, just about anyone who’s flown since Sept. 11 has been treated like a terrorist. We’ve all had to remove our shoes. Thousands have handed over nail clippers. Congressman John Dingell was strip-searched. Why would Mahathir expect to receive a pass even American lawmakers don’t get?

Sadly, Krugman is willing to give Mahathir a different sort of pass by letting him get away with hateful speech as long as it gives the columnist a chance to take another shot at the Bush administration. The president has made mistakes, as any human will. But in his gentle treatment of Muslims, he’s erred on the side of caution, to say the least.

Krugman seems to be searching for “why they hate us,” and he blames President Bush. But that’s the wrong answer to the wrong question. The right question is for Mahathir: Why do you hate Jews? Unfortunately, we’ll probably never learn the answer.