SINGAPORE, 12 October 2004 — Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed urged Asia’s leaders yesterday to stop “kowtowing” to Westerners, warning continued subservience would lead to domestic uprisings and terrorist attacks. Mahathir, whose anti-Western rhetoric often caused controversy during his 22 years in power, told a university lecture in Singapore on democracy and Asian leadership that Asian minds were still “colonized” by Western influence.
“Asian leaders and Asians in general have yet to achieve freedom of thought, freedom to look critically at the ideas and ideologies coming from outside Asia,” Mahathir, 79, said. “They are still beholden to the ethnic Europeans. They are still Euro-centric. Many are apologetic because they believe they have fallen far short of the standards that the ethnic Europeans expect of them.”
Mahathir said Asians were “waiting for a leader, a credible leader from a credible nation”. “Those who kowtow too much to the ethnic Europeans should not be surprised if their people will rise against them, will commit acts of terror, or whatever,” he said.
“Asian leaders have a choice. Assume and assert true leadership, seize the initiative in terms of ideas and thoughts, and restore self-respect. Or face the humiliation of foreign hegemony and the contempt of their own people.”
Mahathir peppered his speech and ensuing question-and-answer session with pro-Asian, anti-Western references, such as: “Asians were civilized long before Europeans were civilized. They should learn from us.”
“When the ethnic Europeans were still clothed in animal skin, Asians were already ruling vast areas under complex government systems,” he said. While conceding that democracy was the best governance model in theory, Mahathir devoted much of his 30-minute speech to the pitfalls of Western democratic systems. “There is evidence that many Asians have not understood what democracy is all about and what can result from the democratic process,” he said, warning “liars” and the “cunning few” often rise to the top. While saying that democracies unique to Asia should evolve gradually, he also lauded the efforts of a host of regional dictators to develop their nations.
“Undemocratic Asian leaders in the distant and recent past have actually been instrumental in dragging their countries and their people kicking and screaming into the modern world,” he said. Mahathir cited China’s Deng Xiaoping and South Korea’s Park Chung-hee as undemocratic leaders who had advanced their nation, and quipped whether Thailand’s late-19th, early-20th century monarch Chulalongkorn would have achieved his reforms with a one-seat parliamentary majority.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"