On 16 October, a teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded outside his school in a suburb of Paris after showing his class a controversial set of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad which were republished by the magazine Charlie Hebdo in September.
Two weeks before that, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, had sparked criticism when he set out a plan to combat “separatism” and claimed that Islam was “experiencing a crisis today, all over the world”.
The former Malaysian leader, who was prime minister from 2018 until March this year, commented on the murder on Thursday by arguing that Muslims would not approve of the killing but warned that France should “not show disrespect for the values of others”.
“Macron is not showing that he is civilised. He is very primitive in blaming the religion of Islam and Muslims for the killing of the insulting school teacher,” Mr Mahathir said.
“It is not in keeping with the teachings of Islam.”
He added: “But irrespective of the religion professed, angry people kill. The French in the course of their history have killed millions of people. Many were Muslims.
“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. Instead the French should teach their people to respect other people’s feelings.”
Mr Mahathir’s statement led to widespread calls for Twitter to remove his posts, with some users describing them as an incitement to violence.
“Take this down urgently, @TwitterSupport,” Brian Klaas, an associate professor in global politics at University College London, wrote in response to the tweets.
“It's an incitement to mass killing by a former prime minister of Malaysia with more than a million followers. How has this been allowed to stay up for over an hour?!”
One of the tweets has since been taken down for violating Twitter’s rules.
Mr Mahathir’s comments come at a time of heightened tension between Mr Macron’s government and some Muslims in France and other countries.
The French president’s decision to publicly defend the cartoons of Muhammad, which have caused anger across parts of the Islamic world, has led to calls for a boycott of French products.
On Monday, France’s foreign ministry insisted it was defending freedom of expression and supported Muslims in the country.
A statement from the ministry also claimed that the boycott calls were being “instrumentalised by a radical minority” and should end immediately.
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