Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Muslims for years believed mistakenly that Islam rejected new technology and progress. He urged Muslims worldwide to ignore teachings by religious fundamentalists that scientific studies are somehow un-Islamic.
"We need guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships for our defense," Mahathir told leaders from 57 nations gathered for a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Malaysia's new capital, Putrajaya.
"But because we are discouraged from learning of science and mathematics ... today we have no capacity to produce our weapons for our defense," said Mahathir, chairman of the two-day summit.
Malaysia, a moderate, mostly Muslim nation in Southeast Asia, has long been a longtime critic of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and of U.S. policy in the Middle East, including the war in Iraq and its strong backing of the Jewish state.
Mahathir launched a blistering attack on what he described as Jewish domination of the world and Muslim nations' inability to adequately respond to it.
"The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy," Mahathir said. "They get others to fight and die for them."
"We are up against a people who think. They survived 2000 years of pogroms not by hitting back but by thinking," Mahathir said. "They invented Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others."
"With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power."
Mahathir said that "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way."
He suggested new tactics other than lashing out violently against "the enemy," including leveraging the political, economic and demographic forces at the disposal of Muslim nations, calling for a "strategic retreat" and reassessment that would lead to "final victory."
For Mahathir, a senior statesmen in the developing world who has turned his country into the world's 17th-ranked trading nation, the summit marks one of the last opportunities to take the podium on the world stage before retiring on Oct. 31 after 22 years in power.
U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Marie Huhtala declined to comment on Mahathir's speech. Washington was angered over a speech he made in February, as host of the Non-Aligned Movement of 117 countries, in which he described the looming war against Iraq as racist.
Mohammed al-Farra, a Palestinian delegate, said he supported Mahathir's analysis.
"If we are weak, nobody will respect us," al-Farra said. "In this world, the Israelis only respect the strong, so we have to unite to be respected by the other side."
The summit, held every three years, is the first since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks reshaped global politics and comes at a time when many Muslims — even U.S. allies — feel the war on terrorism has become a war against them.
"It is well known that the Islamic community is being targeted today more than at any other time before in its creed, culture and social and political orientation," said Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who hosted the U.S. headquarters in the Iraq war.
The status of Iraq has been a divisive issue at the summit. Malaysia resisted inviting the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, describing it as a puppet of American occupation, but Arab countries who had already recognized the body prevailed and its representatives are here.
However, members of the council declared Wednesday that they may seek to scuttle a draft resolution welcoming them but insisting that the United Nations should have a "central role" in Iraq and set a schedule for the full return of Iraqi sovereignty.
Council members insisted that they have the central role. They also are awaiting the outcome of U.N. Security Council deliberations on a U.S.-introduced resolution that would give the Governing Council until Dec. 15 to set a timetable for a constitution and elections.
Iyad Allawi, current holder of the Governing Council's rotating presidency, said Wednesday that elections would "definitely" be held in 2004.
Leaders attending the summit include Jordan's King Abullah, Syrian President Bashar Assad, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia — the world's most populous Muslim country.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines are attending as special observers because of their large Muslim minorities.
Mahathir has been critical in the past of Russia's war against Muslim Chechen rebels, but has established increasingly warm relations with Putin. Russia is a major supplier of weapons to Malaysia's military.
By Rohan Sullivan