December 01, 2003

October was an interesting time for an American Jew in the media to visit Singapore for a conference of international bankers, particularly after hearing about the anti-Semitic speech by Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of neighboring Malaysia.

In fact, Jews and bankers helped make Singapore what it is today. When Singapore left the Malaysian federation in 1965, it was none other than Israel that helped it to build an army. The Israelis sent over just 18 officers who "insisted from the very start that our officers learn from them and take over as instructors as soon as possible," writes Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in his autobiography, "From Third World To First." Thus, the new nation was able to quickly dissuade its near neighbors from interference.

The Lion City has also succeeded as a banking hub. Indeed, Mr. Lee credits the spark of Singapore's thriving economy to a bit of advice given to an economics advisor during a 1968 meeting with Mr. Van Oenen, vice president of Bank of America's Singapore branch. "When San Francisco closes in the afternoon, the world is covered with a veil. Nothing happens until next day, 9 a.m. Swiss time," Van Oenen had said. "If we put Singapore in between, before San Francisco closes...then, for the first time since creation, we will have a 24-hour round-the-world service in money and banking." That's a reality taken for granted now.

But Mahathir Mohamad seems more fond of inventing demons than demonstrating inventiveness. Mahathir contends that the Jews have gained control of the world's most powerful countries through the invention of socialism, communism, human rights and democracy. Perhaps the most telling quote in his entire diatribe: "Rhetoric is good. It helps us to expose the wrongs perpetrated against us, perhaps win us some sympathy and support. It may strengthen our spirit, our will and resolve, to face the enemy."

Here's another quote, from the late Dr. Irving Copi, the (Jewish) author of a popular introductory logic textbook: "Rhetoric may be of paramount utility in unifying the will of a group, in achieving unanimity of attitude. But of course it is wholly worthless in resolving a question of fact."

One hopes that "logic" doesn't make the list of the World's Greatest Jewish Conspiracies, as facility in logic is the best way to create something of value in the Information Age. Logic, not rhetoric, could also grant freedom and honor to the 1.3 billion people that Mahathir claims to represent, as there's compelling logic to a free society in which people stand up for their interests through honorable means. The sound logic of even one person alone can overcome the rhetoric of a million Mahathirs.