Sunday 25 October 2009

The Malays in Singapore.

This article by Ismail Kassim was forwarded to me by Salleh K2 . Ismail writes about the the position of the minority Malays in Singapore and makes for interesting reading when compared to the situation in Malaysia and I wanted to share it with you all.

This is most interesting: our cousins across the causeway are also grappling with the race issue.  Malay ultras here have frequently cited the marginalisation of Malays in Singapore as a justification for doing the same here.  I of course can't, won't & don't except that...we should aspire to be better than Singapore! KD

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Ismail Kassim

For love of country, talk back if you disagree.

History is replete with examples of great leaders who overstayed and caused harm to their cause in the latter years of their rule. One prime example was Mao Zedong, who held on to power until his death
at the age of 83 in 1976. If he had faded into the background a decade or two earlier and spared China from the convulsions of the Cultural Revolution, China might today well be a superpower.

Great men make great mistakes. We must learn from history.

Back to our little island at the tip of the Malayan peninsula, MM Lee demonstrated Aug 09 in Parliament what many Singaporeans had suspected all along that he was still the man-in-charge, the real
commander-in-chief. On that day, Lee suddenly took to the floor and lashed out at NMP Viswa Sadasivan for calling on the PAP government to live up to the ideals of the Singapore Pledge.

For a man who was about to celebrate his 86th birthday then, it was a convincing display of power and grit that achieved its aim of reversing the course of a parliamentary debate and pushing almost everybody back into line.

Actually Viswa was rather cautious and had only gingerly alluded to ‘’apparent contradictions and mixed signals’’ in PAP policies such as the promotion of cultural elitism, SAP schools, different self-help
groups, marginalizing the Malays in the military and the obsession with maintaining Chinese dominance. Such prudence still did not spare him from a verbal bashing by a furious Lee who described his ideas as ‘’highfaluting’’ that needed to be ‘’demolished’’ before they infected others.  Viswa had obviously touched a raw nerve. Lee must have felt the threat to the PAP and his vision of Singapore in particular by the course the parliamentary debate was taking.

All along since independence Lee’s Singapore is premised on two contradictory principles: an outward commitment towards multiracialism and meritocracy to attract talent worldwide and an inward obsession
with reinforcing Chinese dominance as a way to ensure Singapore’s survival and prosperity.

According to his thinking, it would be disastrous to allow the proportion of Chinese in the population to fall below the current level of 76%. I am sure Lee will not shrink from taking any step to make up for any shortfall.

As he sees it, the non-Malay minorities pose no problem. They can be trusted and treated as equal with the Chinese majority in all sectors of public life.

As for the Malays, because of their close kinship ties with neighbours, you need to be prudent and keep them away from the military and sensitive services as much as possible.

This is the root cause of Malay unhappiness. It has given rise to feelings of ambivalence, of being discriminated and becoming second-class citizens in their own land.

Now that the dust is settling down from the Viswa controversy, it is perhaps timely to consider whether Lee did a service or disservice to Singapore and particularly to the government led by his son, Lee Jr.
Just as many Chinese continue to revere Mao for his contributions, we too must always respect Lee for all the good that he had done in building Singapore to what it is today.

If we love Singapore, however, we must not abdicate our right to disagree, even at the risk of being ‘’rubbished’’ or worse still, getting knuckle-dustered.  We must not forget the lesson from history.

The main fall-out from Lee’s harsh reaction is that he has distracted attention from the core issues of ‘’civil liberties and the future of Singapore’’ to the side-issue of a minority problem, and in the process, to quote Alfian Sa’at ‘’unfairly scapegoated’’ the Malays.

Six days earlier in his National Day address to his Tanjong Pagar constituents, Lee had also aroused unhappiness when he raised the Malay bogey to persuade Chinese Singaporeans to be more conciliatory towards newcomers from China.

I sent a letter to the ST Editor on the same day seeking clarification and as it never saw daylight, let me make an excerpt to enlighten readers.

After saying that the birth rate by race is 1.91 for Malays, 1.19 for Indians and 1.14 for Chinese, Lee went on to say: ‘’If we continue this way without the new immigrants and PRs and their children doing
National Service, the composition of our SAF will change. So please remember that.’’

In my letter, I asked, what did MM mean by saying – ‘’please remember that’’. Is it to remind Singapore Chinese that the SAF must remain overwhelmingly in their hands and that the restriction on Malay
participation must continue?

‘’Actually, as everyone knows, ever since Independence the PAP government has never allowed the SAF to reflect the racial composition of the country. What then is the necessity of making a statement that could arouse communal feelings.’’

I again wrote another letter to the ST Editor after Lee gave a twist to Article 152 of the Constitution in his attempt to demolish the allegedly false and flawed logic behind Viswa’s call to become one people regardless of race, language and religion. By implying that its presence had made it difficult to achieve true equality among all the communities, many Singaporeans must have wondered as to whose logic was more flawed.

To the Malays, who have long complained that the PAP was only paying lip service to the Constitution, Lee’s latest interpretation was like rubbing salt on their wounds. There can never be a truly level playing field between the majority and minority in any plural society. Like in Singapore, Chinese leaders are also national leaders and to them, Chinese interests and national interests, are practically synonymous.

In recognition of this reality, many countries make some form of adjustment to mitigate the anxieties of their minorities such as the granting of various degrees of autonomy. In Singapore, it takes the shape of Article 152, which does not confer special rights on Malays, but merely legitimizes the special arrangements on their religion and customs.

Every time Lee talks about the Singapore Malays and National Service, he likes to revive memories of his painful experience during Malaysia days. Every time he brings it up, many Malays shudder as they feel
that he is punishing the entire community for the sins of a handful of Malay ultras. Surely, after 44 years, it is enough.

Now he tells the Singapore Malays not to expect ‘’equal treatment’’ instantly as the Singapore Pledge on equality for all was only an ‘’aspiration’’ and not an ‘’ideology’’ and therefore would take a long time to realize.

As an example, he cited the United States experience on White-Black relations. He does not seem to appreciate that unlike the Blacks, the Malays did not come to Singapore as slaves. They also do not consider themselves as migrants.

Lee obviously prefers not to remember how impatient he was when advocating for a Malaysian Malaysia and equality for all races when Singapore was in the Federation.

The Malays only want the full equality that they had enjoyed in the past when Singapore was a British colony. Then all communities enjoyed equal rights and equal access to all sectors of public life.

If not for unfairly scapegoated twice in a week by Lee, the 44th National Day celebrations would have gone down as a memorable event for many in the community. Some of my friends including a few normally critical Malays were practically swooning with patriotic nationalism until Lee single-handedly brought them all crashing back to earth. Except for the gushes of happiness by several Malays in a Sunday Times report, Lee’s two statements infuriated the community and deepened their feelings of being discriminated. Many have still not forgotten that Lee had caused a similar uproar within the community about a decade ago when he said the government could not put a Malay who is religious minded in charge of a machine gun unit.

Viswa has earned the respect of many Singaporeans for his maiden address in Parliament. Far from being an over-analysis as an opposition leader from the Chinese heartland said, it was both courageous and timely. He will also live in the memory of many Malays as the first non-Malay to bring up their plight in the military and security services. Terima kasih.

This is the right time to discuss the future of our island Republic. For one thing, Lee cannot be around forever. A new world order is also emerging from last year’s collapse in the international financial markets. Old ways and old obsessions will have to make way for the new realities. As such, Singaporeans should debate openly and civilly what kind of Singapore they want to see emerging in the next 10 years.

The key issues include how to make the Singapore pledge a living reality. How do you reconcile the Malay yearning for full equality with the Chinese (or rather the PAP) obsession with dominance and security?

How do you satisfy the desires of more Singaporeans especially the younger generation for a more open government and more civil liberties without undermining national stability?

Let the debate on the post-MM Lee scenario begin now.

Ismail Kassim


  1. After reading that eye opening write-up, now I ask, WHO DID IT FIRST? To satisfy myself, I ask who was the most intelligent bugger between the two idealists of Malaya at that time, Tunku or Lee Kuan Yew? And who is the most person revered as the most intelligent ASEAN leaders of all time?

    To the point WHO DID IT FIRST?, who first thought of the idea of this kind of "RACE" that we all had been molded into a structure for an eventuality of a certain war between the two countries?

    Was it because of LKY's idealism of Malaysian Malaysia that had given him the vision for the creation of present day Singapore under the guise of Singapore's Pledge?

    Tunku wasn't known as a man with any idealism whatsoever at his time other than for an independent Malaya.

    Or was it Singapore's Pledge first that had given LKY the idea for Malaysian Malaysia that had pinned down Tunku to an untenable position to cede Singapore?

    Was LKY a genius to have that ingenuity of acquiring Singapore by the master stroke of an ambitious brilliant general who found the way to build an empire in the heart of the Malay land and planned the way to protect his empire, the reason why he keeps on leading to dictate his plan even when he is no longer the leader of Singapore?

    I am not asking WHO DID IT FIRST to sway away from our stand against our government. I am asking that we cannot wait for Singapore to honour its pledge for the Malays by their Singapore's Pledge, WE MUST DO IT FIRST to erase the relentless distrust of Singapore by stopping all practices of marginalising non-Malay races so as to relieve our cousin there from prolonged punishment. In asking “Who did it first?” now it is our turn to say WE MUST DO IT FIRST!

    Don't just think that we have our cousin Malays in Singapore, think that we all Malays, Chinese, Indians and others have our cousins there too.

  2. I must say Ismail Kassim's piece is an excellent documentation of the reality in Singapore. All this while, while it is known that Singapore is preaching 'meritocracy', she is rather practising SELECTIVE meritocracy since for example, in the SAF it is not meritocracy, but rather discrimination or marginalization of the highest order. It has been a systematic dismantling of the social order, from electing Singapore's president (the first and only Malay president was elected by the British rather than LKY or PAP Government), the resignation or rather the removal of the first Attorney General, Ahmad Mohamad Ibrahim, in preference of a Chinese AG instead, the reengineering of the Malay society in the HDB housing program in the name of social integration (according to Lily Zubaidah Rahim in The Singapore dilemma) and the list goes on and on.
    The question is not WHO DID IT FIRST, but WHO DID IT WORSE. It must be remembered that the Malays are the indigenous people of Singapore, their heritage and culture belongs in Singapore, unlike the immigrant people and society that came to settle in Singapore and claim it as theirs. Therefore the Malays have every legitimate right to protect, defend and develop Singapore as the natives and indigenous people of the land.

  3. FMZam is corect in many ways, especially doing it first "... to erase the relentless distrust of Singapore by stopping all practices of marginalising non-Malay races..." Any non-Malay in Singapore seeing the blatant Ketuanan Melayu policies across the causeway will fear what happens to non-Malays in Singapore if Malays become the majority and adopt similar bumiputra policies. The terrible injustice is even more blatant in the case of the orang asli who are the true indigenous people of Malaysia and yet have no bumiputra status. Yet the ultimate irony is that the majority of generous true spirited ordinary Malays are actually victimised by their greedy leaders who line their own pockets while appealing to them for continued political dominance so that they can continue to rape and pillage the wealth and well being of the nation as a whole. How sad.