Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said on Mar 7 that he “stands corrected” on his comments about how the integration of Malay-Muslims in Singapore.
In a statement issued on Monday night to the media, he said: “I made this one comment on the Muslims integrating with other communities probably two or three years ago. Ministers and MPs, both Malay and non-Malay, have since told me that Singapore Malays have indeed made special efforts to integrate with other communities, especially since 9/11, and that my call is out of date.”
“I stand corrected. I hope that this trend will continue in the future,” MM Lee added.
The statement referred to remarks he made in the book, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going. Inter alia he said Muslims are “distinct and separate’.
The book is based on 32 hours of interviews Mr Lee gave to seven journalists from The Straits Times and was launched on Jan 21.
Mr Lee was quoted as saying, “Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.” When asked how they could integrate, he said, “Be less strict on Islamic observances, and say: ‘Okay, I’ll eat with you.’”
He also said: “I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration — friends, inter-marriages and so on – than Muslims.”
The Minister Mentor’s statement was met with a positive reaction from the Malay-Muslim community.
MP Halimah Yacob, who spoke on racial cohesion in Singapore in Parliament on Monday, told ST: “This will go a long way towards assuaging the feelings of the community. … MM’s earlier comments caused a lot of unhappiness because many felt it was not a description of the reality.”
She added, the statement showed Mr Lee’s “humility”.
Chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals Nizam Ismail also welcomed the news. He said the “retraction” was a “necessary” move. ”The issue of integration is an important one especially for a young, heterogeneous and cosmopolitan nation-state. Integration still remains a work in progress,” he said.
“The Malay-Muslim community remains committed to integration and hopes that all stakeholders, including other communities and especially the State, will take part in this process of rebuilding mutual trust and bonds which may have been frayed,” he added.
Given that the people directly affected by MM Lee’s remarks have been gracious in their response to his concession that he is out-dated on this particular matter, I’m astounded that there are the likes of The Online Citizen which insists on continuing to tease the subject like a mad kitten with a ball of yarn.
Can’t TOC even contemplate that the Malay-Muslim community may be embarrassed by MM apologising? Hasn’t TOC ever heard of the word hormat?
Personally I don’t think MM is entirely inaccurate in his views. It all depends whom he had in mind when he made those remarks; what incidents he was dredging from his memory bank.
However, his remarks would be dead wrong if applied to the Malay-Muslim colleagues I’ve had in my working life. In fact some of the best traits I’ve picked up at the start of my career — work ethics, food and dressing preferences — had been instilled by chien peh from the Malay-Muslim community, albeit mostly from north of the Causeway.
That’s the trouble with soft facts or impressions and perceptions humans get from interacting with one another. We often mistake the specific for the universal.
There will always be small groups whether Malay-Muslim or Chinese and Indians of whatever religion who will, out of choice or temperament, not want to integrate with communities outside their own or even within their own.
Continuing to fret about this is just as pointless as trying to set ice cream by turning the freezer thermomter to temperatures that will make polar bears into ice carvings. A delicious dessert needs just the right temperature and time to set!