From ‘Malays deployed in the SAF as sailors: Ng Eng Hen’, 16 Feb 2015, article by Jermyn Chow, ST
A person is deployed in a sensitive unit in the Singapore Armed Forces based on his ability and beliefs to ensure that he is not a security risk, not on his race, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Monday night. He also revealed that the SAF has started to deploy Malay servicemen onboard ships as sailors who will go out to sea. Previously, Malays in the navy were only deployed as “sea soldiers”, who primarily patrolled naval bases.
…Responding to a question on a perceived bias against Malays in the SAF and why they have been excluded from the Navy until now, Dr Ng said it was a “practical issue” of having halal-certified kitchens onboard ships. “(This is) because in a confined space, it is hard to have a halal kitchen. If you spend months out at sea, it is difficult.”
But provisions have been made for Malay Muslims who are willing to serve, said Dr Ng. “So we made and found some accommodation and started to have Malays in the navy as well, if the person is willing.” He also reiterated that Malays now serve in the army, navy and air force, adding that with Singapore’s small population, the SAF does not discriminate against anyone and promotes its servicemen based on their ability.
“We want to get the maximum out of each person in the SAF…we are putting the best people in the best positions.”
But for sensitive positions in the military, the SAF is not blind to the fact that “people can be blackmailed“, said Dr Ng. “We ask ourselves, can we trust this person in that position to make sure he will not be made use of, that he will not be vulnerable.”
In 1987, then Trade and Industry Minister BG Lee was bashed by critics across the Causeway for remarks which reinforced this ‘perceived bias’ against Malays in the armed forces, that the Government did not want to ‘put its soldiers in a difficult position where their emotions for the nation may be in conflict with their emotions for their religion’. In response, Chiam See Tong accused the practice as discriminatory towards the Malays and not being in the spirit of regional harmony, that the best way to build a nation was to ‘trust everybody’ to have that trust reciprocated. He was swiftly slammed by Malay MPs for trying to be a ‘hero’ for the Malay community when he was in no such position to do so.
Some observers suggest that this ‘cautious approach’ is due to an initial fear of Malay ‘Trojan Horses’ within the military, or in plainspeaking terms, ultimately a question of ‘loyalty’ amongst our own countrymen given our geopolitical ‘situation’. Lee Hsien Loong back then added that this was the ‘reality that we cannot run away from’, and the Malay situation would improve over time as the nation became ‘more integrated’. By ‘integration’, in the case of the Navy, surely we mean that a Malay soldier by now would have no qualms about firing a torpedo at someone else of the same ethnicity/religion in actual war, rather than the SAF accommodating extra space for halal kitchens on board ships, which begs the question of why these weren’t considered in the first place. How does the SAF decide which unit is more ‘sensitive’ than another as they gradually phase Malay soldiers in anyway?
What we do know is that we have Gurkhas tasked to guard the very lives of some important politicians, which I would consider a highly ‘sensitive’ deployment. Unlike our own born and bred Singaporeans, the fierce loyalty of these foreigners has never been in doubt. In Chiam’s own words, ‘We trust all kinds of foreigners but we do not trust our own Malay citizens’. In 2013, PAP MP Zaqy Mohamed raised a valid point about our eagerness in enlisting new citizens or children of foreign spouses into the army, and whether SAF was playing fair if it continues to maintain this ‘national security narrative’ affecting the military prospects of own Malay Sons of Singapore (MP asks how position of Malays in SAF compares to those of new citizens, Feb 6 2013, ST)
The ‘practical’ matter of dietary requirements aside, Ng Eng Hen also mentioned, rather strangely, about the SAF needing to screen out ‘people who can be blackmailed’, which I would infer as someone trained to be a soldier, but forced under circumstances to turn his weapon on his own people, or run away to join a mercenary brigand. Under what circumstances exactly isn’t clear. We have heard of NSmen turning their weapons on themselves though. To date, more tragedies have occurred due to suicide or accidents rather than an ’emotionally conflicted’ soldier going ‘Trojan Horse’ on the military, or someone forced to steal SAR 21s for a terrorist cell group otherwise their sex videos may get leaked on the internet. Maybe we should focus more on soldiers with undiagnosed mental disorders posing a danger to us all in peacetime , rather than being fixated on the notion that men of a certain demographic are a higher ‘security risk’ in sensitive units compared to others during actual war.
So, as Chiam has pointed out, it appears that there still remains, especially in a time when we have our own people joining armies to wage war against Syria, a lingering trust issue in the military despite our integration efforts. At the same time, as the Defence Minister has stated himself, we don’t want to put Malays in high-ranking positions just to meet certain expected racial quotas, which would amount to ‘tokenism’. What we need is an honest, open discussion about the actual place of Malays in the armed forces, what exactly constitutes a ‘security risk’, whether this concern is still relevant today, and not, to put it in army vernacular, a ‘smoke-out’.
In the late nineties, LKY was more specific as to what a Malay soldier shouldn’t be commanding, namely a ‘machine gun unit’, that it would be ‘tricky business’ if such a soldier had family or religious ties to our immediate neighbours and that ‘he and his family’ would have a tragedy on their hands if we did not think this through. He did not say if it was OK for them to pilot fighter jets, drive tanks or even help design weapons in a research lab for that matter. PAP Malay MPs were quick to shrug off the senior Lee’s comment as an ‘honest and candid one’, and needs to be put in the right ‘context’ given our geographical realities. The reality is that if it were anyone but LKY telling us what a Malay should or should not do in such an indelicate manner, even if it were ‘candid’ to the point of satire, they may just be arrested for sedition.
Filed under: 1980s, 2015, Army, Politicians, Racism, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: Army, discrimination, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew, malay, muslims, Politicians, Racism, Religion | Leave a comment »