PAP posters displayed next to Taoist altar

From ‘Mini PAP posters taken down after queries from SDP:ELD’, 5 Sept 2015, article by Koh Swee Fang Valerie in Today

A day after Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan cried foul over miniature posters promoting the People’s Action Party’s team for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC being plastered around Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre, the posters have been taken down.

In response to queries from TODAY, the ELD said that it understands these posters had been put up by the merchant association in the area.

“The association has since taken the posters down,” said an ELD spokesperson. “ELD would like to remind everyone, including candidates and members of the public, that the display of election posters and banners must abide by the rules set out in the Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations.”

During an election, the Returning Officer authorises candidates and their election agents to display election posters and banners for campaigning. “No person shall display or cause to be displayed in any public place during the campaign period any poster or banner without the authorisation of the Returning Officer,” added the spokesperson.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Dr Chee said that his team – which is also contesting Holland-Bukit Timah GRC – had alerted the ELD to these miniature posters, after coming across them on a walkabout at the food centre.

“We… saw miniature posters of the PAP Holland-Bukit Timah team pasted all over the food centre – even at an Taoist altar,” he said. “The SDP team is also campaigning for every vote but, please, let’s have some decency and not paste our photos where people worship.”

Eat, Pray, Vote

There is a specific list of places where you’re not allowed to stick posters in the Election Handbook. These include on an ERP gantry, traffic sign boards and stalls within a hawker centre. Not in this list are places of worship, between the grills of your front gate, or behind public toilet cubicle doors so you can ruminate on your party of choice while taking a shit.

So technically, millionaire pastor Kong Hee and his ilk could flash PM Lee’s face all over the megachurch premises without committing an actual offence. You could be queuing up at the ATM and have a group of MPs on a poster smiling at you by the side while you withdraw your cash from the machine. You could be buying groceries and have someone covertly slipping a mini handout into your bags at the cashier. You could be out jogging on a windy day and one of these discarded flyers could be blown smack into your face. The PAP, as our PM Lee promised, will be ‘For you, With you’. Every single day. Everywhere. Like an overprotective girlfriend who refuses to leave you alone.

Some posters are already stuck on traffic signs as we speak, and the police should really clamp down on these as they pose quite a distraction to motorists. Imagine cruising along the streets and seeing one of the Opposition’s placards asking hard questions about government investments and CPF, or getting awestruck by our PM’s warm glowing face everywhere you turn.  That may be enough to prevent you from checking your blind spot, or spotting an old auntie pushing cardboard against the red light. I wonder if any of the PAP’s posters were placed on U-TURN signs, though.

It’s ironic that as an anchor minister with the Environment portfolio, the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team leader would endorse such indulgent paper consumption, as if the SG50 flags and paraphernalia still flying about weren’t enough. ‘Poster wars’ between political parties and random vandals have led to the ‘disfigurement’ of the city ever since 1955, where lamp posts, trees and even longkangs (culverts) are not spared from party propaganda.  Up till today, we have people messing up banners or stealing them as collectibles. Maybe we should be thankful to these thieves for relieving us of a serious eyesore. Or maybe it’s the ghost of Yusok, I mean Yusof, Ishak at work.

As for the Holland ward, I saw with my own eyes Vivian Balakrishnan and gang’s faces stuck on the wall between stalls while ordering food at Ghim Moh Temp Hawker centre some days back. Which means PAP has, indirectly, already flouted one of the election guidelines set up by the ELD, merchant association or not. While fashioning PAP candidates as deities next to a religious shrine comes across as a show of disrespect (though not illegal), that didn’t stop contestants from physically entering places of worship during their walkabouts during the last election. Politics and religion shouldn’t mix, of course. That includes holding rallies in conjunction with getais. Neither should politics be mixed with basic necessities like Lunch or Dinner.

A godless society is problematic for Singapore

From ‘We welcome criticism within constraints, says Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong’, 23 Jul 2015, article in CNA

The governing authorities are open to criticism, but the ability to exercise of the freedom of expression comes with limits, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, referencing the cases of bloggers Amos Yee and Roy Ngerng. Yee received a four-week jail sentence for posting an obscene image online and posting content intended to hurt the religious feelings of Christians – a sentence and conviction he is appealing.

“In our society, which is multiracial and multi-religious, giving offence to another religious or ethnic group, race, language or religion, is always a very serious matter. In this case, he’s a 16-year-old, so you have to deal with it appropriately because he’s (of a) young age,” Mr Lee said in an interview with Time, published on Thursday (Jul 23).

The peaceful co-existence of religions is something that takes work, the Prime Minister said.

“Overall, we think religion is a good thing. I mean, if we were godless society, we would have many other problems, the communists found that out,” said Mr Lee.

“But religion is a good thing provided we are able to bridge the differences between our different faiths, provided there’s give-and-take, provided we are able to get along together and not offend each other by aggressive proselytisation, by denigrating other faiths, by being separate and, therefore, having suspicions of one another, which can easily happen,” he added.

Well, religion is awesome, as 50,000 Christians proved to PM Lee when he joined the godly masses for the Jubilee Day of Prayer. It’s also great to see different faiths coming together and praying to purge evil spirits from suicide reservoirs. I can’t imagine what Singapore would be like if we all didn’t believe in the Almighty; no heritage churches, Sultan Mosque, temples. No multimillionaire pastors. No Lawrence Khong magic shows. Gasp, no Sun Ho! We’ve got 99 problems but God ain’t one.

PM Lee’s reference to ‘godlessness’ echoes his father’s sentiments towards the Red Scourge back in 1964, which he calls ‘a godless philosophy that leads to trouble’.  Soviet communism has given atheism a bad name, and has been described as an ideology that started on a godless premise.  The same term was used to describe the Nazis, though both regimes had similar elements of worship and idolatry – the deification of Lenin and Hitler come to mind. Atheism has since been recognised as philosophy based on logic and science rather than violent heresy, and the word ‘godless’ itself was just another Dark Ages relic label like ‘infidel’, until its resurgence around 1958 as this Ngrams graph shows. This was around the time the USSR launched Sputnik, and Fidel Castro took control of Cuba.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.09.18 PM

Today, despite their inherent godlessness, we see branded Che Guevara images and ‘Hitler chic’, with its Nazi themed cafes, weddings and even cosplay. Mao propaganda posters have become hip marketing gimmicks. Godless commies have become trivialised in pop culture, though our Government refuses to let it go still. Look what happened to ‘To Singapore With Love’, banned like an exorcist casting away Satan. Even if we don’t worship a literal supernatural father figure, there’s one god that every successful, capitalist country, especially one among the richest nations in the world, looks up to in reverence: Money. Or at least a personification of money. Like Cai Shen Ye.

Unless there is anthropological evidence that any society without the pillar of monotheistic faith is doomed to fail, with or without the godless Red Star Armies, our PM’s assertion on the social advantages of religion as compared to no religion, remains up for debate. Religion has its share of problems, obviously, if you think of all the horrific tragedies in human history , from the Crusades to ISIS, done ‘in the name of God’. Wonder what PM Lee’s sister, a self proclaimed ‘atheist’ thinks about elder brother’s quip. As for life without God, we can only for now, well, Imagine.

Burning joss paper leading to lung cancer

From ‘Restrict incense burning to places of worship’, 15 June 2015, ST Forum

(Madam Wah Yan Chan): I AGREE with Mr Mckeena Neo (“Common corridors not the place for burning incense paper”; June 2). While our forefathers may have burnt joss paper and incense sticks as a sign of devotion, they probably did so without knowing that such burning produces a cocktail of harmful carcinogens that may cause conditions such as asthma and, in the long term, can lead to life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer.

Causing inconvenience and harm to others should never be justified on the bases of religion and tradition. Surely Singapore should have a law prohibiting the burning of incense and joss paper in common areas and restricting the practice to designated places of worship.

There are regulations in the Environmental Public Health Act that stipulate how many joss sticks and candles with specific dimensions may be burnt in premises such as an ‘enclosed space’ or a temple. When burning cancerous joss paper, however, the public is merely advised to use burning pits and containers provided by town councils and clean up their mess after satisfying the gods, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it just outside your HDB flat. The writer above is clearly convinced that burning joss paper increases one’s risk of cancer and should be banned from public areas. The problem is she’s somehow OK with people getting cancer in ‘designated places of worship’.

Whether or not joss paper has the same risk as cigarette smoke is up for debate, since I believe no one has done extensive epidemiological studies on joss paper as we have for tobacco. What is certain, however, is joss paper is a potential fire hazard, especially if people are appeasing their ancestors near a PETROL STATION. Even burning them in bins as recommended by the authorities may lead to explosions in your FACE if there’s a stray aerosol can lying within. In 1976, a blaze ripped through a Jalan Ubi village, rendering 16 locals homeless. It started when burning joss paper flew into a mattress factory. If only the Fire department had SPRUNG into action faster then.

You may think we’re relatively safe because we don’t live in attap houses anymore, but God help you if a stray hot ash lands on your curtain.  You could say a lit cigarette may cause hell on Earth as well, but the trajectory of burning ash in the wind is more unpredictable, and it’s harder to catch the culprit because it could have blown in from anywhere. It could be a little girl behind it following her parents’ instructions to send money to Grandma’s account in the Netherworld. Do we, then, need to wait for someone to perish from a freak joss paper fire, not to mention asthma or lung cancer, before we do something?

Curbing a religious practice may have, well, inflammatory repercussions, and may explain why the authorities are slow to crack down on joss paper burning, even doing little to stop worshippers from aggravating the haze and pissing off asthmatics some years back. Interestingly, one of the stories behind how joss paper was invented involves a con-job by a paper inventor Cai Lun, who tried to boost paper sales by faking his own death and getting his wife to bribe the King of Hell to return his soul through joss offerings. Today, it has morphed into a custom of filial piety and endearing superstition, though one incompatible with our bid for a ‘clean and green’ future. Then again, we’re still seeing ever more cars on the road, trees being cut down to be replaced by condos and people continuing to smoke like chimneys because the government has banned all ‘smokeless’ tobacco products. At least the burning of joss paper, for all its environmental damage, is a small price to pay if it stops ghosts, demons and the evil dead from popping out of hell portals in what’s left of Bukit Brown and haunting the shit out of us all.

I forsee the practice dying out by the next generation anyway, provided we all don’t die of joss-induced cancer, asthma or in a fiery inferno anytime soon.

TRS creators charged with sedition

From ‘The Real Singapore duo slapped with 7 charges under Sedition Act’, 15 April 2015, article in CNA

The couple behind socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) – a 26-year-old Singaporean man and a 22-year-old Australian woman – were on Tuesday (Apr 14) each charged with seven counts of sedition.

Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi allegedly published seditious articles on the website between October 2013 and February 2015. One of these articles falsely claimed that an incident between police and some members of the public during a Thaipusam procession on Feb 3 had been sparked by a Filipino family’s complaint that the drums played during the procession upset their child. The contributor of the article posted on another website that the allegations made in the TRS piece were untrue.

Yang is Singaporean, while Ai Takagi is Australian. According to the charge sheets, the particular articles have the “tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different groups of people in Singapore, name, between ethnic Indians in Singapore and Philippine nationals in Singapore”.

…Under the Sedition Act, the duo are liable, on conviction for a first offence, to a fine of up to S$5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of up to three years, or to both. As for the charge under the Penal Code, they are punishable with imprisonment of a maximum of one month, or a maximum fine of S$1,500, or both.

From St article 15 April 15, Couple behind TRS website face sedition charges

From St article 15 April 15, Couple behind TRS website face sedition charges

The ‘seditious’ articles are still online as we speak. In the Thaipusam article, it is alleged that the provocative but flawed eye-witness account ‘asserts’ that a Filipino family CAUSED the clash. Since instruments are banned during the festival, I would imagine the police confronting the musicians anyway, with or without a crying Pinoy child. But if anyone tries to push the argument of cause vs correlation they may just find themselves at the receiving end of a contempt of court charge.

If it weren’t a Pinoy family but say an Indian family of another caste, would that constitute ‘sedition’? What about the xenophobic backlash against the celebration of Philippine Independence Day in Orchard? Shouldn’t those Singaporean bigots who fumed against the event get slapped with sedition charges as well? Or the PRC family who complained about the smell of curry from their Indian neighbours. When does a symptom of xenophobia become deadly ‘seditious’?

In the other offending article on Filipino employers, Pinoys are described as ‘relentless backstabbers’ and generally ‘share the same traits’. This guy was basically stereotyping a particular race/nationality, just like how some Facebooker complained about the smell of a certain race on the MRT, or some ex-presidential candidate thought he was in Bombay while on a bus. If I say ‘those damned Americans are a bunch of redneck hillbillies’, would I be accused of inciting hostility among groups? When Amos Yee derided Christians, he was ‘causing distress’ and ‘harassment’ but not ‘promoting ill-will’. If he had insulted another religion would he be slapped with sedition? We were all even called ‘dogs’ once by PRC scholar Sun Xu. I doubt he was bitten by a single charge. Anton Casey flew to Perth before anyone thought about whether his remarks were deemed seditious because some Singaporeans got so insulted they wanted him to pay dearly with his life.

Does hiding racial stereotypes behind ‘stand-up comedy’ protect you from sedition charges, like if you mimic an Indian accent for example? If Kumar says ‘You Chinese buggers all only know how to gamble’, do I have a case against him?  The acronym ‘PRC’ is particularly offensive. In the ‘pee in a bottle’ article, the writer simply assumed that the woman who let her grandson drop his pants and wee in public was a ‘PRC’. Nothing else was mentioned about how she wanted to sabotage all hotpots in Geylang and blow up all the PRCs eating from it. PRC is the ‘n**ger’ of Chinese nationals. Just like when Edz Ello called us ‘stinkaporeans’, we couldn’t take it and demanded that he join the Sedition Squad.

Likewise, the PRC stripper article was about how ‘the majority’ of Chinese women come here on bogus work permits to steal other people’s husbands. Nothing new here. People have been harbouring negative stereotypes about ‘China women’ for more than a decade. Do we see people rounding them up and hanging them from trees and poke them with hot skewers? No. Do people make wild empty threats against the entire community on Facebook? Of course. Do we need to bother with what they say? I guess it depends. The Sedition laws seem to guard against the possibility that people take such comments so seriously they would brandish a flaming pitchfork over it. In the past, ‘seditious literature’ was serious business. They were documents specifically designed to instigate a mutiny against British imperialists, not some rant about why you think people from a certain country suck.

If the TRS offends you, you have the moral obligation not to read or share its articles. If you experience discrimination at work, you can take formal action with the authorities without dehumanising the entire race online. Let’s not kid ourselves that racial/foreigner tensions don’t exist. We are an island of tribes and little cosy enclaves getting the job done in spite of our differences, not a ‘It’s a Small World After All’ theme ride.

Two full Malay ministers in Cabinet is testament to meritocracy

From ‘Promotion to full minister shows Singapore runs on meritocracy: Masagos’, 8 Apr 2015, CNA

The promotion from Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs to full Minister is a testament to how Singapore is run on the basis of meritocracy, Mr Masagos Zulkifli said on Wednesday (Apr 8). Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the promotion, along with changes to the portfolios of four other Ministers, earlier on Wednesday.

In an interview with MediaCorp’s Berita, Mr Masagos said: “It would seem apparent that the Malay community would celebrate having two full Ministers in the Cabinet for the first time, but I think this is also how Singapore runs on the basis of meritocracy.

“That you get the post, and are rewarded for your performance and contributions because of the impact you have made. Not because you are close to a particular person or that you are the son of somebody,” he added.

“I think this is important because it gives you the credibility to the people you serve as well as your colleagues. And I’m glad that this is the system that we have.

Credit to Masagos for getting the promotion, but feminists continue to frown because there’s only ONE woman minister in Cabinet currently (Grace Fu). Nobody’s going to tell you that women in Singapore have not ‘progressed’ based on their dismal representation in Cabinet. But since we’re keeping score, here’s the ministerial ethnic breakdown, with the Chinese leading the way.

Chinese: 13
Indian: 4 (Vivian Balakrishnan technically of mixed-race heritage)
Malay: 2
Eurasians: None (Though S Iswaran represents the community’s interests)

There’s another system that Masagos probably needs to acknowledge, one that brought him into politics in the first place. The GRC. To be specific, his Tampines team led by Mah Bow Tan beat their SDA opponents 68-31% in the 2006 GE. SDA did reasonably well despite the line-up of relative unknowns though, compared to the other opposition parties including an SDP led by Chee Soon Juan’s sister.

In 1988,  Goh Chok Tong introduced the ‘Team MP’ concept, in which selected GRCs would require to place at least one Malay candidate up for contest. There were also select committees set aside to decide if you were considered a ‘minority’ candidate or not. A ‘Malay’ for example, is defined as someone who is Malay, Javanese, Boyanese, Bugis, Arab or ANY OTHER PERSON, generally accepted as a member of the Malay community or by that community’.  To which Chiam See Tong remarked that even a European, or a MAORI, would be considered as a ‘Malay’ if he or she was generally accepted to be one. I’m bad in Mandarin and read everything in English i.e jiak kantang. Does that make me accepted as an ‘ang moh’?

Chiam then went on to urge the Government to reconsider such ‘racial’ politics, while others lamented about the ‘special protection’ given to Malays, which curiously enough, allegedly contravenes the principles of meritocracy. In other words, that a tinge of ‘tokenism’ belies the progress of the minority community, a phrase that Ng Eng Hen used to deny that the rise of Malays/Muslims in the armed forces had anything to do with race or religion.

So it’s not just a matter of simply performing well and earning it regardless of your ethnicity. Ex press secretary to LKY James Fu wrote in a 1988 letter that Malay MPs were dropped or shuffled around constituencies based on ‘preferences for a Chinese candidate’ from the ground, and even expressed concern that there may come a time when there may be NO MALAY MPs at all if we allowed non-Malay communities to vote their own kind into Parliament. Chillingly, he had this to say about the Chinese voting habits: “The fact is, other things being equal, Chinese voters prefer a Chinese to a Malay MP.” We have voters preferring young pretty politicians over old, ugly ones, tall ones over short ones, thin over fat. I mean, why trust voters and bother with elections at all, let the PM handpick all his men/women then, Malay or non-Malay, then we don’t need to worry about a certain race or sex dropping out of Parliament entirely. It’s all democracy’s fault that we’re racially imbalanced, dammit!

Echoing Chiam, our Cabinet should be made up of Singaporeans regardless of race language or religion, not Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, mixed-race or what have you and neither should we indulge in bean-counting MPs and ministers of a certain race as a gauge of one community’s progress as a whole. But that, the PAP would tell you, is unrealistic. Still,  when it comes to the top position, the man of the House, it appears that there remain reservations on the ethnicity of a future Prime Minister other than a majority race. LKY himself admitted that he did not consider S Dhanabalan as a successor as he felt Singapore was not ‘ready for an Indian PM’. Now that he’s passed away, no one would ever accuse him of discrimination. The day of ‘true meritocracy’ or equality will only come when we see a Malay taking the helm. Until then, we’re not as impartial as we’d like to think ourselves to be.

MP Lam Pin Min accused of inciting enmity towards Hindus

From ‘Film-maker Martyn See makes police report against PAP MP Lam Pin Min’, 26 Feb 2015, article by Rachel Chang, ST

Film-maker Martyn See made a police report on Thursday against People’s Action Party (PAP) MP Lam Pin Min, whom he accused of making racially seditious comments. Dr Lam had posted on his Facebook page earlier this month about three Singaporean men who were arrested at Thaipusam celebrations on February 3 for various offences. These include disorderly conduct and voluntarily causing hurt to a police officer.

Linking to a blogpost that has since been deleted, Dr Lam wrote: “An example of how alcohol intoxication can cause rowdiness and public nuisance.” In his police report on Thursday, Mr See charged that these comments “distorted an allegation by the Police into a statement of fact”.

A police statement on the trio’s arrest said that “all three men were believed to have been drinking earlier as they smelt strongly of alcohol.” But, Mr See said, this has yet to be established by the authorities as fact and the three men have not yet been tried.

In saying that the three were intoxicated while participating in the holy festival of Thaipusam, Dr Lam incited enmity towards the Hindu community, he charged.

Mr See also complained in his police report that Dr Lam’s comments “caused ill-will and hostility between different races and communities. The responses on his Facebook page show overwhelming hostility to his remark. Yet, he has allowed his offending words to remain online”.

He added that Dr Lam breached the sub judice rule, as judicial proceedings in this case have yet to be completed.

I wonder if Martyn See was aware of what another prominent figure said about Indians on a bus, a man who once campaigned for President branding himself as the ‘voice of the people’, represented by a bizarre logo that really says ‘Someone needs a tight slap every time he opens his mouth’.

Tan Kin Lian’s ‘Mumbai’ remark pales in comparison, of course, to what another MP in the past used to say about Little India, that it was in ‘complete darkness because there were too many Indians around’.  You didn’t need to file a sedition charge against ex-MP Choo Wee Khiang then because he got jail time for corruption anyway.

One man who managed to get away with ‘hard truths’ even if they threatened to ‘incite enmity’ among the races was LKY himself, who had some controversial thoughts about Muslims and their dietary habits. Now in ICU and fighting for dear life, it appears that all is forgiven. God bless his hardy soul, and anyone who has the audacity to charge our ailing founding father of inflammatory hate-speech deserves to rot in hell for all eternity.

On Feb 11, the AGC issued a warning against anyone commenting publicly on the Thaipusam scuffle, that they take a ‘serious view’ of any remark calculated to interfere with the ‘integrity of the administration of justice’, while Lam posted his ‘inflammatory’ comment on Feb 4, latching on what the Police reportedly believed to be another kind of spirit lurking within the premises of the religious procession. It’s still online as we speak, and captured here for posterity. Maybe Lam was too busy distributing oranges to his ward folk over CNY, or his FB administrators were sleeping on the job, intoxicated by CNY junk food.

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In the last GE in 2011, a police report was filed against a PAP MP hopeful for allegedly campaigning on ‘Cooling Off Day’, with the following post:

OooOoooOooh! so that’s what REALLY happened? Wow. I think tears in Parliament is worse than ANYTHING ELSE!’

Tin Pei Lin’s defence for the breach of election rules? The ‘web administrator’ did it. OooOoooOooh so that’s what happened! Tin is still MP, by the way. The fate of her bimbo administrator remains unknown.

See’s police report is a shrewd test of the dictum ‘no one is above the law’, and with ordinary people getting successfully sued for defamation or arrested for sensationalising the Thaipusam incident, it’s interesting to see how someone in a position of power reacts, and the events that unfold, when the tables are finally turned. A very inauspicious year for Dr Lam then, ( born 1969, year of the rooster. According to Grand Master Tan Khoon Yong, the outlook for Lam’s sign is ‘gloomy’, his ‘judgement may be affected’ and ‘lawsuits are possible too’), who now has to stop unpacking his ang pows, get over the columbarium saga and explain away the alcohol comment invariably using the ‘Get Out of Jail’ word ‘context’. Hopefully some hapless social media manager doesn’t become the scapeGOAT this CNY.

Malays excluded from Navy due to lack of halal kitchens

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.


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