LKY being lionised into an ubermensch

From ‘Recognise imperfections without diminishing stature’, 28 March 2015, ST Forum

(Ng Qi Siang): I AM greatly saddened by Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. He was a great leader and deserves our respect for making Singapore the great country it is today.  However, I am concerned that many Singaporeans have been accused of being “disrespectful” of Mr Lee by mentioning some of his mistakes or policies they disagree with. Mr Chia Boon Teck has even called for such speech to be punished with punitive action (“Take the disrespectful to task”; Forum Online, yesterday).

…Moreover, by deeming the discussion of Mr Lee’s faults taboo, we lionise him excessively and present an inaccurate picture of the man to future generations. For all his great deeds, Mr Lee also made mistakes. Some of his policies, such as the “Stop at Two” policy, led to undesirable outcomes like an ageing population. His strict governing style has also been the subject of much controversy.

In order to give Mr Lee an honest assessment, we should recognise these imperfections without diminishing his stature, as historians do with other great figures, from Winston Churchill to Thomas Jefferson.  This will allow future generations to better relate to him as it gives his legacy a human touch. It also allows them to learn from both his errors as well as his successes.

However, by lionising him to the point of ignoring his weaknesses, we risk mythologising him into an “ubermensch” that future Singaporeans cannot relate to. By glossing over his mistakes, they may be deprived of important lessons that may help them avert the mistakes of their forebears.

Mr Lee himself has acknowledged that he is not perfect. As a man who did not take to heart how others perceived him, he would not want the value of his legacy to be lost for the sake of universal laudation. Free debate will allow for a more meaningful discussion of Mr Lee’s place in history.

When Low Thia Khiang mentioned that LKY was considered a ‘controversial figure’ because ‘many Singaporeans’ were sacrificed and had to pay the price for his one-party rule during a solemn parliamentary tribute, he was swiftly rebuked for being insensitive in light of his passing. The Catholic Church’s Archbishop William Goh said that Lee would not be canonised because although he achieved a lot of Singapore, he had his FLAWS, in particular the crackdown on parishioners during the 1987 Marxist conspiracy (Time to move on from Marxist conspiracy, 28 March 15, ST), a dark period under LKY’s rule that is conveniently omitted from the memorial biographies. I doubt anyone would accuse the Archbishop of disrespecting the dead man, unlike the brickbats tossed at the leader of the Workers’ Party.

Some critics go for the jugular, and become the target of a witch hunt as you would expect given this emotional period. Playwright Alfian Sa’at condemns the ‘fishing village myth’ and how the week of mourning was also a ‘history revisionism free-for-all’ (Playwright Alfian Sa’at questions LKY legacy, 27 March 2015, ST). Loudmouth Youtuber Amos Yee posted a video titled ‘Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead’, calling LKY a ‘dictator’ and comparing the adulation to that for Jesus Christ. Yes this is the same kid who thinks CNY is bullshit. Once talent spotted by Jack Neo, now facing 15 police reports at time of writing.

To be sure, LKY was no saint, as much as we have to be thankful for his glorious work. The glossing over the ‘controversial’ aspects of his leadership is inevitable as Singaporeans, having no king, emperor, saints or superhero to revere since our founding, finally have the chance to mourn a strong father-leader figure, many to the extent of messianic idolatry. After all, rational behaviour is hardly expected when a nation is bereaved, if the 10 hour Padang queues are anything to go by. Respect the phenomenal heroics of the man, but also remember him as a mortal with hopes, dreams, loves, quirks, habits, and yes, the occasional mistake. Aspiration, not divination. And of course, it pays to get your facts right.

Tribute in India

If the exaggerated mythologising of the man is not kept in check, we’ll have our children believing that LKY descended onto our little pitiless island on a flying giant unicorn, threw rainbow confetti across the land which magically spring forth HDB blocks and skyscrapers over mudflats, his sweat and tears transforming into the clean drinking water that we all take for granted today. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and we risk slaying it if we overdo this rose-tinted tribute to LKY’s legacy, the gushing sentiment leading to a mass selective amnesia. We want to celebrate the man and his people without whom all this would not be possible, not the myth.

When interviewed by the ST (Critical battles: Letting go of past, but not forgetting it, 29 March 2015, Sunday Times), Otto Fong, son of banished Fong Swee Huan, alleged instigator of the Hock Lee Bus Riots, said:

..As I looked at everyone queuing up, I wondered how many of them would do the same thing for their loved ones while they were still alive. There’s a difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgiving is about letting go, forgetting is not healthy for history.

Yes, you probably wouldn’t give your own flesh and blood a Black Knight farewell when they pass on, but if there’s one lesson to take home from the week’s events, it’s to cherish your loved ones while they’re still around. The Old Man wouldn’t agree more.

The ubermensch is German for ‘Superman’ or ‘Overman’, and we hear of mourners calling out to Lee as their ‘superhero’, ‘idol’ or bizarrely ‘Papa’, unaware that the man himself was known to eschew a personality cult, and was always reluctant to have buildings named after him. Since his death, we have petitions to rename Changi Airport to LKY airport, people changing their Facebook banners and profile pics to LKY and black ribbon decals with his face on cars. He was ultra-pragmatic both in life and would want his death to be likewise, without the wailing grandiosity and postmortem epithets such as ‘Architect of Modern Singapore’ and ‘Chief Gardener of Singapore’. I can imagine him shaking his head from above, telling Singaporeans to go home to their families, get back to work and stop screwing up the Padang, doing injustice to his life’s work as the creator of the ‘Clean and Green’ movement. Life goes on, as what as he had designed in the Singapore ‘DNA’ all along, for us to carry on without him.

If there’s anyone disrespecting our late leader, it’s the grievers leaving behind a sad mess for others to pick up after them while deifying the man, not the critics trying to make him sound more like us;  a fallible, emotional, stubborn human being, warts and all.

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While it is heartwarming to see genuine acts of compassion from ordinary people on the ground, it would be nice to see such kindness being displayed on an everyday basis. Yes, even in Hello Kitty queues.

Breadtalk LKY bun in poor taste

From ‘Breadtalk apologises for Lee Kuan Yew commemorative bun’, 25 Mar 2015, article in CNA

Bakery chain BreadTalk has apologised for a “commemorative bun” it put on sale to mark the passing of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Proceeds of the sale of the buns were to be donated to the Community Chest, BreadTalk indicated. However, the move was criticised on social media as being in poor taste. Some on Facebook said it was a “disgusting” attempt to cash in on the passing of a founding father of the nation.

…The buns had gone on sale with a sign: “Thank you for your unwavering strength and dedication in transforming Singapore. Filled with gula melaka-flavoured grated coconut and mixed with attap seed, this kampong-inspired creation is a tribute to a visionary leader who gave his life to build a nation from a kampong to a successful Singapore today. Let us join hands and hearts to honour him, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.”

D'ough!

D’ough!

This is just wrong. ‘Li Bu Kai Ni’ (can’t bear to leave you) should be made of a spicy red-hot tom yum filling, more representative of LKY’s fiery passion for Singapore, instead of some flaky coconut. While people in crutches are out there braving the heat queuing for hours to bid farewell to the icon, the people at Breadtalk were thinking of how to use this sombre event to promote their brand, for charitable causes or otherwise. They should just sell black charcoal red bean buns throughout this entire week of mourning instead.

It isn’t the first time that Breadtalk mixed pastry with puns; In 2010, they were accused of being racist for selling Naan the Nays. During the presidential election campaign in 2011, they dedicated the TAN-TART to all 3 candidates. When Steve Jobs died, they created the APPLE OF MY I.  I don’t recall Apple fans running riot over their stores demanding they withdraw this monstrosity. Not sure if they did any ‘Black and White’ creation when Michael Jackson passed away.

Occasionally they run out of ideas, naming one of their ring buns the ‘Circle Line’ to promote the new MRT line.  The commemorative ring pastries were launched in early October 2011. 2 months in, and the actual Circle Line broke down in one of the worst PR disasters in the history of Singapore’s public transportation.

The Circle Jinx

As if naming LKY after food isn’t bad enough, PAP MP Teo Ser Luck invented a crossfit workout named LKY91 dedicated to his hero, 91 being the age of LKY’s demise. No doubt the late LKY was an exercise addict, but surely he deserves better than be honoured by air goddamn squats and ‘double unders’. Not to mention in the late stages of his life he was suffering from peripheral neuropathy. LKY91 reads more like a torture manual rather than an exercise routine. Maybe you should rename it the #fml91 workout. Because that’s what you’ll say to yourself over and over 91 times for subjecting yourself to this physical abuse.

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This clip is the perfect response to all this personality cult nonsense, one that says ‘I ain’t got the time for your dumbass bullshit’.

LKY portrait made up of his name written 18000 times

From ‘Artist wrote Lee Kuan Yew’s name 18,000 times to create this portrait’, 21 March 2015, Asiaone.

Artist Ong Yi Teck has created a mind-blowing sketch of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew by writing Mr Lee’s name approximately 18,000 times. A photo of Mr Ong holding his drawing was posted on Instagram on Saturday.Using only drawing pens with no correction fluid or tape, Mr Ong said he took over “15 hours or so of torturous handwriting session”.

According to him, this is the first time he is attempting to sketch on an A2-sized paper and also the first time he has drawn for nearly 10 hours in one day.

ongyiteck1e

As the former prime minister remains in critical condition at time of writing, Singaporeans from all walks of life continue to throng SGH with gifts and tributes, and there’s no ode more outstanding than one transforming LKY into a painstaking piece of art. Writing ‘Lee Kuan Yew’ 18000 times sounds like a punishment a patriotic history teacher would dish out on a student for getting the date of our Independence wrong. Trust an artist like Ong to turn what to most people is torture into an impressive tribute.

Like Ong, digital artist Kevin Sim created a composite image of LKY using images of bundles of wire late last year. Not sure what the significance of wire is. Maybe something to do with how ‘connected’ Singapore has become.

Kim Dong Yoo did another of LKY made up completely of images of Queen Elizabeth (2010), probably a reference to Lee’s relationship with our colonial masters when he was first starting to reboot the nation.

Though we’re unlikely to see Chairman Mao levels of mass hysteria when the legend meets his maker, I’m certain Singaporeans will never have the same love-hate relationship for another leader as we do now for LKY, a man some have referred to as ‘Emperor‘, the ‘Old Man’ or more affectionately ‘Ah Gong’. We don’t seem to have the same reverence for Sir Stamford Raffles. As the founder of Singapore, he probably deserves more respect than being depicted as a pompous pansy in this sketch. In time to come, our children will think that LKY was the one who founded the nation, not some prim Englishman who’s also named after a large, stinky flower.

For centuries, supreme leaders have been canonised like saints or immortalised through statues, monuments or literary works. They were named after roads, buildings and schools or in the instance of modern rulers like Che Guevara, turned into pop culture icons. Lee Kuan Yew has the distinction of having the World City Prize named after him, among other awards and accolades. There have been calls to even name a ‘capital city‘ in his honour. The man also, for better or worse, has been the subject of other creative tributes, as a cartoon, a bobblehead doll, and works of art verging on ‘dictator-chic’. Soon, we may have a hipster cafe with an LKY theme called ‘Merdeka Coffee’. Amazingly, it didn’t take long for people to admire LKY enough to paint him. In 1968, our ‘Premier Lee’ was the subject in two of Barbara Gough’s ‘Pictures for the Home’ collection. His Lee-gacy, from the irreverent to the god-like, will live on for generations to come.

Here then, is a rundown of artistic tributes to the icon himself:

1) As a Pez dispenser named ‘Papa’

BT_20150213_HYCOVER13AD_1513193

2) Street Art (sKLo)

3) Madame Tussauds wax figure with late wife

4) LKY: K-pop star (a painting you can purchase here for 1750 USD)

5) LKY backpack

 6) In a collection of political cartoons (Morgan Chua)

7) As a meme

8) This. Well, it’s the thought that counts.

9) This is the absolute cutest of the lot. And oh, the LKY as Yoda pic is cool as well (Chan Shiuan). For more images of LKY as Judge Dredd, Emperor Palpatine or Magneto, go to her website here.

 10) And this, well, is just bizarre (Jimmy Ong, LKY as mother and daughter, 2010)

UPDATE: LKY passed away on Monday morning 23 March 15. He was 91. RIP. 

PAP leaning too much to the left

From ‘Budget 2015: NMP Chia Yong Yong cautions against PAP leaning too much to the left’, article by Siau Ming En, 3 March 2015, Today

While Budget 2015 has been praised be some Members of Parliament (MPs) and observers as being left-leaning, Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong today (March 3) cautioned against an expenditure that leans too heavily to the left, leading to members in the House thumping their armrests in approval.

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the Budget Speech, Ms Chia said: “We have in conclusion, a budget that is arguably very generous, and for which I am also very thankful. We have a budget that has been praised and approved as being leaning to the left.”

“But I would also argue that if we lean too much to the left, we will not have much left,” said Ms Chia.

MP Alex Yam, a man of the times, followed up with a sassy line from Beyonce’s ‘Irreplaceable': ‘To the left, to the left’, while MP K Karthikeyan said ‘If we go too far to the right, it’s not right’. Someone please set things right, or we’ll be left with directional puns all day. From the way Parliament is being conducted these days with all this merciless finger pointing at opposition MPs, things seem to be moving not left nor right, up or down, but going around in circles.

Right on, girl!

Chia’s concern echoes what the Budgetmeister himself Tharman said in a 2013 interview:

If I compare our thinking in Cabinet, or the weight of thinking in Cabinet, when I first entered politics about 11 years ago, I would say the weight of thinking was centrist but there were two flanks on either side of it,” he said. “There were some who were a little right-of-centre, and there were some a little left-of-centre. “Now I would say the weight of thinking is left-of-centre. You still get diversity of views in Cabinet, but the centre of gravity is left-of-centre.”

A ‘left-leaning’ ideology generally indicates belief in ‘socialism, equality and state assistance for individuals’. Like Chia, other MPs were concerned that we were being too generous with the Budget on ‘social spending’, that we risk becoming a welfare state. Hence all the armchair thumping like they were having a fan-girl encore at a Beyonce concert. I have no idea what ‘centrist’ thinking is, though it sounds vaguely like sitting on the fence.

Curiously enough, the PAP in its not-so-humble beginnings in fact started out as a LEFT WING SOCIALIST PARTY, as admitted by LKY himself in 1959, who pushed for his own brand of ‘democratic socialism’.

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Hence the great socialism ‘experiment’ began, and Singapore by the late sixties was proudly referred to as ‘the only democratic socialist country in Asia’. We later became an esteemed member of the Socialist International, but were forced to ‘resign’ in 1976 over ‘anti-PAP’ allegations, namely the mistreatment of political detainees.  Our socialist stance then was seen by some observers as straddling the middle ground between communism and right-wing authoritarianism. Oh look, money for all you poor, hungry people one moment, execute drug traffickers, cane vandals, regulate websites, ban movies about exiles and sue bloggers in another. Socialism, Singapore style, is the multiple personality disorder of politics.

In a 2001 interview LKY brushed aside the socialist label (‘I wouldn’t say I consider myself a socialist. I was convinced that it was a civilized system of government’), reminiscing about how the UK Health system in the 40’s introduced him to what he later refers to as a ‘malfunctioning’ system. Today, however, we continue to espouse ‘democratic socialist’ ideals, which according to our PM Lee, the ex-socialist LKY’s son, entails ‘an open and compassionate meritocracy, a fair and just society’. Having a ‘Singaporean Singapore’ was part of our unique brand of socialism as well. What we can’t decide on is how far ‘left-of-centre’ we have become, a term which suggests that we have been playing it straight down the line all along. Those who believe we’re a fascist state would beg to differ.

Considering how extreme left the PAP once was, maybe we have been steered in the ‘right’ direction all this time. Now, if only there’s a song lyric for that.

PAP’s succession planning in their DNA

From ‘Succession planning ‘part of Government’s DNA’, 1 March 2015, article by Lim Yan Liang, Sunday Times

Succession planning has long been a part of the Government’s DNA, and the next team of leaders who will helm the country is taking shape, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.

A key tenet of governance here has always been to ensure that good people will be in charge, he said after attending a Chinese New Year lunch with grassroots leaders from Geylang Serai constituency.

“Mr Lee Kuan Yew has always emphasised political succession, and when I took over, likewise, I planned for succession,” he said. “Prime Minister Lee is also working very hard to plan for succession.”

His comments to reporters came as the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (Perc) said in its risk rating update last Thursday that health issues affecting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew have put political succession in the spotlight.

…”It is hard for many Singaporeans even to imagine an island without a member of the Lee family at either the helm or being groomed for it, but that is another reality Singapore will have to face,” it  (Perc) added.

When one uses the analogy of ‘DNA’ like ESM Goh has you are implying that people, or organisations, are innately predisposed to a certain behaviour or characteristic. For example, ‘kiasuism’ is in our DNA, but without the right external trigger (PSLE) I wouldn’t be lining up to register for primary school at 3 in the morning. You don’t say ‘queuing’ is in our DNA. What he really means is that the PAP is ‘well prepared’ when the top man is suddenly removed due to unforseen circumstances, that ‘succession planning’ is really more a company ‘philosophy’ than a trait. In other words, ‘foresight’ is in your DNA, while succession planning is the natural outcome of it. Alas, according to PM Lee, there’s still room for improvement in that department.

It’s interesting how ESM Goh uses ‘DNA’ in this scenario, given that there are actual bloodlines running within the PAP, other than the world famous father-son link. Desmond Choo’s uncle is ex MP Choo Wee Khiang. Grace Fu and her dad James Fu is another example. Chua Mui Hoong once commented that the PAP should ‘change their DNA’ of ‘wonky leaders’ (policy wonks, she clarifies). Which makes me wonder if she passed her secondary school Science because you can’t ‘change your DNA’ unless you expose yourself to nuclear radiation. Law Minister Shanmugam says ‘looking after people‘ is in the PAP’s DNA. Again, confusion over what one actually does (look after people) vs what predisposes one to do (compassion). I’m not sure if the PAP has much to brag about either. What they do need is a refresher in biochemistry before using catchy buzzwords willy-nilly.

‘Succession planning’ is a whole business process by itself, but what it boils down to is who gets to rise, why he deserves it and who decides that he’s the chosen one. In the case of GCT himself, he was selected not by the people, nor the MPs, but an ‘inner circle’ of ‘cabinet ministers’. Back in 1985 he addressed murmurs that he was merely paving the way for LKY’s son by saying: ‘If Singapore will be better led by someone else, if I’m just to warm the seat, then so be it.’ A year later, everyone already knew what was in store for the younger Lee, when Goh was reported to have said that it was ‘unlikely’ that BG Lee would take the top job ‘immediately after LKY’s retirement’. Which makes ‘succession planning’ more of a formality of transparency. Up to now, we have been led by a successions of PMs fondly referred to by some as ‘The Father, the Son, and the Holy Goh’. God knows who’ll be the next in line. It’s easy for the ESM to glorify succession planning, but we may have a genuine problem on our hands if an heir apparent isn’t identified NOW.

As for our current PM, he intends to leave the decision of his successor to the ‘younger ministers and their generation‘. While we Singaporeans sit by, watch and place our bets. ‘Risk-taking’ through gambling is also in our DNA after all. So what would Singapore be like without a member of this ‘Lee dynasty’ at the helm then? There are those who believe that we’re not ready for a world without LKY. Perc seems to think the end of the Lee era would be unthinkable. PM Lee himself has mentioned that he does not envision his kids doing politics, so it’s very possible that the bloodline stops here. It’s up to us Singaporeans then to make sure the beating heart of the country doesn’t, whoever the baton is passed to. As LKY himself eloquently, and rather accurately, put it in his memoir ‘Lee Kuan Yew: The Critical Years 1971-1978 Vol 2:

…There is one fundamental quality we (Singaporeans) have, which nothing can change, and that is the verve, the vitality, the drive in our people. Call it what you will – the DNA – the double helix – whatever you like to call it, it is in us.

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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