Thursday, May 24, 2007

Malays in the eyes of Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore's mentor minister, Lee Kuan Yew, had once painted a clear picture of the Malays, both in the republic and in Malaysia. He also exposed the different perspective of the Malays, by his son and current prime minister Brig-Gen (R) Lee Hsien Loong. The senior Lee said this in a 2003 'tea session' with the Singapore Malay/Muslim community leaders. Kuan Yew's perspective is very relevant today in light of the much-publicised Iskandar Development Region (IDR) in Johor which seeks Singaporean active participation and investments.

"From my childhood I had Malay friends. I played with kampong boys, both Malays and Chinese. At the age of 6, I went to Telok Kurau English School. There were many Malay pupils who had crossed over from Telok Kurau Malay School which was in the adjacent compound, sharing the same football field. So I grew up completely at ease with Malays: quite a few of my Malay fellow students went on with me to Raffles Institution".

According to Kuan Yew, his son Hsien Loong grew up in a period when political differences between the races were deliberately sharpened during Singapore's years in Malaysia, 1963-65.
"He is therefore very conscious of the dangers of antagonistic race relations and understands that the sensitivities of race and religion have to be tactfully managed."

Kuan Yew also spoke of Malayan Malay elites he met for the first time when he went to Raffles College.
"They had come mostly on Federal government or state government scholarships. (The scholarships were awarded by the British colonial administration- Syed Imran). They were more race conscious and mixed more among themselves than with Chinese, Indian and other students. It did not strike me strongly until after we joined Malaysia that they are different: a deep seated feeling that the country, Malaya, Tanah Melayu, was for the Malays," Kuan Yew added.

After the war, Kuan Yew went to England and became a lawyer. For his first case, he was assigned to defend four Malays who had been charged for the murder in the 1951 Bertha Hertogh (Natrah) riots of an Royal Air Force serviceman and his wife who were travelling in a bus along Geylang Serai. He got them acquitted.

In 1955, Kuan Yew decided to stand as a candidate for the Tanjong Pagar constituency where the Malay-majority postmen's quarters were. There was also a large contigent of Malay workers at the then Singapore Harbour Board quarters. He was confident that the Malays would support him, and they did.

However, Kuan Yew claimed that when trouble started with Malayan Malays agitating in Singapore after merger in 1963, "I discovered more differences between Malayan Malays and the Singapore Malays. The Singapore Malays accepted me as a fellow citizen, sharing the country with them, the Malayan Malays did not."

He said when Singapore became independent in 1965, he made a firm commitment not to let the Malay community down. That commitment, according to Kuan Yew, was shared by all his colleagues of the republic's original team (Cabinet).

"It has been our policy ever since. When we had to rebuild the city, we made sure that as the suraus were demolished, new mosques were built in the new towns, better and bigger. We made sure that our Malays are free to practice their customs and religion. We made sure that there was as much intermingling as possible with the other races in housing, schools, markets shopping centres and community centres. We have made progress."

He admitted that there were difficulties when old Malay settlements had to be demolished and people re-housed. But after the initial years, Malays were reassured that life in the new housing estates was better than in the old settlements.

Social attitudes and values of the people, including the Malays, have changed, both in Singapore and in Malaysia, but in different ways, said Kuan Yew.

"This is because the two countries have different education systems and different social structures that have made for different social relations between the races."

With such differences, 'multiple differences' cannot be avoided if and when Singaporeans decided to invest and to settle down in IDR.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The whole scenario is simple! What kind of a leader is leading the nation!
We have seen LKY and MM.
You know the different product that comes out from them!