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Malay-Muslims want clarification from Lee Kuan Yew

Straits Times September 29, 1999
A question of loyalty: the Malays in Singapore
                     Malay minster defends Lee

         They ask for clarification from him on his recent remarks on community's          soldiers with Malaysian family ties

TWO Malay-Muslim groups want a dialogue between their community and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew on his remarks on Malay-Muslim soldiers here who have family ties in Malaysia.

Taman Bacaan, a grassroots group, said yesterday that Malay MPs should have a "heart-to-heart" and "once and for all" discussion with Mr Lee on the issue, and get clarification and elaboration on his concerns as well as vision for the community.

This should happen before the convention being organised in December, which aims to ensure that the community would not be left behind in a knowledge-based economy, it said.

Taman Bacaan's president and chief executive officer, Mr Abdul Halim Kader, also urged Malay-Muslim Singaporeans not to make hasty conclusions on the remarks.

The other group -- Majlis Pusat, the central council for 38 Malay-Muslim cultural bodies -- suggested that Malay-Muslim grassroots leaders and groups also take part in the dialogue and "put the issue of Malay-Muslim loyalty to rest, once and for all".

Mr Lee's remarks, made in reply to a question by a polytechnic student at a Tanjong Pagar Singapore 21 forum recently, were published on Sept 19.

The polytechnic student wondered if certain instinctive emotional bonds among the ethnic groups here could be overcome so that Singapore could become a nation.

Mr Lee's reply: "Yes, I think so, over a long period of time, and selectively.

"We must not make an error.

"If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who's very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that's a very tricky business. We've got to know his background.

"I'm saying these things because they are real, and if I don't think that, and I think even if today the Prime Minister doesn't think carefully about this, we could have a tragedy. "

Majlis Pusat's secretary-general, Mr Ja'afar Sidin, said these remarks could be misinterpreted to affirm Indonesian President B.J. Habibie's statement earlier this year that Singapore Malays were being discriminated against in the Singapore Armed Forces.

Mr Lee's remarks could also be misinterpreted as a repudiation of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Tony Tan's subsequent statement that there was no room for discrimination here.

Malay-Muslim Singaporeans, Mr Ja'afar warned, could "begin to believe that they will never be accepted and thus entertain the thoughts of a Malay diaspora where they think their loyalty would, at least, not be in question".

He also urged ministers and MPs from the minority communities to speak up and address the concern among Malay-Muslim Singaporeans who wonder if Mr Lee's views reflected the general thinking of the top political leaders here.

Published in the Straits Times. September 29, 1999

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