Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Equality for the Malays: an open letter to PM

Open letter to PM: Make the Singapore Pledge a living reality


Dear PM 

Without the shadow of both MM and SM hovering over you, I think it will be easier for you to make a fresh start to remake Singapore in your image.

No doubt, your immediate priority will be on re-engaging with the younger generation, maintaining economic growth and improving the welfare of all Singaporeans, particularly the poorer sections of our society.

But I like to urge you also to take a fresh look at a problem that has festered like an open wound since independence 46 years ago.

I refer to the ambivalence of the PAP towards the Malay minority; on one hand, I believe, it sincerely wants to build a harmonious and progressive multiracial nation but on the other hand, it continues to harbour distrust against the community and restrict its members from participating in National Service and the security services.

Almost every Malay male from my generation onwards has a personal tale or two to tell of their unhappy experiences while in uniform. Many did not even have the opportunity of putting on a uniform.

As a former Brigadier General, I am sure you know the situation better than me and there is no need for me to elaborate, except to say that the time has come for a fresh start.

Many Malays have still not forgotten that in Aug 09 MM said in Parliament that Malays should not expect ‘’equal treatment’’ anytime soon as the Singapore Pledge on equality for all was only an ‘’aspiration’’ and not an ‘’ideology’’ and therefore it would take a long time to realize.

Just close your eyes and imagine for one moment what it feels like to be a Malay in Singapore.

If I have a son and he turns 18 years old today, he is likely to be held at arms’ length in the name of national security because of his name and religion.

But the son of any new immigrant from Timbuktu or Shenyang or Ulan Bator or Burunkundu will be warmly embraced and treated on equal terms with their Chinese, Indian and Eurasian peers.

Aside from having deep roots here over several generations, I have also paid my dues and made my little teeny mini contribution to the nation. Does it make any sense?

I know many Singaporeans including Malays prefer to ‘’close their eyes and shut their ears’’ on this issue, thinking that by burying it under the carpet, it will over time magically go away.

The problem with MM is that his undoubtedly unpleasant experiences at the hands of the Umno ultras impelled him to unjustifiably regard our little red dot as the Israel of the Malay world.

This is MM’s baggage that he has carried with him for almost half a century from the time when Singapore was in Malaysia. It is time you jettisoned it.

You must agree that events at home and the region since independence in 1965 do not warrant the extreme extent that Malays had been marginalized in the island’s defence and security services.

The vast majority of Malays are loyal and patriotic. They want nothing more than just to be treated equally like any other Singapore citizen.

The challenge for you now is how to make the Singapore Pledge a living reality by reconciling the Malay yearning for full equality with the PAP obsession on maintaining Chinese dominance and security.

In my No Hard Feelings memoir published in 08, I said that SM was not a seat warmer, but a system warmer because he preserved the system that he inherited and kept it in good order – after tweaking a little here and there – before passing it to you.

‘’Yes, Singapore continued to grow. So did the salaries of ministers and members of Parliament and the gap between the rich and the poor, while the curbs on political freedom remain intact,’’ I added.

I then asked whether you too would want to be a system warmer.

I am glad that you have decided otherwise, judging from the way you have conducted yourself in the recent general election, which, I would say is the cleanest and fairest polls fought by the PAP since independence.

At least, I know no opposition leader will be bankrupted or hounded out of the island.

 I hope you will keep up the momentum of change for a better Singapore where all irrespective of race, religion or social class can have a place under its immense shade.

 If there is any PAP leader who can right the wrong to the Malays, it is you.

 I have confidence in you because I have been reliably told that you have been meditating daily for years.

 Anyone who walks the path of meditation, and believes in the power of the qi and absorbs its benefits, will acquire a tremendous empathy for the ordinary man and the underdog and a deep sense of fair-play.  

Seize the moment. History is watching.

Ismail Kassim

17 May 2011


Review (here) of
A Reporter's Memoir: NO HARD FEELINGS (2008) by Ismail Kassim


Biography (source)

A Malay of Indian-Chinese origin, Ismail Kassim was a teacher, soldier, reporter, unionist before becoming the Straits Times Senior Correspondent in Kuala Lumpur.

During his 15 years stay there, he covered almost all the major events and interviewed almost every politician and social activist of any note.

He began his journalistic career with the New Nation in December 1972 soon after completing his Masters in Social Sciences (Political Science) at the then University of Singapore.

In the late 70s, he was secretary general of the Singapore National Union of Journalists and concurrently vice-president and president of the Confederation of Asean Journalists.

Ismail has two other publications to his credit. They are Problems of Elite Cohesion: A Perspective from a Minority Community (Singapore University Press, 1974) and Race, Politics and Moderation: A Study of the Malaysian Electoral Process (Times Books International, 1979)

At the inauguration of the annual Asean Awards in Bangkok in 1987 Ismail won the award in the field of Communication.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent reading