Perkasa, a Malaysian extreme right-wing non-governmental organisation, has called on the government there to issue a letter of protest to Singapore over remarks made by Singapore’s Law Minister, K Shanmugam, on Saturday.
Mr Shanmugam, speaking at seminar organised by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) in Singapore, had compared Singaporean Malays with their Malaysian counterparts.
Mr Shanmugam, according to a Channel Newsasia report, had noted that “a Singaporean Malay, in terms of education standing, skills and wealth, is better off than a Malaysian or Indonesian Malay.”
“Look at the progress in education – our PISA scores, look at mathematics, science, reading,” Mr Shanmugam said. “Compare a Malay PMET in Singapore and a Malay PMET in Malaysia, who is doing better. The same goes for the Indians, and for the Chinese in Singapore. Take them versus their counterparts across the causeway or around the region, we do better.”
Mr Shanmugam’s point was that Malays in Singapore have “made significant social and economic progress over the years, and they can become a community that’s modern, vibrant and confident.”
“The framework has therefore been created for tremendous success,” the minister said.
He further encouraged the Malay community here to aim for even more, and to become a “beacon” for the world.
“Look around the world today,” Mr Shanmugam said. “Many Islamic societies are searching for the path forward on how to be successful. They are asking themselves what is the correct path? How will they achieve success? What does successful mean? In that context, look at the future and see how our Malay-Muslim community can be the beacon for the rest of the world.”
“With a stable, strong political system, with a strong Government, with a guarantee for the minorities … with this framework, we can become the community that Muslim societies in other countries look towards and say, this is the example,” Mr Shanmugam added.
The minister’s remarks comparing Singapore with Malaysia, however, did not go down well with Perkasa.
Its deputy chairman, Sirajuddin Salleh, said the minister’s remarks were uncalled for.
“I am concerned about the statement,” Mr Sirajuddin said. “It is not diplomatic and is an insult to the King and the government of Malaysia.”
Saying that the two countries were close neighbours and that there should be greater diplomacy between them, Mr Sirajuddin wants the Malaysian government to register its unhappiness with Singapore.
“I hope Wisma Putra will issue a strong protest letter,” he said. “To me, the remark is not good. I will not touch on the content because it is very subjective.”
“It is just like if he comes to my house and says something that is not nice. Whether he is right or not, that is subjective, but in this case, it is not very nice.”
Subjective or not, Mr Shanmugam’s comments are in fact supported by Malaysia’s own former Law Minister, Zaid Ibrahim.
Writing on his blog in 2015, Mr Zaid said that “Malays [in Malaysia] should be given the best opportunities to improve and they deserve much more than what they currently have.”
This, however, is not the case “because they do not have a good government with honest leaders.”
Mr Zaid said in Singapore, its “leaders are clean and the transparent system of government there means it’s a lot more difficult to siphon off public money for private use.”
“That’s what Malays here need,” Mr Zaid said. “Good government with good, clean and honest leaders.”
“Singaporean Malays, although a minority, are also not marginalised,” Mr Zaid explained. “Many of them are happy with the Singaporean Government and it would be silly for the PAP to even think of discriminating against Malays and risk forfeiting 15 per cent of the vote.”
“Singaporean Malays reap the benefits of the modern advanced economy that is Singapore and are encouraged by political leaders to develop themselves,” Mr Zaid said. “In Malaysia, Malays are happy to let their leaders make all the money as long as they promise to ‘defend’ bahasa, bangsa and agama (“language, race and religion”).”
“I can’t wait for Malays here to be like Singaporean Malays,” Mr Zaid said.
In his speech, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Home Affairs Minister, had also flagged another concern – that of radicalisation among Malays in Malaysia.
Citing a Pew Research Centre study which showed more than 10% of Malaysian Malays had a favourable opinion of the terrorist organisation, Islamic State (ISIS), Mr Shanmugam said “we have to make sure we do not get there.”
“And a key part of that depends on you, the leaders of the Malay community – whether you can make sure that the right religious values are put forth. We have to work hard at this because the influences are on the Internet,” the minister said.
According to the Pew study results, which was gleaned from its 2015 Global Attitudes survey, the level of support for ISIS in Malaysia was tied for second place with Senegal among 11 nations with significant Muslim populations polled.
25% of Malaysian respondents said they “don’t know” how they viewed ISIS, despite the Malaysian government declaring the group to be a terrorist organisation.
To date, more than 100 suspected militants have been arrested and detained in Malaysia for suspected links to terrorism or terrorist groups and activities.
In 2015, Malaysia’s Defence Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, revealed that Malaysian leaders were being targeted by the local cell of ISIS.
In 2016, Mr Shanmugam described the events in Malaysia then, where several ISIS-inspired attacks were foiled, as “troubling.”
Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking at the second SRP Distinguished Lecture and Symposium, said past failures of leadership have led to conditions ripe for “an explosion of terrorism, based on religion” in the region.
These failures, he said, include the “cynical exploitation” of race and religion by some secular and religious leaders, the relative lack of focus on development and education by various governments, and a lack of strong commitment to multi-ethnicity.
“The proliferation of charismatic preachers who advocate intolerance, violence; the availability of such teachings on the Internet; the glorification of terror, violence, beheadings – these international events, trends are fusing perfectly with fertile conditions in this region, to beget violence and terror,” the minister said.