The Online Citizen

Singapore’s first Malay general – a star of things to come?

June 29
00:11 2009

Khairulanwar Zaini / Current Affairs Department

From 1st July, Colonel Ishak bin Ismail caps his 28 years with the Singapore Armed Forces by being the first Malay to attain the rank of brigadier-general. The first Malay one-star general is clearly one for the history books, but the question remains whether it will be the only star shining for the foreseeable future.

The Straits Times lauded the promotion of the current Commander of 6th Division as “a milestone in Malays’ efforts to be fully accepted in the military”; it was only in 1987 that another brigadier-general doubted the loyalty of Malay soldiers by virtue of their religion: “If there is a conflict, we don’t want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may be in conflict with his emotions for his religion … We don’t want to put anybody in that position where he feels he is not fighting a just cause, and perhaps worse, maybe his side is not the right side.” (Then-BG (Res) Lee Hsien Loong, who was also then Second Minister for defence.)

BG Ishak: Trailblazer or token?

There are many unresolved issues in the prickly relationship between the government and the largest minority race, particularly about its role in the military. Member of Parliament Zaqy Mohamad acknowledged in TODAY that COL Ishak’s promotion “dispels some talk” of “Malays (not) serving in the upper echelons of the SAF”. However, is COL Ishak a trailblazer or, in Mr Zaqy’s own words, the “token”?

Citing sui generis examples like COL Ishak as testament of progress has its limitations. That it required 44 years post-independence to see a Malay general indicate progress long overdue; meanwhile, the single Malay general reflects another somber truth: while Malays are arguably more integrated into the rank-and-file of the SAF, their representation in the officer and staff ranks remains lamentable.

The harsh reality is that COL Ishak, foisted to be the standard bearer for Malay achievement in the military, is also the exception.  Furthermore, it is an open secret that certain vocations are made inaccessible to Malays for security considerations. Gradual steps have been taken to open hitherto sensitive vocations to Malays, but most remain tight-shut.

More work, and numbers, needed

Measuring the progress of Malays in the military requires more than the promotion of one man. The selective interpretation of the first but singular Malay general, or that the infantry has a high proportion of Malay specialists, misses germane concerns.

For a more accurate assessment to determine whether Malays are “fully accepted” in the military, more numbers could be made transparent by MINDEF without much risk to security: the racial breakdown of the officer corps by rank structure, and also the racial profile of every cohort that gains entry into the prestigious Officer Cadet School and the School of Infantry Specialists.  Furthermore, a racial breakdown of manpower strength by vocation will be useful in confirming (or debunking) the veracity of anecdata that purports overrepresentation of Malays in combat service support such as transport, medical and logistics while being virtually absent in the more technical and sensitive combat arms like artillery, armour and combat engineers as well as the other two armed services, the navy and air force.

The Value of Citizenship over Race

Underlying this backslapping of “Malay progress” is the deeper issue of racial identities vis-a-vis a national one.

Ironically, efforts at racial integration has been impeded by the government’s own CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others) policy that typecasts a racial profile for every citizen. The policy presupposes that every Chinese is a Confucianist, that every Indian is a cultural traditionalist, and that every Malay is a strict Islamic practitioner who prioritizes adherence to faith over country.

With a single stroke of an alphabet, every Singaporean is automatically embedded with a culture at birth; a child inherits the father’s ‘race’ – with all its associated trappings – while all possible ambiguities of racial identities are dismissed. Other than failing to identify with the dilemma of ‘mixed’ parentage, the government’s predilection with hyphenated-citizens undermines national identity for a more parochial racial one.

Not only does this policy results in the partition self-help groups along ethnic lines which can conceivably encumber social work efforts, it is also partly responsible for perpetuating the impression of the enigmatic Malay Singaporean whose loyalty is always mired in doubt. In the words of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, “It would be a very tricky business for the SAF to put a Malay officer who was very religious and who had family ties in Malaysia, in charge of a machine-gun unit.”

As long as the government holds onto this perspective, the promise of Minister for Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim as mentioned in TODAY that “hard work and playing by the rules would bring its rewards in a meritocratic society” remains a distant dream.

Progress: Community and National Pride

Considering that Malay youths were not conscripted in the initial decade after the inception of National Service, Brigadier-General Ishak is undoubtedly a watershed, albeit much belated. While not depriving the man of his deserving success, it may be more prudent to dampen the carousel and examine whether the promotion has any effective and lasting significance on the notion of meritocracy and race relations not only in the military, but in the general public sphere as well.

1st July will be a proud day for one Malay man and his family, and the Malay community will collectively bask in shared glory. It will be a much prouder day for the nation if PM Lee Hsien Loong rescinds the policy statement that he made in 1987 and the government abandons the CMIO scheme.

The long-lasting hope to nurture and develop a full-fledged nation out of this city-state is laudable. That can be realized if Singaporeans, of varying racial affiliations and religious persuasions, can be identified for whom they fundamentally are, first and foremost: Singaporean citizens.

With contributions by: Ravi Philemon

Pictures from Mindef website.


  • Finally

    Finally a Malay merited a promotion to BG. A long wait.

    What next? Next President a Malay? No Malay President since 1970.

  • Flower Vase President

    are for window dressing as of and for now, any Race will do.

    In fact, one may do away with one in SIN.

  • anon

    much as i dislike pap and irs policies, i think what LHL said in 1987 made sense…

  • smallvice585

    This is something worthed celebrating. By looking down on Malays in the SAF, resentment among Malay soldiers would be the weakest link in the SAF chain of command. We need to do better to integrate Malay and all minority races in the SAF. Remember, we are Singaporeans first. Our nationality precedes our race, religion and language.

  • aiyoyo


    more abangs to come?


  • Star7

    “Furthermore, it is an open secret that certain vocations are made inaccessible to Malays for security considerations”

    Precisely. The moment I read the article on TNP, I knew it was an incorrect portrayal of Malays in the SAF.

  • Anil Balchandani

    Excellent, excellent, excellent write up. Thanks

  • agongkia

    By looking down on Malays in the SAF….
    I think you had got it all wrong.
    I had been working with them closely in a few uniform organisation and many of them appear to me to be more loyal than others . I do not feel that they are being look down upon.
    However looking at the picture carefully,putting them in certain position will make them in a difficult position esp. when coming to decision making ,if there is a conflict of interest .,though I do not doubt their loyalty.
    We can always have a Malay President,PM,SM ,CP etc but military position in SAF should not be taken lightly.
    In fact I even feel that the SAF Organisation Structure above should be restricted and not displayed here.

    My heartiest congratulation to Col Ishak b Ismail.I am proud of you.

  • Loyola

    The structure is available in public domain. Organisational transparency is the hallmark of a maturing military, not one that skulks in the dark.

  • smallvice585

    hi agongkia,

    What conflict of interest? You might as well say the same thing about Christians since there are some who subscribe to Christian Nationalism. If you want to single out Muslims, don’t forget to single out Christians too.

  • A Tan

    I always reckon that Malays always treat all their professions with prides

  • theforgottongeneration

    We should applaude Colonel Ishak bin Ismail on making BG grade, regardless of his race, etc. Of course, like President Obama, being a first in a position of importance is great pride for his community. But only the person himself/herself knows if it his/her position is gained thru merits or as a poster-person.

    My personal opinion is that our BG grade is not much but a political statement since LHL became probably the youngest BG ever in his early ’30s. Now he is the “general” of our nation, the current “battle” is the recession (and declining visitors, ST, 26 June). Are we winning? Or are there more jobless, more citizens on the fringe, more earning less while he earns most? Is he “fighting” for the true-blue Sporeans or for the FTs/MNCs/TH? PERHAPS NOW IS TIME FOR THE GAHMEN TO MAKE A STATEMENT ON HOW TIME SERVED IN NS/RESERVIST IS HELPING SPOREAN MALES IN THE ECONOMIC SCENE. Are they paid better, has higher/equal chance to be employed, have sympathetic employers when they have to take time off for Reservist, etc…? Or are they digits?

    I will be more convinced, if in event of war, the person BESIDE me taking the bullet has EQUAL chance to be either CMIO. Looking at percentage of our front-line soldiers, that person will likely be a C, and this doesn’t mean the FT/FW hordes currently here from C****! Is this because of merit, statement, necessity or discrimination?

    Look at the FT from Malaysia, currently MP in AMK GRC — made STTA president. Meritocratic, poster-girl or apple-polisher? Her ability to “take cover” (& her Malaysian backup status) definitely preclude her taking a bullet in a war! Is she worth, what, $14K per month?

    Again, congras to Col. Ishak. Hope he can shows us what a leader is to NSmen, regardless of race, religion, language, of course.

  • bachikoo

    I am sure our Malays in singapore are proud about this ‘first’.

    By the way, i curious, is he a PAP member?
    or Grassroots leader?

    i very kapoh wan.

  • agongkia

    9)Hi smallvice585
    Agree with you but t I am not talking about religion here as I dun single out any religion.
    By looking at the map and our surrounding,I put my position in the minority ‘s shoes and ask myself on certain doubt .Not holding sensitive position may not necessary be something bad.Again,I maintain that our Malay friend are loyal.

  • Retiree

    My congratulations to Col. Ishak Bin Ismail on his promotion to BG. The way I look at it, promotions in SAF to the higher rank are mainly based firstly on paper qualifications and then perhaps on merits. If one is a President or SAF scholar, one is surely to make the grade at least up to the rank of Col. The fact that there are very few Malay President or SAF scholars will make it extremely difficult for Malays to become LG or at least up to BG rank. After Col Ishak or rather BG Ishak, we don’t know how long more we have to wait before another of our fellow Malay citizen can make the grade to BG. Anyway it is a good start and I hope more will be able to make the grade like what BG Ishak has achieved.

  • ErniesUrn

    I hope to see all races in RSAF …especially more malay fighter pilots and crew and engineers. Some how MIINDEF has “forgotten” to deploy them in these area. Need more abangs.

  • poeticmi

    The litmus test here is whether the new General will have access to vital security information. If he had lesser access as compared to his counterparts, then it would certainly be a political ploy to win the hearts of the Malays.

    However, let’s not also forget that he is the commander of the 6th infantry division and this division is the our first frontline against any threat from Malaysia. With the current hanky panky of the new Malaysia premier, it would be a good military ploy if SG install a Malay general to be in charge.

    Think of it this way, Currently, Malaysia feels that Malays in SG loyalty can be split. So, if they go to war with SG, not only there is external offense but internal war can also broke out. If they put a Malay general, then the Malaysians would think twice about the loyalty of the Malays.

    I am a Malay, but I do not think his promotion is a victory to the Malays until I see more opportunities, and lesser discrimination, given to us to prove our capabilities.

  • anakin

    Hohum…..Malaysia had its first Chinese General about 8 years ago and no media fenzy on that story. In fact, our beloved ST forum had some letters saying that its was window dressing. Even, Indonesia has minority races in important Minister post such as Trade and Industry, etc. I wonder when Singapore will have that?

  • Pride and Prejudice

    I have followed some of the pieces by Khairulanwar. Though no doubt a good writer and asset for TOC, I find his writings to sometimes be verbose, to rehash what is already known, and most importantly and ironically, to view things from the lens of the establishment, the very entity that he purports to criticize in the first place.

    The problem with writers like Khairulanwar, Farquhar (“A Malay Dilemma”), Haireez (“Minority PM: Time for the leadership to take the lead”) and many well-meaning educated others is how they equate PAP politics with community progress. No promotion of Malays within the PAP leadership is worrying for the community (witness the major Berita Harian commentaries); no Malay Prime Minister yet (a position that is not even decided by the electorate) is a prerequisite for Malay progress; no general in a military body that is very much loyal to one party (witness the number of generals who have become PAP leaders) is an affront for Malays; no Malay PAP minister other than one that is in charge of collecting garbage is unacceptable. The list of conflating Malay progress with the PAP establishment’s policy is long. They think they are championing for change and progress when in fact these writers and others fail to see beyond the obvious and are simply supporting the status quo. Priding in seeing one of their own make it, they are still nonetheless prejudiced by the limitations in thinking imposed by the establishment. They equate community with party.

    No sir, “a prouder day for the nation” is when we stop measuring a community’s progress and our nation’s progress by the whims of one party. While not belittling the massive accomplishments of BG Ishak, give me for example, Malay senior counsels, Malay Nobel Prize nominees, and Malay civic organisations with progressive agenda anytime over more Malay PAP MPs, ministers and generals.

  • Colonel Jessup

    you can’t handle the truth…..and the truth is that you can’t have such people guarding these door just as you can’t have Cubans guarding Guatanamo Naval Base.

  • winstoncheng

    “If there is a conflict, we don’t want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may be in conflict with his emotions for his religion … We don’t want to put anybody in that position where he feels he is not fighting a just cause, and perhaps worse, maybe his side is not the right side.” (Then-BG (Res) Lee Hsien Loong, who was also then Second Minister for defence.)’

    I do NOT agree with what was said above. Singapore will never be at war with a religion. If we have to fight a JI or Al-Qaeda attack from a neighbouring country for example, we are fighting terrorism, not a religion. A muslim in a high military position should be able to discern that.

    On the issue of fighting a `just’ or `wrong’ cause, that does not necessarily apply only to a person of certain religion or vocation. A Christian or Buddist policeman who is arresting a dissident may also feel that way if he uphold a view that is different from that of the government. However, donning the blue uniform, he still has to carry out the orders and do the job.

    I feel that it is a prejudice to say that this group is more emotional and less able to discern between duty and personal interest than another group.

  • Pingback: The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 29 Jun 2009

  • http://blog budamax1952

    #18Pride and Prejudice///They equate cummunity with party///;;;I thoroughly agree with your astute views and i am impressed with your understanding of this important point that many people cannot see or refuse to see. One of the main reasons, in my opinion, is the long period of ‘state-propaganda’ and ‘state-nurturing’ that everyone is subjected to, from kindergarden age onwards, with the result that a vast majority of the population have been successfully brainwashed by the PAPies. Therefore, i’d like TOC to take a more hard-line in their policy and i hope to see articles which can inspire the masses in their upcoming war against the PAPies.

  • Dr Syed Alwi

    Dear People,

    Now that you have a Malay General – then what ? What can this Malay General do to improve the quality of your life ? Look – this guy has to toe the PAP line.

    I have a feeling that he will be the next President as they need to put up a Malay candidate for the Presidency soon.

    However – as always with the PAP – this guy will merely toe the line.

    Yes Sir ! Yes Sir ! Three bags full !!

    Best Regards
    Dr Syed Alwi

  • Sean

    While our leaders are preoccupied with the loyalty of our fellow malay comrades, what is the deeper issue is whether yr average NS men will take up arms if needed. It is widely acknowledged that mot S’porean male will just serve and f**k off, now with more salt rubbed in with the liberal FT policy. The typical S’pore male is a poor suffering soul, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. My main worry in not whether the malay soldier will turn the rifle, rather that nobody will even bother to do so, regardless chinese, indian or malay. NS is a hugh liability/ disadvantage to the 20 – 30% of our population (according to some estimates), who cares so much for the day to utilise what you are trained for. Ask the FTs and the foreigners to contribute and defend this wonderful country that they have discovered and wish to live here for the rest of their lives. IMO, more like rats who will not hesitate to jump ship.

  • Dr Syed Alwi

    Dear People,

    I am sure that this Malay General will obey superior orders no matter what. That he will follow the PAP line. That he will NOT push any other opinions – other than the PAP view.

    So how does this Malay General improve the life of Malays here ?

    Dr Syed Alwi

  • patriot

    Why should there be racial discrimination in the SAF ?

    Liked what many others have said, if we are all Singaporeans.

    What kind of loyalty can we expect from the fast becoming citizens foreigner settlers ?

    During the Japanese Occupation, there were Singaporean Chinese working for the Japanese in many roles and there were also Non- Chinese, especially Malays, who fought and sacrificed themselves for the country as well as their Chinese Compatriots. Till today, many in China still remember the many traitor
    Chinese that sold their souls to work for the Japanese who massacred hundreds of thousands in Nanking alone.


  • wayang wankers

    i get the impression our side is trying to sell our “meritocratic system” to our neigbors.

    under the present religious climate, i seriously doubt the token gesture will alter the gigantic plate techtonics shift in an already polarized world.

    it is not the military suit that’s making the people uncomfortable. it is the man in the business suit that’s the cause of contention.

  • ManKhan

    That guy looks indian to me.. :)..

  • tryathlete

    Pride and Prejudice>

    Khairulanwar was using an actual event, ie. a ‘Malay Singaporean’ achieving a rank previously unattained by other ‘Malay Singaporeans’ in an organisation that discriminates against ‘Malay Singaporeans’, in order to highlight the failings of viewing such achievements through the ‘lens of the establishment’ (ie. the CMIO classification).

    It is intersting that in your suggestion to highlight, as an alternative, ‘Malay senior counsels, Malay Nobel Prize nominees, and Malay civic organisations with progressive agenda anytime over more Malay PAP MPs, ministers and generals’, you also fall into the establishment view of placing that these achievements into the CMIO framework. You may have shrugged off PAP’s view of ‘progress’, but you accept PAP’s view of ‘community’?

  • theforgottongeneration

    @18) Pride and Prejudice on June 29th, 2009 10.46 am

    Very good insights of yours. But I think we have to wait long, long for answers … Now, OTC was a people’s President, don’t care if he was black or white cat.

  • aygee

    As mentioned in the piece, may Col Ishak be a trailblazer, and not a token showcase, just “to show that SAF do have malays in the higher echelons.”

    During my time in the SAF, more than 15 years ago, we had our one malay Artillery officer. He appeared on Pioneer magazine every few months or so. But i’ve not heard of another malay Artillery officer since then.

    and lets hope and see if Col Ishak continues to serve in MINDEF, and the 6th Division, rather than given a military attache position in some godforsaken country, away from it all.

    We also had our first Malay SAF scholar recently – a few years ago. and a Sword of Honour officer too. I wonder how their progress are. there’s not been a follow up story since then. Which arm of the SAF are they serving? Have they finished their SAF scholarships?

    Khairulanwar – Maybe you can research and do stories on them too?

    And on those who say Malays’ loyalty will be at question – i echo those who said that if we’re ever going to war, it wont be for religion…but for country.

    And to those Malays who might question their loyalty if we’re going to war – I ask one simple question – DO YOU THINK ANY OF THE OPPOSING FORCES WONT SHOOT YOU? that they only pick out the non-malays in a war with Singapore? Even if a war “based on religion” ever happens, you think they have special weapons that pick out non-muslims? JI wanting to blow up MRT stations, do u think those bombs focused only on non-muslims?

    If you really think your loyalty to Singapore vs faith to Islam will be challenged, i just think you need to really sit down and think about it – what does the enemy think? do you think they’ll discriminate and pick and choose who they kill?

    Col Ishak, sir, I salute you. I just hope to see you continue to command within Singapore, and at MINDEF… the pressure must be tough on you, as the whole of SAF is watching you now. your performance, your decisions, your every word.

  • Pride and Prejudice II

    To tryathlete:

    Can I humbly suggest that you re-read Khairulanwar’s article? He uses words like “watershed”, “progress”, “history books”, “shared glory”, etc. and it is very clear that Khairulanwar along with other similar writers before him are intoxicated by these “developments”. Without the requisite sobriety, they don’t realize that a community’s or nation’s progress has to be far deeper than what politicking some dominant party of the day happens to be doing.

    I used the concept of community, which is a fluid, self-identifying, bottom-up aggregation of, what L. Andaya calls, “market-place” identity (this itself already highlights the problems in defining progress of based on what one monolithic power does). Before the PAP, there were porous, fluid, vibrant communities of Malays, Indians, Chinese, Arabs, etc. and when the PAP is dead, there will still be those communities perhaps with different outlooks and demographic make-up. The CMIO framework is the “discursive” kind that is paternalistic, top-down, authoritarian sets of identities which anyone familiar with the academic literature or have lived through will know, do not correspond with the realities of the lives people lead (I for example, am Indian in the CMIO framework, but I have been completely brought up the “Malay way” and cannot identify one bit with the “Indian” in my IC, and I know I am not alone). I am not sure if you understand the idea of community formation and identity beyond what the PAP tells you (the unchanging, paternalistic, hereditarian, on-your-IC kind). To think I accept

    There are fascinating issues as brought up by other good commentators but I’m afraid the famous doctor is now here to diagnose the problem. Anyone familiar with TOC will know what happens next. So, it’s off from me!

  • Khairulanwar

    Hello (18) and (32) Pride and Prejudice

    Fair point about the verbosity, you are not the first to point about it out heh. Still trying to improve and get the balance right; sorry about that (:

    Addressing your concerns, the article was not about being ‘intoxicated by these “developments”‘, but to highlight the shortcoming of using this promotion as an evidence of ‘community’s progress.’

    In terms of the lexicons used that you found disagreeable (“watershed”, “progress”, “history books”, “shared glory”) – I believe a closer reading would reveal that there are qualifiers to my praise. I cannot deny that the MSM narrative of Malay progress has some ground. From how I see it, the first Malay general is a positive net development given the historical baggage, but how much the promotion really means and matters in substance is the critical question.

    To that, I think we still have more work to do – and one of that revolves around the unwieldy CMIO framework that requires addressing, which I believe that you can concur to.

  • anakin


    Exactly my point. Singapore claims to be meritocratic but discriminates subtlely, where else our neighbours do so openly with its NEP. So what is the difference? We have not had a single minority Minister in an important portfolio such as Finance, Trade and Industry or Defence and I doubt we shall have one very soon. One of my close friends who was a Malay took the trouble to learn Mandarin up to A level and what did he get for his trouble? Suspicion only. He told me if they came to know he knew Mandarin, they will say “lucky i did not say anything bad about you”. FYI, he is now a General Manager in Dalian, China, where he says no one has ever uttered such a remark to him in China and are very happy to know that he took the trouble to learn Mandarin and appreciate that.

  • A Tan

    Gd for him and SAF.

    On LHL’s comment, I was appalled and upset, at the time, that the loyalty of the Malays to S’pore was doubted.

    But the following facts show that his comments were not unreasonable

    – in the fighting in Sulawesi between Christians and Muslims a few yrs ago, there is documented evidence of Muslim soldiers joining in the fighting on side of Muslims. , Soldiers had been tasked to keep the piece.
    – An American Muslim soldier threw a grenade at his buddles when the Americans were massing to invade Kuwait.
    – I have been told that the Indian army has had problems with Muslim soldiers who refuse to fight Muslim insurgents in Kashmir.

  • T

    /// 33) Khairulanwar on June 29th, 2009 3.44 pm
    Hello (18) and (32) Pride and Prejudice
    Fair point about the verbosity, you are not the first to point about it out heh. Still trying to improve and get the balance right; sorry about that (: ///

    Yup – and why the need to throw in the Latin “sui generis”? Where is your Sense and Sensibility?

    And congrats to Col Ishak – he made it against all odds. But the question remains, and I have the same sense of unease – will patriotism or the ummah be the bigger influencing factor when push comes to shove?

  • http://blog budamax1952

    #29tryathlete;;;You seem to restict “the lens of the establishment” to just “the CMIO classification”, when the actual fact is that it runs the whole gamut—everything can be viewed through this particular ‘lens’.I am sure “Pride and Prejudice” has a wider perspective. And another thing ,”the whims of one party” (to quote Pride and Prejudice) are involved here and it is not just a case of 2 alternatives.

  • pugdragon

    In modern Singapore, race has nothing to do with loyalty to a certain affiliation. I’m yellow & yet still get conscripted against my own will in a place ruled mainly by yellows ministers. Dishonest Chinese have no qualms about scamming other Chinese for their own benefits. Race has nothing to do with loyalty. This Malay general probably has much more loyalty to Singapore, with a large yellow population, than yellow me. ‘Cos I don’t like to be enslaved against my own will in NS (national slavery).

  • tryathlete

    pride and prejudice>

    Well, you did suggest using ‘Malay’ accomplishments – i took that as tacit acceptance of the validity of ‘M’ in ‘CMIO’. In the same way that you say Khairulanwar is ‘intoxicated’ by the PAP’s formulation of ‘success’ (because he acknowledges the so-called progress within that particular framework of ‘success’), I meant that you, in your suggestions, have accepted the PAP’s formulation of ‘community’ (because you place – or agree with the – particular importance on ‘Malay’ as a community identifier without any discussion on how porous that concept can be).

    Of course, clearly you have demonstrated some academic knowledge on community formation in your follow-up comment, and now I have to ask, what would it mean if we have a ‘Malay’ Nobel Prize winner, or any of your other examples of ‘community progress’? Don’t we also have to reject, or reformulate, or at least address, the PAP formulation of ‘community’?

    Kahirulanwar does use words like “watershed”, “progress”, “history books”, “shared glory”, but so what? Is it not important to take the top-down narrative and then place it in what I think we agree is the proper context? A context that is free of the PAP’s incomplete and inaccurate definitions of ‘success’ and ‘community’? Sure, it may be rehashed and it might not be anything new (to you), but I think it’s still useful to keep reframing MSM stories outside of MSM definitions. And some acknowledgement of those definitions are just unavoidable in these types of discussion. Acknowledgement does not mean validation or acceptance, although I admit that is itself debatable.

  • tryathlete


    of course not, I brought up the CMIO thing because I thought it was strangely left unaddressed in his first comment, where he said we should reject the PAP’s notions of ‘success’, but left the notion of ‘Malay’ as a community alone. I am well aware that the ‘lens’ in question here is more than just the CMIO concept, but in this discussion, I think the CMIO concept is a particularly pertinent one.

    um, not sure if the ‘whim’ thing was directed at me, but I don’t think I said anything about only 2 alternatives. Did I?

  • http://blog budamax1952

    #29tryathlete;;;And further, on the subject of ‘alternatives’, in my opinion, where TOC stand, there are also 2 alternatives;;(1) you can be a bunch of softies who have succumbed to the PAPy propaganda machine;;or;;(2) you can speak out the truth without fear or favour and be real leaders of men. Pardon my harsh language, but personally, i still have a lot of faith in TOC.

  • art of hoodwinking

    to Pride and Prejudice, budamax1952
    well said !

    The infrastructure, military hardware and foreign reserves count for nothing if more than 50% of our young men do not feel they have a stake nor worth their while defending the red dot………… An independent survey may prove this.

    Whilst doubts were cast on Malay loyalty, the ruling party members themselves have already betrayed the citizens……………….by not speaking up and voting independently on issues of great concern to all citizens.

    The Malay community have the right to feel proud that one of them has finally earned the star but I urge them to look at the system behind the promotion.
    Can anyone vouch that our incumbent PM deserved to attain the rank of BG at the ripe old age of 30+ ? Being in the famiLee sure helps, right ? lol

    How many of us view these generals and ministers as inspiring leaders ?

    After 50 years of being subjected to the whims of one party, it begs the question, are we really a nation ?

  • interested

    firstly, congratulations to our first malay BG. it had taken a long time to come. i hope that the mindset of government will change and allow equal opportunity to one and all regardless of race colour creed or religion, as our pledge says!
    the gahmen good at applying double standards. “do what i tell you to do, don’t do as i do.”
    when i was completing my ns in early ’70s i was asked by my CO to sign on as a regular officer (being one of those recruited under the ihl scheme), with a promotion as well. already at that point in time, the policy of excluding malays from the army was in place. my malay graduate officer friend, was placed in sbmt and thereafter excluded from doing reservist training, unlike the other races. my answer was a firm ‘no’ because of the discriminatory policy in place.
    we should do away with this discriminatory policy and allow all to compete on an equal footing based on meritocracy alone!

  • Juliana

    IMHO With respect to the current citizentry of thousands of Chinese immigrants will there be similar loyalty issues should we be at war with china? Theoretically the same reasoning would be true, notwithstanding that they will win anyway due to the size of their military.

  • Dr Frankenstein

    #36 A Tan

    Going by your logic, then MSK would not have be caught in Msia by now and in indonesia twice. Also, Saudi interior ministry troops would not have fired and killed Al-Qeada terrorists in Kolba and Yemeni security guards would have allowed terrorist into the US embassy compound and Pakistani police would have allowed militants to fire on the bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketeers. But sorry to disappoint you….but in all of the above, they did their duty regardless of the religion of their adversaries.

  • 1WO Ayadorai Palaniappan

    Malaysia had its first Chinese generals (and also admirals) in 1980s, MG Lai Chung Wah from Armour Corps, the late MG (R) Lui Kum Chuong of multi-racial infantry regiment, Royal Ranger Regt who happened to be its chairman (a post two level above the Corps Director (Corps Director – similar to our chief infantry/guards/cdo/signal/arty/armour/logistic officer). This regiment also had several Chinese, Sikh and Indian chairman). In 1990s there are BG Richard Robless of RMAF, 1st ADM Fong Soo Hoi of RMN and an F-5E veteran pilot, BG Toh ( I forgot his full name). Come new millenneum and they got BG Hon Mun Loong in 9th Inf Bde in Sarawak, East Malaysia. In 1970′s two prominent Indian of their Army – the late BG N. Selvarajah from Engineer Corps and RADM (Rtd) Thanabalasingam of RMN. How I know this? Don’t forget Semangat Bersatu series of exercises where we have close interactions with our Msian counterpart, FPDA joint ex and also posting to Embassy as assistant to Defence Attache!

  • patriot

    Hi Pugdragon Post #39;

    You have my full concurrence.


  • Max Chew

    LKY and son are not fools…….Gen Ishak’s mother is half-chinese, Speaker tamajuddin’s wife and mother are both Chinese, Minister Yaacob’s mother is half-chinese and so is his wife.
    It will take many more years for a pure 100% melayu to be a General in S’pore!

  • Mamak

    Even in Malaysia there are no pure Malays who became PM. Do you know that Mahathir is half Indian? His father is Indian! In Malaysia Indian Muslims are called Mamak. There are a number of Mamaks even in Umno!

  • patriot

    ‘He looks like Indian’, ‘His mother is Chinese’, ‘Mamaks are half Indians’,
    ‘Indonesian Muslim Soldiers helped to fight Indonesian Christians’ etc.

    The above only proves that racial and religious integrations have a long way to go.

    Unless we are willing to discard or put aside our emotional baggages and tendencies to ascribe to rationality, racial and religious integration may never actualized. As the Chinese Saying goes ‘between filial piety and loyalty’, one has to be sacrificed (Hanyu Pinyin: Zhong xiao nan liang quan). The most difficult decision one has to made is always heart rending.

    Let us hope that all humans are peace loving and less antagonistic and combative.


  • Max

    This general looks more like an Indian to me,judging by his features. Is he a Mamak?

  • Shivam

    Some have pointed out “facts” that show Muslims betraying their side.
    However, a Muslim American soldier might have done so in the event that his platoon was not carrying out missions according to plan. There have been several cases of ill disciplined conduct amongst US soldiers in Iraq.
    So can be the case everywhere else. The full story is important, and not just a part of it.

    Anyways, did the government, being their usual hypocrtical self, not realise that by not entrusting the Malays about their loyalty to nation, it fuels even more ill feelings and can possibly erode their sense of patriotism to Singapore?

    And also, if we go to war with Malaysia, does their military not have soldiers of other races or religions? So why was the Malay-Muslim community judged?

  • tom

    After MM Lee went to Malaysia……”things look different”.

    To keep our neighbours happy & quiet…..hopefully for next few months.

    No dramas for “One Star General”. Just a title.

    Just like teachers, it has different grading from junior to senior categories.
    By the time, he reaches to mid junior general……he will retire or join parliament.

    Anyway, he is Not in a sensitive dept (Air Force, Navy, Commando, Intelligence, etc).

    Just a only a title, take it easy…….just like President Nathan. The So-call President but more like a puppet.


    Shhiisshhhh what’s so kaypoh about the Malay General? Is the predominantly Chinese officer corps in SAF helps ends the National Slavery which many Sg Chinese desipised so much? NO! All we need now is 100% professional army whch helps a lot if some poor elite infantryman drowned in water-dunking training. Look at MAF, does their people ran amok when ever year their army paratrooper and commandos kiled in parachuting accident?

    BG Ishak, when you retire just stay at home lor, don’t join the FT-loving, ang mor-kow-towing PAP. Lots of SAF senior officer did and they just add to our misery!

  • to #54

    why did MY withdraw from singapore held AYG? sorry, i digressed.

  • to #54

    why did MY withdraw from singapore held AYG? sorry, i digressed.

  • to #54

    why did MY withdraw from singapore held AYG? sorry, i digressed.

  • to #54

    why did MY withdraw from singapore held AYG? sorry, i digressed.

  • to #54

    why did MY withdraw from singapore held AYG? sorry, i digressed.

  • to #54

    why did MY withdraw from singapore held AYG? sorry, i digressed.

  • to #54

    why did MY withdraw from singapore held AYG? sorry, i digressed.

  • Shadow

    A newly minted Malay brig-gen brings pride to Malay community? Sure? How much pride will he bring a Malay family of 6 living hand-to-mouth on welfare? On that matter, we’ve have a Eurasian president, Chinese one, Indian two, but heck, how much pride have they brought Eurasian, Chinese and Indian families who are struggling day to day in S’pore?

    Let’s not delude ourselves that a minority President or the 1st Malay general will bring improvements by leaps and bounds for that ethnic group. What we should be more concerned about is not ethnic classification, but ‘economic stratification. A poor family living in a tiny rental apartment while relying on a sole-breadwinner and welfare REMAINS poor, regardless of what ‘race’ it says they are on their S’pore ICs.

  • smallvice585

    Having a single Malay BG does not make life better for the Malay Community immediately. But to say that is the reason to qualify COL Ishak’s promotion as wayang is just far-fetched. What matters is that his promotion is a testimonial to our Malay soldiers in the SAF that there may be no glass ceiling for them in future. I wish all the best for the Malay regular soldiers serving the SAF.

  • Ran

    Obviously this is a timed trick to satiate the Malay community because old man Lee might be dying soon and he is afraid of his own paranoia of ‘instability’ after his passing.

    Any ‘instability’ though is brought about by the very system and social mentality that he designed.

    Read through Lee Kuan Yew: Race, Culture, Genes for more info –

  • KnZ0109

    A deepest congratulation to our First BG Malay. To tink about it…. The first in how many decades….. How pathetic could that be… Somehow I still felt that Malay are purely discriminated in certain post in SAF especially the RSAF and Navy. Like MM Lee stated before tat what if we go war with malaysian…. would our malay back off and join the other side… I felt this kind of answer is bull****. I as a Singaporean…. in term of national emergency such as WAR… Priorty is my family and my country…. I protect them with my life….. I dont need to side with my enemy just because I am a muslim or a malay…. That got nothin to do with it…. I still face the bullet if I go war with Malaysia… U think Malaysian side would care if we are a muslim and malay and dont shoot us because of that…. No matter wat…. i still get shoot…because in war….. one rule onli….. my country and your country….nothing to do with religion…. I just would like to post this question…… What if a chinese soldier(singapore) saw his brother or best fren(Enemy Side: Malaysian) in the battlefield… Will he shoot the enemy????? Obviously.. .there is a conflict of interest and feeling in that kind of situation…. Lastly, I believe…. Every singaporean regardless of race language or religion have their chance to fight along side with their comrades who is either CMIO,…..In watever vocation….. Intelligence….. commando….. airforce or navy…. Tink about our chinese brother feeling…. why they have to fight this war alone not as a country but as a race and religion….

  • anakin


    thanks for enlightening me. It seems our northern neighbours are more ahead of us in dealing with minorities in the armed forces than us. Wonder why our leaders are so paranoid?

  • TMT

    The first Black general was Benjamin O. Davis Sr., who was appointed on October 16, 1940 in 174th year of the birth of the nation.

    The first Black general in the U.S. Air Force-and the second Black general-was B.O. Davis Jr., the son of the first Black general, who was appointed on October 27, 1954. He retired in 1970 with the rank of lieutenant general.

    The first Black four-star general was Daniel (Chappie) James, who was promoted to that rank and named Commander-in-Chief of the North American Air Defense Command on September 1, 1975.

    The first Black Admiral in the U.S. Navy was Samuel Lee-Gravely Jr., who was appointed on April 28, 1971.

    The first Black to head an armed forces base in the United States was B.O. Davis Jr., who was named commander of Godman Field (Ky.) on June 21, 1945.

    The first Black to command an army division was Major General Frederic E. Davidson, who assumed command of the Eighth Infantry Division in Germany on April 19, 1972.

    The first Black general in the Marine Corps was Frank E. Peterson Jr., who achieved the rank on February 23, 1979.

    The first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was General Colin Powell who was confirmed by the Senate on 21st September 1989.

    From the start to the pinnacle of the military hierarchy, a total of 49 years. But of course, bought by humiliation, patience, endurance, courage, blood and African American lives.

    Not to too bad for a Malay BG in comparison.

  • interested

    posts 49 and 52. was told that he is an indian as indian could be. he is not a malay as we understand a malay to be! so, back to square one.
    but really the gahmen should just drop their discriminatory practice and wlak their talk about meritocracy!

  • anujan

    In this country, as long as you are a successful Muslim, you are considered a Malay-Muslim even though you might be Indian, Chinese or whatever.

    Does anyone here know why the term Malay-Muslim is being used so widely? What about the rest of the Muslim population?

  • TC

    this is marketing and getting people to think they are EQUAL opportunity employer and Malays would appreciate.

    Why they ask when would they allow this race to hold PM or Vice PM position?

  • Jumbo

    He is a muslim alright but that doesn’t make him Malay. This is just a propaganda. The Malays are still discriminated. Theres always loyalty issue when Meritocracy is not working in certain govt hierachy. Can we trust the Malays?

    To the Malays , its like asking where is your loyalty, to your father or mother?
    This is a crap a chauvanist always excuses himself with when merit is not given it place.

  • Jumbo

    Someone say if we go to war with malaysia or indonesia , malays loyalty will be judge. History has shown , Spanish,Dutch,British,Portugish and Japan have invaded us(our region). IS IT ODD TO BE INVADED BY ANYONE? So why Malays are judge?

    China spratly is just at the corner. If Chine decide to go into war with ASEAN, will Singapore army fight CHINA army?

    Can ASEAN member suspect Singapore loyalty base on RACE!!!!

  • Jumbo

    China is accumulating oil reserve right now and Spratly islands (claimed by a few ASEAN countries) have untap oil reserve. This is a potential hot spot.

    At time, we will face this kind of situation. If we going to predict on how others behave we will open ourself to the same.

    But in Singapore case, unwritten policy is already applied base on IF. Base on prediction, base on one’s party view, base on one race view on other.

  • Ran

    Our leaders are paranoid because THEIR leader is paranoid. Follow the leader mah.. :)

  • aiyoyo


    cant keep thinking, is there something boiling?

    eg. to ‘join’ into our neighbour country…

    another dinner topic with kakis.


  • Lioness de Zhichar

    Eeee, i thought the uniform changed liao?
    is that picture old one or recent one?

    by the by, what is your views on the new digital pixel camou uniform?

    which you prefer ? the old one or new one? why?

  • aygee

    To anakin comment #61,

    Why are they paranoid? Well, this is a just a guess, and i could be wrong.

    1. Singapore broke away from Malaysia due to racial issues. Thus our senior leaders, as well as the senior leaders in Malaysia, are still hung up over this “race” issue. MM Lee’s visit to Malaysia, and Dr M’s response, clearly highlighted the “tension” that still exists between us.

    2. The racial riots of the 60s in Singapore, according to the press and historians (Singapore-based press and historians, mind you), were the result of instigation from chauvinist Malaysian politicians. So, it is believed, Malays in Singapore were provoked due to Malaysia’s politicians.

    3. Indonesia could bring up the fact that Singapore (as well as Johor) was part of ancient Srivijaya and Majapahit kingdoms. The riots when Suharto fell showed the resentment that could be nascent between races.

    4. Jemaah Islamiyah talked about the unification of the Nusantara – the Malay archipelago, from south Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Philippines.

    5. SAF doctrine was initially assisted by Israel Defence Forces. and they had a deep mistrust of the surrounding Arab countries. Possibly they set forth the idea not to give senior positions in the army to a “race” that surrounds Singapore.

    But in my mind, the average Malay/Muslim singaporean just wants to “get along”, get into the mainstream, allowed to practice his/her religion without prejudice, have a house over their heads, food to eat, and rise up in careers, like anybody else. What i can tell you is that if one talks about loyalty, once you’ve won our trust and loyalty, we are arguably the most loyal of people. anyway, i have no empirical proof so its open for discussion.

  • ORD lor


    No sgporeans of any races got any benefit from Lion City’s progress. Its the foreign talent that took away our jobs, scholarships and even women! One Malay friend of mine during our NSF days cynically told me “If I can have secure future including job, and not loosing my girlfriend to some Ang Mor, having no Malay General in SAF is no big deal to me!”

    I share the same opinion. SAF flag ranks are predominantly Chinese bastion since independence but why the conscription continue to torture Sg males today esp Chinese like me who hates soldiering?

  • antz

    actually the statement back in 1987 is actually a fact..depends on the individual..i am a malay and any human being can be swayed by emotions if he must shoot someone of the same race/religion…
    But not everybody can agree to that what if there is a malay does not make any difference..
    ppl intends to migrate rather than staying forever in singapore..
    i think that is to show the whole world..

  • Mamak Singapore


    Meritocracy works in admission to universities, teaching vacancies and few things in this country for Malay (and also Muslim Indian/Mamak). But in HDB flats, the right to use loudspeakers for mu’azzin in mosques to call for prayer, and also for the RSN – it’s zero. Malay and Muslim communities are not allowed to be in huge numbers in all HDB flats for some ridicolous reasons. So why I had to think that one recently appointed Malay BG in SAF would make me forget ’bout all that paranoid policies?

  • Eureka

    @ 39) pugdragon
    I am Chinese also and I know of many dishonest Chinese businessmen and politicians who are corrupted and dishonest. They have no remorse in enslaving and scamming their own race. That’s why you see incidents of contaminated milk, fish and other food. Profit and power is the bottom line of these corrupt Chinese leaders, ethnics and human rights is not important to them.

  • don

    I cant believe the totalitarian PAP goverment allowed this .

  • thio super cannon

    yes, finally there is one.

  • The Greek Philospher

    The first Malay general. Big deal. The first Malay pilot. Big deal. The first Malay Hollywood actor. Big deal. Wow! The number of Malay leftenans growing in SAF. Amazing! Then again, Big deal. More Malays in NUS. Impressive. Oh ya, Big deal…

    Let’s forget about race politics for a second. Let’s forget about SAF, NUS racial quota, racial division when buying HDB flats, speak Mandarin campaign, job opportunities etc etc etc.

    Let me entertain you with a nice Hollywood movie. I like to recommend this to everyone. It’s the dialogue that’s interesting. Then you’ll begin to understand how things really are.

    Here’s my favourite part of this particular Hollywood movie. It’s call, The Good Shepherd. It stars Matt Damon. In this intance, read the bit of dialogue embedded below, which I cut and paste from somewhere in the Hollywood websites. Here it comes:

    Joseph Palmi: Let me ask you something… we Italians, we got our families, and we got the church; the Irish, they have the homeland, Jews their tradition; even the niggers, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?
    Edward Wilson: The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.

    Get it? Don’t get it? Ok, all you have to do is replace the dialogue into your local context.

    Problem with alot of people on this island is that they mistake opinions for thoughts.

  • Brigadier-General

    Fellow Singaporeans, let us unite as one people, one nation, one Singapore. That’s the way that we should be forever more. Every creed and every race has its role and has its place.

    Yeah, right.

  • ferkhan

    This is bullshit, he is not a malay muslim, he is an indian muslim. Singapore government would not mind putting an indian as president or any senior appointments but for a real Malay muslim to be one, it is nearly impossible. Im just surprise till today in year 2009, many chinese singaporeans cannot distinguish an indian and a malay muslim. there are differences you see.
    look at his face , does he look malay? just because his name is muslim like ahmad,. mohd, ishak, ali..etc, does not mean he is malay. nearly half of the so called malay community are indian descendant or other race like arabs or pakistani. you ask any malay speaking guy or girl who looks like indian whether they are malay, they will proudly deny they are NOT malay and say they are indian, arab or whateve race its stated in their nric.

    the reason why this guy here chose to be called a malay because he can gain credit, coz its not a big thing for an indian to be a BG(we have those people before) but as a malay , he can be the “First” so call BG malay.

    till today the truth is pakistanis, arabs and indian muslims who speak malay in singapore look down at malays and use this to their leverage to show the chinese majority there are the “better malays” because if they were to compete the indian market, they are left behind from other elite indians . this is just another political controversy where the republic wants to show the chinese and malays here and in msia/indo there are not racist to malays when in actual fact it might not be the case.

    the funny thing is, when the spore chinese gal was killed at mumbai, india by indian/paki terrorists, nobody blame the indians, people always think the malays are the ones who do all this shit or are the terrorists. dont look aT the members of the islamic group who are malays(they are just followers) , look at the leaders who lead AND PLAN this bullshit to attack the west, look carefully at their faces , they are all PAKISTAN, INDIAN or ARAB but disguise as the malay so the malay community will always get the backlash and derailed further.

  • Mista White Horse

    As long as any Lee, Kuan & Yew-named guy become generals and admirals in SAF, Singapore would remain strong-lah!

  • Maori27

    Well frankly 1st Malay or 1st this and that in the world means nothing. We see Malaysia & Brunei, there are heaps of Malays already being a General etc decades ago.

    My point is we do not need to promote things which we reckon sensitive. We might look abymally silly and immatured. As the technology grow and modern Singapore established, our mentality must grow along. Thanks

  • spoffy

    In case you guys don’t know, this guy is Yusof Ishak’s grandson. 

  • Human Being

    Well that explains it then. (Grandson of Yusof Ishak). Sorry, but to me it’s another PR (propaganda relations) to boost the image of Singapore as a multi racial state which practices meritocracy. I’m waiting for the day when a true Malay Singaporean born and bred from the ‘racial ghettos’ to rise among the ranks and be the first chief of air force. Not army cos that’s where you find most Malay officers anyways. Then again it took 40 years to have a 1 star general and he’s what in his 40s, while you have 3 star generals half his age of other races. It’s nothing to shout about, really.

  • Pingback: Thoughts on racial profiling in the SAF « visaisahero.

  • Pingback: The complex, systemic problems that handicap the Malay community in Singapore | visakan veerasamy.

  • SingaporeCitizen

    I think that singapore wont give to a pure malay guy…i think this ishak guy got a mix blood….of indian abit thats why…..maybe it is just a reason to make the neighbouring country happy….where is the guy now?….is he still serving as brigadier general?

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback: obat pembesar penis

  • Pingback: Prediksi Skor Bola

  • Pingback: urlman 9990mine