Put it in perspective? No thanks – a letter to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim

Dear Mr Yaacob,

It is most heartening to know that you disagreed with the remarks made by the Minister Mentor on the issue of Muslims and their integration in Singapore society. ("Muslims can be both religious and patriotic" - The Sunday Times, 30 Jan)

It is also very reassuring to hear you say:  "As far as government policy is concerned, we want to integrate everybody, irrespective of race or religion. Let's focus on that."

Actually I do not understand why you urged us to focus on "that". I would have thought that it was precisely because the MM's remarks were potentially divisive that resulted in "some unhappiness among Muslims".  On that note, you may be mistaken too. It wasn't just some Muslims who were unhappy. I think non-Muslims were outraged too. So I agree with you that this is actually a very good sign. It shows that in general, Singaporeans as a whole are already "focussing on integrating everybody irrespective of race and religion." I am glad that the government is also doing it's part to focus on "that" by at least disagreeing with the MM's view.

There is another thing you said that I find puzzling as well. You asked us to "look at this rationally, read the book and understand where he's coming from." You also said: "And don't just read one book, see MM in his whole lifespan and the struggles he has gone through." (I hope this is a not a sales pitch for his new book and his older memoirs. From what has been reported, the book is doing tremendously well.)

I do not understand why on one hand you expected the strong reaction, and on the other hand tell us to look at things rationally from a wider perspective. Are you saying that the unhappiness is irrational? Are you likewise suggesting that we only see things from a very narrow perspective - no matter how justified the anger is?

I beg your pardon if I had misunderstood you. You have to understand where we common folks are coming from, being frequently urged to see things from the government's perspectives:

Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan said: "Now we all make mistakes. But let's put things in perspective. This is a major embarrassment but this is not a disaster." (Straits Times 24 Sep 2010)

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has asked Singaporeans to view problems such as overcrowding in trains and increasing property prices in perspective, and remember those who are less fortunate. (Channel NewsAsia, 4 sep 2010)

He (DPM Teo Chee Hean) had made his point: Singaporeans have to keep the discussion about immigration in perspective. (Straits Times 12 Sep 2010)

Rather than the constant reminders, shouldn't addressing the unhappiness and taking it very seriously be the rational thing to do?  Do you not see that it could be a sign of a growing chasm between the government and the people? So much so that it has become a habit for your colleagues to insist that they had been misrepresented everytime there was an uproar over some remarks they made. Now if they were truly connected to the ground, would there had been so many cases of miscommunications?

I am also very touched by your ability to look deeper into the MM's remarks and offer an interpretation that he is describing a worst-case scenario, (which I have to disagree with - you can read this article "Lee Kuan Yew: Race, Culture and Genes" to understand why) and that his views were formed by the struggles he has gone through.

But don't you agree that everyone's perspectives are formed by what we go through in life?

Suppose someone was scarred by a cat at a very young age and grows up to become a cat-killer. Seen in the context of his past, his actions are understandable, but does it make them any more acceptable?

Furthermore, while in your own words, the MM's views were relevant 40 years ago, but maybe not so now, we must not forget that his words are not the foolish utterance of a retired private citizen stuck in the past, but the words of a highly influential and respected person who is often seen as being synonymous with the PAP - even if he has professed to have taken only a forecaster role within the Cabinet.

Thus I would have to disagree with your call to put things in perspective.

Frankly, I've had quite enough of 'perspectives'. I would very much prefer that the government own up to its boo-boos for a change. Now that's a hard truth I hope you can swallow.

Yours sincerely,

Joshua Chiang

30 Jan 2011

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own and is not representation of TOC as a whole.