In January 2011, the Straits Times Press released the book, “Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going”. The book is an account based on interviews by several Straits Times journalists with Minister Mentor (MM) Lee Kuan Yew.
In the book, MM Lee spoke candidly about various issues facing Singapore, among which was the integration of Singapore’s Malay-Muslims into society. MM Lee’s controversial remarks about how “the other communities have easier integration” than the Malay-Muslims caused unhappiness among the Malay-Muslim community here.
MM Lee subsequently issued a statement saying that his “call [was] out of date”. He also said: “I stand corrected.”
The Prime Minister, ministers and Members of Parliament from the People’s Action Party welcomed MM Lee’s statement.
On 28 March, American journalist Charlie Rose interviewed MM Lee at the Istana and asked, among other things, MM Lee about his remarks in the book.
Below is a summary of what has transpired thus far on the matter.
January 2011, Yahoo News:
“Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going”
“Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.” When asked how they could integrate, he [MM Lee] said, “Be less strict on Islamic observances, and say: ‘Okay, I’ll eat with you.’”
“I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration — friends, inter-marriages and so on – than Muslims.”
8 March 2011, Yahoo News:
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later said his views on Muslims’ integration in Singapore differed from the Minister Mentor’s. “Muslims are a valued and respected community, who have done a good deal to strengthen our harmony and social cohesion,” said the Prime Minister.
PM Lee: “My own perspective on how things are in Singapore, based on my interaction with the Malay community…is not quite the same as MM’s.”
8 March 2011, Straits Times:
“Hard Truths was a book based on 32 hours of interviews over a period of two years,’ he [MM Lee] said.
“I made this one comment on the Muslims integrating with other communities probably two or three years ago. Ministers and MPs, both Malay and non-Malay, have since told me that Singapore Malays have indeed made special efforts to integrate with the other communities, especially since 9/11, and that my call is out of date.”
“I stand corrected. I hope that this trend will continue in the future.”
8 March 2011, Straits Times
MP Halimah Yacob, who spoke on racial cohesion in Singapore in Parliament on Monday, told [Straits Times], “This will go a long way towards assuaging the feelings of the community. … MM’s earlier comments caused a lot of unhappiness because many felt it was not a description of the reality.”
She added, the statement show’s Mr Lee’s “humility”.
Chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals Nizam Ismail also welcomed the news. He said the “retraction” was a “necessary” move.
Madam Moliah Hashim, chief executive officer of self-help group Mendaki, said MM Lee’s comments ‘restore the confidence of our community and others that Malay-Muslims have indeed done much to integrate’.
Said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed: ‘Religion and race have always been delicate issues and require sensitive handling.
‘I am happy to see MM’s statement. It gives a kind of closure to the controversy, which had made many Muslims unhappy, in fact even hurt.’
Added Hong Kah GRC MP and Young PAP vice-chairman Zaqy Mohamad: ‘There will always be detractors, but for many in the community who want closure, they should be reassured by his comments.’
14 March 2011, Straits Times:
Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs:
“MM (Lee Kuan Yew) has said he stands corrected, which shows a lot about his ability to learn from what he may have misunderstood. At the end of the day, he realises his observations were not quite accurate. I think we should move on from there.”
Interview with Charlie Rose, 28 March 2011:
At 31:57 mins of the video:
MM Lee: “I said in that book (“Hard Truths”) that I think that the Malays, that Muslims should be relaxed and eat together with the others.”
Charlie Rose: “And it created a firestorm and your son said, the Prime Minister, differed with you.”
MM Lee: “That’s right.”
Charlie Rose: “So, were you right or was your son right?”
MM Lee: *laughs*
MM Lee: “He has to be right because he is the Prime Minister.”
Charlie Rose: “But … but?”
MM Lee: “But you ask the average person in the street whether what I’ve said is true.”
Charlie Rose: “And they would say?”
MM Lee: “You ask them.”