After a number of years of being retired from politics, former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng has said at a forum on religious harmony that following the arrests of 15 Jemaah Islamiah (JI) members who had planned to bomb several targets in Singapore in 2001, "the threat of serious public disorder loomed." As all the arrested were Malay-Muslims, "not getting the communication of this sensitive news right could have been disastrous."
In making this statement, I wonder if he is bigging up his own role in this saga? Either that or he is making a mountain out of a molehill.
Singapore's authorities are always harping on getting the racial balance right in Singapore. But yet, they seem to be the ones that are always raising the race card in situations where it is a non-issue. Instead of banning adverts that say "Chinese speaking preferred", he chooses to over-manage how to report a fact?
As far as I am concerned, these 15 potential terrorists were first and foremost Singaporeans. If they were indeed Muslim fundamentalists, then they were Muslim fundamentalists! It is a fact. If facts are stated as they are, they are less likely to cause offence. However, by over managing and acting like it is a problem because they are Muslims, creates the problem!
By saying if "not handled well, we were going to have a lot of unease, which may even cause disturbances leading to disorder, which can lead to riots," Wong Kan Seng is suggesting that Singaporeans cannot accept the truth? Is he concerned that news of potential terrorism in Singapore would cause concern and fear or is he concerned that it could upset racial harmony? If it is the former, fair enough, if it is the latter - NOT AT ALL. From his statements, however, it isn't very clear what it is he is trying to say apart from the obvious attempts at praising his own handling of the matter.
Criminals come in every shape, size and race. These happen to be Malay Muslim fundamentalists. It isn't racist or an attack on any religion. It is simply the apprehension of people who planned to wreak havoc in Singapore. Apart from making more strategic intelligence gathering to prevent further attempts, what else is there to manage in relation to communicating the news of the arrests to the public? Where is the danger of the "disaster" that could ensue just for telling Singaporeans that they arrested 15 Malay Muslims?
Perhaps Wong is mindful about the conveyance of information to Singaporeans after the Mat Selamat fiasco to diffuse the embarrassment of a big faux pas?
Wong further stated that "this was in contrast to the experience of many western countries, where political leaders have a hard time reaching out to such community leaders". I honestly am bemused by this statement. Firstly, where is his evidence for backing this statement up? Is Singapore more effective at speaking to its community leaders than the so-called western countries? Also, which western countries is he talking about? Just for the record, there are many. Many PAP leaders love to cite unnamed "western countries" in a bid to show how great Singapore is but without naming a specific country and giving examples, they are just words plucked from the air.
In Singapore, there is growing discontent with how the government is unable to understand the struggles of the average Singaporean. It is mind-boggling that Wong can still categorically cite the government's success in communicating with the public.
Singapore is a much smaller country compared to the "western countries". It is, therefore, no surprise that terrorist plots are easier to foil. Is Wong Kan Seng talking up the government's communication skills?