Mr Lee Kuan Yew made a Parliamentary Speech rebutting Nominated Member of Parliament Viswa Sadasivan in August 2009. The latter had made an earlier maiden speech which touched on a broad array of topics including race and religion (see here and here).
Abbreviated Transcript of Lee Kuan Yew’s speech
SIR, I had not intended to intervene in any debate. I was doing physiotherapy just now and reading the newspapers and I thought I should bring the House back to earth.
Mr Rajaratnam had great virtues in the midst of despondency after a series of race riots when we were thrown out of Malaysia. Our Malays in Singapore were apprehensive that now that we (Chinese) were the majority, we (Chinese) would in turn treat them the way a Malay majority (in Malaysia) treated us. He drafted these words and rose above the present. He was a great idealist. His draft came to me; I trimmed out the unachievable, and the Pledge as it stands is his work after I’ve trimmed it. What is it? An ideology? No, it’s an aspiration. Will we achieve it? I do not know. We’ll have to keep on trying. Are we a nation? In transition.
Sir, reference was made to the Constitution. The Constitution of Singapore enjoins us to specially look after the position of the Malays and other minorities. Article 152 says: ‘Minorities and Special Position of Malays. It shall be the responsibility of the Government constantly to care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore. The Government shall exercise its functions in such manner as to recognise the special position of the Malays who are the indigenous people of Singapore and, accordingly, it should be the responsibility of the Government to protect, safeguard, support, foster, promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language.’
And on Muslim religion, Article 153: ‘The Legislature shall by law make provision for regulating Muslim religious affairs and for constituting a council to advise the President in matters of the Muslim religion.’
Our Constitution states expressly that it is a duty of the Government not to treat everybody as equal. It’s not reality, it’s not practical, it will lead to grave and irreparable damage if we work on that principle.
So the Pledge was an aspiration. As Malays have progressed and more have joined the middle class with university degrees and professional qualifications, we have asked Mendaki to ask them to agree not to have their special rights of free education at university, but to take the fees they were entitled to and use the money to help more disadvantaged Malays.
So we’re trying to reach a position where there is a level playing field for everybody but it’s going to take decades, if not centuries, and we may never get there.
Now let me read the American Constitution. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, reads: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’ That’s 1776.
The US Constitution passed a few years later says: ‘We, the people of the United States’ (this is the preamble) ‘in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings and liberties to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States.’
Nowhere does it say that the blacks would be differently treated. But the blacks did not get the vote until many decades later. Racial segregation was not ended until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with Martin Luther King and his famous We Dare To Dream speech. Enormous riots took place and eventually, then President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. From 1776, it was more than 200 years before an exceptional half-black American became President.
My colleague (Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan) says we are trying to put square pegs into round holes. Will we ever make the pegs the same? No. You suggest to the Malays that we abolish the (Article 152) provisions in the Constitution, you will have grave disquiet. We start on the basis that this is reality: We will not be able to get a Chinese minister or an Indian minister to persuade Malay parents to look after their daughters more carefully and not have teenage pregnancies which lead to failed marriages. Can a Chinese MP or an Indian MP do that? The Malays will say to him: ‘You’re interfering in my private life.’ But we (the Government) have funded Mendaki and Muis (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore), and they have a committee to try and reduce the numbers of such delinquents.
The way that Singapore has made progress is by a realistic step-by-step approach. It may take us centuries before we get to a similar position as the Americans. They go to wars, the blacks and the whites together. In the World War I, the blacks did not carry arms, they carried the ammo, they were not given the honour to fight. In World War II, they went back, these ex-GIs – those who could make it to university were given the GI grants – they went back to their black ghettos and stayed there. Today there are still black ghettos.
These are the realities. The American Constitution does not say that you will treat blacks differently but our Constitution spells out the duty of the Government to treat Malays and other minorities with extra care.
So the basis on which the NMP has placed his argument is false and flawed. It’s completely untrue, it’s got no basis whatsoever. I thought to myself, perhaps I should bring this House back to earth and remind everybody what our starting point is. If we don’t recognise where we started from, we will fail.
Nobody can speak with the knowledge that I have; I knew the circumstances in which the Pledge was made. I admire the sentiments of Mr Raja. In August 1965, my worry was, what would the Malays in Singapore do, now that they knew they were a minority? When I returned on Aug9, on the advice of our Special Branch, I did not go back to my house. I stayed at Sri Temasek (in the Istana), which was my official residence. I stayed there for one week, then I went to Changi Cottage and stayed there for two months to make sure that everything subsided.
These are realities. Today, 44 years later, we have a Malay community, I believe, at peace, convinced that we are not discriminating against them, convinced that we are including them in our society.
NMP Viswa used to work in Sinda. I’m told for 10 years. He will know Indians are not equal. Brahmins will not be in Sinda. It is the non-Brahmins who are in Sinda. So I think it is dangerous to allow such highfalutin ideas to go undemolished and mislead Singapore.