[Blog 4] MM Lee Kuan Yew ’s Parting Gift to Singapore

Like I said in my previous article, I will share what MM Lee’s parting gift to Singapore is. In the early years of Singapore, MM Lee won for us the breakaway from colonial rule and our Independence. That gave real joy to the nation and liberation from our former colonial masters. I believe the parting gift for Singapore is how MM Lee galvanized the country’s young and old into remembering the ideals he stood for – the ideals that are now enshrined in our Pledge and National Anthem, which I will elaborate more on at the end of this video.

First of all, let us be reminded of why and how we must Maintain Unity & Harmony in the words of Mr. Tommy Koh:
“In 1965, newly independent Singapore was faced with the enormous challenge of uniting this microcosm of humanity into one nation and maintaining peace and harmony among the different races and tribes.”

1964 Racial Riots (Source : MHA)

“The prospects were not promising because a year earlier, on July 21, 1964, during the celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, an incident turned into a riot between the Malays and the Chinese.”
“Twenty-three people were killed and 454 were injured. Later that year, on Sept 2, another riot occurred. This one killed 13 people and injured 106 others. These two racial riots of 1964 were seared into the collective memories of Singaporeans who were determined to prevent their recurrence.”

People like Amos Yee and his naive fans must be reminded not to play with fire and not to set off social and religious ticking time bombs.

Just to sum up the key points that MM Lee & his Cabinet have taken to secure racial and religious harmony. They installed:

1. Equal protection from racial discrimination. Our legal system ensures that all persons are accorded equal protection of the law, both in practice and in the legislation.

2. Presidential Council for Minority Rights. The council scrutinises all proposed bills in order to ensure that they are not discriminatory against any minority groups.

3. Ethnic quotas. The government implemented a housing policy aimed at encouraging people of different races to live together and instead of in racially segregated neighbourhoods.

4. National Service. Mandatory military service plays a very important role in allowing young men of different races and religions to train and live together as comrades, fostering a spirit of patriotism and a shared sense of nationhood.

Dr Goh inspecting of the first batch of National Servicemen 1967 (Source: MICA)

Pictofigo-Unitycoloured5. Racial Harmony Day. Each year, all students in Singaporean schools celebrate Racial Harmony Day to promote inter-cultural awareness and celebrate the harmony between our different racial groups.

6. Meritocracy. The system of meritocracy ensures that minorities are given a level playing field to compete with the majority.

7. English as the language of instruction in schools, business, and administration, which allows people of all ethnic groups to integrate and communicate effectively.

8. The Group Representation Constituency scheme, which helps to safeguard multiracial representation in Parliament.

To most of us, one of MM Lee’s legacies is Social Integration. While MM Lee died in peace with the satisfaction of knowing that there is increased integration in society, MM Lee always maintained that the true test of whether people were truly multi-racial would be during times of crisis, when one’s life and the survival of one’s own family were at stake.

Yes, we may have modernised our country from the 3rd World to the 1st World, but we must still bear in mind what he said. We must get real, because we are still a “society in transition.”

Singapore is a unique society where most Westerners and people like arrogant Amos Yee who try to parrot their message get it completely wrong. If you hear or read what they have to say, it’s as if Singapore were an oppressive and unhappy state like North Korea.

But virtually all Singaporeans who travel outside our country long to come back. Obviously, this is home to us even though we are free to roam the world.

The reason why Singapore has some restrictions on press freedom is because we had two racial and religious riots in 1964, which was mentioned in an earlier blogpost.

By World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

According to Mr. Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s strict censorship laws can be attributed to the 1964 ethnic riots that Singapore experienced. We have seen that in many other countries such as Rwanda, press freedom can lead to hate-speech against minorities. We want to ensure that the same does not happen in Singapore and hence, there are these restrictions on press freedom in Singapore.

Mr. Mahbubani said, “But on the question of civil liberties there is a very important point that Americans should bear in mind, when they speak about civil liberties. One of the big shocks that the world experienced after 9/11 was when they watched America, the world’s most advanced, open, democratic society, walk back from some civil liberties as soon as they began to feel insecure, and, because they were frightened of terrorists, they said, ‘I am happy to give up my privacy. Come have surveillance cameras everywhere. I am not worried, I want my safety and security.’ Now, if America, the world’s most powerful country, is prepared to give up some of its civil liberties in exchange for security, right? Then you begin to understand why smaller and much more vulnerable states like Singapore have also developed a pact with the government and said ‘okay, we’ll give up some of our civil liberties, we’ll give up some of our press freedom, please continue to keep this space peaceful and prosperous and strong.’”

A Rakhine house being burned during 2012 Rohingya riots. (Source: Wikipedia)

We live in a troubled world. Look at Rwanda, or nearer to us, the Rakhine state of Myanmar. In the name of civil liberty and free speech, it led to hate-speech against the minorities. We are fortunate that MM Lee stood absolutely strong in his principles, however imperfect as a human being he might have been. Nobody is perfect, he is a perfect example of imperfection. But through MM Lee and the old guard, we are very fortunate to have enjoyed 50 years of racial and religious harmony.

We must treasure this precious achievement when we sing Majulah Singapura again. From today onwards, when we stand and sing our National Anthem, “Marilah kita bersatu dengang semangat yang baru”… we should sing with the new-found meaning of “Let us be united”…with new spirit….

Our hearts filled with gratitude when we watched on television the crowd in the hall and outside singing Majulah Singapura and reciting the Singapore Pledge.

MM Lee, you may not be here with us now, but I believe that you are up there having a grander view – a view where you can see some who are blind finding their way to the Parliament House. Some who can’t walk but with crutches and wheelchairs making their way there to queue up just to be with you and pay a few minutes of respect to you, Sir. On the final day of the procession, 100,000 of us lined up on the streets and many more were glued to their TV screens.

Our response of love and respect go beyond the usual sense of obligation to mourn one who has passed. It is a collective emotional commitment, freely and spontaneously given out of our strong feelings of attachment and sense of belonging to this country. We all feel like “part of the family”.

During these seven days, the Anthem and Pledge have given us new meaning and a renewed spirit of Unity, which we should not take for granted. For the lofty ideals and noble aspirations expressed in the Pledge, we will continue to safeguard what has been built on the foundation that MM Lee and the Cabinet have laid for a prosperous and secure future. We will move on and stay ahead. For this I know for sure: that Singapore is different, and we all contribute in our own small ways to write a new Singapore Story. In the end, it’s not the End, it’s the beginning of a new era without MM Lee.

We love and respect you, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.

Source: Alex Yam

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