Singapore's leaders assure minorities will be protected

Singapore's leaders have assured the country's minority communities that they will always be protected. In return, the leaders urged minorities to 'give and take', just as the majority Chinese community will give the minority space.

This message emerged from Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's dialogue with community leaders over racial ties on Monday, following the arrests of terrorist suspects linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

"From now on whatever the government do and implement, the Malay Muslims will watch and observe, whether or not the government has any reservation towards the Malay."

"The very minute there is an issue, they will blame the Muslim MPs and it gets so entangled that we have to defend ourselves and we don't know where to go."

It was a frank airing of views over sensitive issues of race, religion and rights at the dialogue.

At times, it was even lighthearted.

"Saya Zulkifli bin Mohd, not Zulfikar Mohd," said a participant in jest, referring to Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, the former CEO of, a fringe group set up 18 months ago to discuss Malay/Muslim issues.

PM Goh said: "The comment that your name is Zulkifli and not Zulfikar is a very important comment. Because if you come across a fringe group, not necessarily a terrorist group, a fringe group that espouses rather radical lines, the moderate Muslims must stand up and isolate these groups. Because if you do not, you leave them alone, they become bolder and bolder and more radical in their views."

The Prime Minister took the point further and asked if it was possible for a 'self screening' mechanism to be set up by the Malay Muslim community to identify deviant teachers or groups such as the Jemaah Islamiyah, a clandestine organisation with links to the Al-Qaeda.

What emerged clearly from the discussions was a desire to maintain harmonious multi-racial relations.

The government appealed to all non-Muslims to reach out to their Muslim neighbours and for the Muslims not to be too sensitive and perceive slights when there are none.

Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "The minorities have to accept that just as the majority community will give the minority space in Singapore, so too the minorities have to give and take. And the more the fewer absolute requirements there are, the easier it is for us all to live together."

PM Goh said: "We are determined not to allow anyone to rupture racial relations and the government will ensure that any minority group in Singapore, Indians or Muslims, will be protected by the government. That is our commitment to the minorities in Singapore. That the majority will not in any way intimidate the minorities."

At the end of the dialogue, it was acknowleged that it was not easy to build closer ties - Singaporeans may be mixed but not quite integrated.

The overall message was that efforts must continue and proposals to set up Inter Racial Confidence Building Circles will be a starting point.