Reviewing the Integration Controversy

It seems that the controversy has died down. The Straits Times did a review titled "Reflections on being Muslim and S'porean" today (10 Feb 2011) wherein it published several commentaries, that ran in Berita Harian and Berita Minggu (both sister newspapers for Malay audience), which were written in response to MM Lee's comments regarding Muslims and social integration.

While I didn't agree with every point made in those commentaries, it was heartening to see that these responses were more measured and rational - engaging in discussion instead of dismissing it - and not of the "OMG, you're offensive - I don't want you around" variety.

One particular commentary by Maarof Salleh (BH, Feb 3) gladdened me. It was the one titled "Understanding the integration controversy".

Numerous criticisms poured in, many claiming that MM Lee was insensitive. Unfortunately, the criticisms were mostly emotional and defensive.

When the dust has settled, hopefully there will be more detailed, sensible, wise and intellectual debates.

I love this part of the commentary. Finally somebody echoing my views expressly from (presumably) within the Muslim community.

The same author goes on to point out the core message of MM Lee's comments which were completely overlooked by some earlier responses. He also notes that MM's suggestion of relaxing religious observance was essentially idealistic - this I do agree with.

For instance, MM Lee is concerned about religious overzealousness. This warrants careful consideration.


I see MM Lee's views as touching more on the issue of social cohesion, which is necessary for a young and pluralistic nation such as Singapore. Enforcing social unity by asking people to be less strict in their religious observances, although a rational argument, does not guarantee success.

The other commentaries all address the issue of Muslim social integration from their angles. But it is obvious that the general theme for most of the commentaries is that people need to be more mature or rational and deal with the criticism as such.

I like this little bit from an excerpt too.

Issues of language, race and religion are usually sensitive. Even followers of the same religion have misunderstandings and conflicts due to different views.

What is disconcerting is that some external parties try to wade into the controversy to take advantage of the situation.

I think this might be a quick swipe at some Malaysian leaders. Nice.

This is probably the end of the "controversy". And this will possibly be the last entry about this issue as well.