vendredi 10 mai 2013
LEE KUAN YEW AND HIS QUESTION FOR BERNARD LEWIS : HAS MUCH CHANGED SINCE 1970
I quote verbatim, from Notes on Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historians by Bernard Lewis published in 2012 by Viking.
During the early 1970s, Bernard Lewis, the best-known Historian of Islam (he is British and Jewish, has been a professor at Princeton for ages), found himself in Singapore on his way to Australia for a meeting. Someone had asked Lew Kuan Yew the PM of the new nation of Singapore (1965 Singapore separated from Malaysia and Singapore to become an independent country) whether he would be interested in meeting Bernard Lewis.
Bernard Lewis turned up at 10 AM at Lee Kuan Yew’s Office, LKY got down to business without any formalities or politeness.
He said, “ I understand you’re a specialist on Islam. We have a problem. In Singapore we have a Muslim minority, partly Malay, partly from South Asia. We do everything we can to help them. We give them preferential treatment in school and in the university, in government employment, and for businesspeople in the awarding of government contracts. We do everything we can to help them. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m no bleeding-heart liberal, but the last thing we need here, between two large Muslim countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, is a discontented Muslim minority. Now,” he said, “despite everything we do to help them, they keep sinking to the bottom of the pile. I have two questions for you, Why are they like that, and what can we do about it?”
Of course, Bernard Lewis could only muster an inadequate answer to the first question and none at all to the second.
Singapore, which has reached the developed nation standards by every reckoning, sits in between two corrupt governments: Indonesia and Malaysia. The recent elections in Malaysia pitted for the first time Malay against Malay and one could see that the governing party had unfair advantages and huge amount of money was given away. Chinese voted for the opposition and Indian vote is almost inconsequential. The governing party has been in power for 56 years and now four more guaranteed, but the average Malay is still poor and at the bottom. Of course, those who know how to manipulate the system have become immensely wealthy.
So the question of LKY forty years ago is still relevant, perhaps the way to bring an underprivileged group of people is not to throw development at them but educate them and perhaps even free them from the oppression of religion. Countries in Asia, which are very religious, are all at the bottom of the international standings: Indonesia, Philippines, and Timor Leste, Myanmar. Malaysia without the Chinese would sink further down on the list, all observers agree.
On a recent visit to Kuala Trengganu in Malaysia I was shown a mosque, called Crystal Mosque, built at a cost of 500 million Ringgits, more than 150 million American dollars, and the artisans had to be brought in from Uzbekistan (locally not available). I was not impressed, not yet another mosque! When the Moslem children of Malaysia have the highest rate of Obesity and prospect of chronic diseases in South East Asia and I don't hear any one talking or doing anything about it!
Also, close to one million qualified Malaysian Chinese work and live in Singapore contributing to the wellness of that country’s prosperity. More Chinese and Indian Malaysians can be found in UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand… which hinders the competence of Malaysia at international levels of education, technology, science and research. A country published just 7000 papers in all fields of research endeavours in 2011 with a population of 29 million people (Malaysia). It does not hold a candle to Israel a country of 5 million people where the productivity of one university centre in Haifa alone would eclipse the total Malaysian research output!!!
LKY is a man of great talent. He was predicted to be in ruins, taking out a barren island out on his own in 1965. Any one who has visited Singapore recently can attest whether or not his move has been a successful one.
IMF rank of Singapore for personal income per capita is No 10 in the world; Malaysia comes in at No 64
Is an earlier blog of mine about Bernard Lewis about Arab Freedom and how it may come about?