Malays deserve equal opportunities in the SAF

I was glad to learn that Colonel Ishak bin Ismail will be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General come 1st July. As Commander of the 6th Division since last August — division commanders in Singapore are usually BGs — his promotion was unsurprising.

What makes his achievement so significant is the fact that he became a BG despite having two “strikes” against him: He is Malay in the Singapore army, and he is not a government scholar. Although I have never served under him, I am confident that the SAF would not place a man in command of one of our three Combined Arms Divisions just for the sake of political tokenism.

Nevertheless, Singaporeans should not be lulled into thinking that full meritocracy has arrived in the SAF. There are still many “sensitive” units that have recently naturalised citizens but not a single Malay in their ranks.

I have long maintained that the SAF’s policy of not allowing Malays to serve in sensitive units is not just unnecessary, but it goes against our entire country’s boast of meritocracy as a national philosophy. It is based on the generalising assumption that all Malays are ideologues who see the world only in terms of “my race vs the rest”.

During a forum with students back in 1999, then-SM Lee Kuan Yew said that “If you put in a Malay officer who’s very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine-gun unit, that’s a very tricky business.”

I don’t think anyone is expecting the SAF to put anyone who has close family ties in a foreign state in charge of a front-line combat unit. But is this a reason to keep all Malays out of all sensitive units?

Given today’s high-tech warfare, it is unlikely that soldiers in the offensive combat units — air force, navy, armour and artillery — will see their enemies’ faces or know which race they belong to before blasting them to smithereens. So the dilemma about “I-won’t-pull-the-trigger-because-my-enemy-is-Malay” should not factor in. If anything, it is in the infantry where face-to-face combat will take place, and ironically, that is where a larger proportion of Malay soldiers are deployed.

By perpetuating the widely-held view in neighbouring countries that Singapore is a Chinese-dominated country, the SAF is making itself (and Singapore) an even easier target for potential adversaries use racial politics to stir up negative sentiments among their populace against Singapore. Already, neighbouring country politicians frequently take gratuitous pot-shots at Singapore because of the SAF’s policies on Malays.

The SAF and the Government would do well to uphold — to the last letter — their claim to meritocracy. Instead of excluding qualified Malays simply on the basis of their race from sensitive units, thorough background checks should be done before deploying soldiers in sensitive units.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

56 thoughts on “Malays deserve equal opportunities in the SAF”

  1. The reality is harsh. Yes, but if you all come to think of it, would you betray your own country because of one corrupt politician whose above stated xenophobic and maniacal thoughts crafted into young minds, go to waste just like that?

    I would NEVER betray my own country in any circumstance, other countries coming to war with Singapore = the fate of my muslim, non-muslim comrades/friends/loved ones are in jeopardy and for all that I would just say “because the other part of the world is muslim, I do not want to fight against muslims” This is remarkably misunderstood, if you ask any religious priest out there, it IS wrong to kill, so why would you sacrifice your religion and beliefs to betray your country.

    Ask all of yourselves a question : When was the last time you forsaken yourselves?

    Have a nice day.

  2. I forgot to add, do you think soldiers love to kill? They don’t look at the US Military, they go to Iraq only to neutralize the stubborn ignorant muslim who thinks killing another religion will land him in heaven for eternity, this is wrong, Allah and any other gods did not force humans into a religion, it is their faith at the end of the day which is questioned, how can you be a religion switching human? No right..?

    And if anyone thinks of rebutting my statement above, by asking “u said earlier it is not right to kill but u proved urself wrong” Well this is what I will answer in advance, if you don’t neutralize the wrong doers how many more potentially influential minds out there are u gonna sacrifice?

    In face, US Military men and women help the poor muslims in iraq, help find food, love and care for them. Dont ever in your life you people think you should love and care for those who do regardless of religion, this again questions your human ways to seperate controlled human minds and pure human minds who can differentiate right from wrong, justice and racism.

    Good day.

  3. hey guys, im an Eurasion muslim, went through many attempts to apply for RSAF. Ever since mid 2010 till now, ive applied over 5-6 times? and i ended up with 2 interviews. 1st interview, they scheduled me for the wrong vocation and now the 2nd interview, i was rejected even before stepping in the interview room.

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  5. Why is the focus on ‘if there’s a wa r btwn spore and malaysia’? So if there’s a war btwn spore and china do i trust the chinese who might have relative there? And I think all races have relatives all over the world. So who can we trust? This LAW is bullshit! Plain racism…

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