Thanks to my Mum, I came across this article by Mr Zakir Hussain in the weekly Insight column which highlights people and politics in Singapore. In the article dated 4 November 2005, the column featured an interview with Dr Yaacob Ibrahim about “being a Muslim in a secular world, community problems and environmental issues”. I’m going to deal mostly with his thoughts on the state of the Malay community, especially his perception that “Yes, Malays are part of the mainstream”.
First, when I saw the headline, it occured to me how faithful each racialised article in the Straits Times has been in keeping the racial harmony mantra, to deny any discourse on the undesirable or the unthinkable, to the extent sometimes it becomes blatantly apparent how the whole article is a paradox in itself. Why is there a need to emphasize that Malays are part of the mainstream, if not to deny the accepted prevailing view that most Malays are not, that we are continously under scrutiny, if not for drugs, then for dysfunctional families, teen pregancies etc? It seems to me that the more we try to convince ourselves that we are part of the mainstream, the more hollow each claim seems to be, with another article, also written by Mr Zakir yesterday about the error in dogmatic religious proclamations in dealing with the problem of dysfunctionaly families and teen pregnancies among the Malay community.
To him, Malays are very much part of the mainstream of Singapore society. After all, they contributed to early nation-building efforts. As the only Muslim minister in the Cabinet, he contributes to the best of his ability. “We must see our part in the larger Singaporean story.”
What does he mean by the term “mainstream”? Is it the idealised model of success, imposed by the government based on its overly exuberant pragmatism, overzealous meritocracy and the semblance of equality? Or by his “nation-building” justification, being an intrinsic part of the Singapore society, responsible for building Singapore into a modern city state through political participation, economic development and social integration? Following what Mr Zakir says in following paragraphs, I seriously don’t think so.
Fresh from having successfully improved educational achievements and brought down drug addiction rates, the Malay community now has another complex issue to tackle: “dysfunctional” families with multiple problems such as teen pregnancies and delinquencies. Malays are over-represented among such families.
So are we part of the Singapore mainstream which comprises of “dysfunctional” families with a high percentage of young pregnant teenagers, single mothers inter alia? How are we to say that we are part of the “mainstream” when “Malays are over-represented among such families”?
I’m not advocating the fact that we are a marginalised community at the finges of the Singapore society, ravaged by the worst of society’s ills. But to proudly proclaim that we are part of the mainstream only serves to justify ironically that we aren’t.
Some statistics from Mr Zakir’s article entitled “Help youth at risk with sympathy, not sermons” dated 18 November 2005: Malays make up one in five teens aged 19 and under being married while Malay girls are responsible for one in two teen births and one in three abortions among teens. One in two teens who end up with a sexually transmitted disease is a Malay. These are alarming figures!
We must go beyond such misleading rhetoric of “being part of the mainstream” in order to realise there’s so much more to be done.