Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli criticised an opposition MP’s tendency to raise divisive issues relating to the Malay/Muslim community in Parliament on Tuesday (Apr 4).
At the debate on supporting the aspirations of women in Singapore, Workers’ Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) called for Muslim nurses and uniformed officers in the Home Team and armed forces to be allowed to wear the tudung, or headscarf, at work.
He said countries like Australia and the United Kingdom had allowed this, and asked when Singapore would take a similar step.
Responding, Mr Masagos said he found Mr Faisal’s approach “worrisome”, as he had used the motion “to focus on differences instead of rallying people to be united”.
“He dwells on issues that can injure or hurt the feelings of the community rather than inspire them. In fact, Mr Manap has used many occasions to raise potentially discordant issues in this House,” he added.
The minister cited issues Mr Faisal raised in past sittings, such as the need for halal kitchens in Navy ships and the perceived discrimination of Malays in the armed forces.
He asked: “Is it his or his party’s position that these issues are the top concerns of the community?”
The minister said Mr Faisal’s approach needled the community’s sensitivity “subtly and frequently”.
“It leaves a lingering feeling of (something) unsolved and unsolvable, and impatience that one day I believe will explode. Is that what Mr Faisal wants?” he asked.
Mr Masagos noted the Government had responded to Mr Faisal’s queries before, and said he would not elaborate except to emphasise “we are in a multiracial society and we all have a role to play to enlarge our common space”.
Religion is important, he said. “I too want to see progress in the tudung issue and religious matters that are dear to Muslims,” he added.
But he noted that Government and community leaders of all races and religions had been discussing such deeply emotive matters behind closed doors.
“There is a right time, a right place and right way to discuss this.”
“The way to make progress is gradually and quietly, working under the radar to strengthen mutual trust and understanding among Singaporeans so that we can move forward step by step,” he added.
In contrast, championing issues “in a higher-profile way like the member always does once in a while, using them to score political points, will not strengthen trust.”
“It will only raise the temperature and actually make the problems harder to solve,” Mr Masagos said.
He cited an old social media post by Mr Faisal, in which he posed for a photo during the Wear White campaign in 2014 with Zulfikar Shariff, who was arrested under the Internal Security Act last year for his support for ISIS. Mr Masagos said: “It makes us wonder whether it is Mr Faisal who is supporting Mr Zulfikar or Mr Zulfikar supporting Mr Faisal, or are they together in this because of a common cause.”
Mr Faisal replied he was there only to support Wear White, which opposes homosexuality: “I’m not so sure what’s behind minister’s mind when he tried to link me to Zulfikar and I’m a bit distraught by his effort to paint me negatively.”
He also disagreed he was sowing discord and said as an elected MP, he had the right to voice concerns of his community in Parliament.
Mr Masagos said Mr Faisal was “not repentant or apologetic”, and “insists his strident approach is the correct way”, although it puts Singapore’s multiracial harmony at risk.
“If each community pushes its own claims aggressively, there will be pushback, there will be animosity,” said the minister.
Mr Faisal replied all he had been asking since he was elected was for the Government to address the issue: “How does that cause divisiveness and discord?”
Mr Masagos pointed to his “practice of subtly and frequently bringing issues that are sensitive to the community, knowing (they are) not easy to resolve and cleverly turning it into a state versus religion issue.”
“These are all very dangerous moves. I actually wonder whether the WP and its leadership are committed to the racial and religious harmony which underpins the security of this country,” he added.
“Do you want to go back to the politics of race and religion of the 1960s, the politics we wanted to avoid when we left Malaysia? If we don’t want that, why do we let a member constantly raise these issues to stir the community?”