There was an interesting exchange in Parliament between the Senior Minister of State of Defence, Dr Maliki Osman and WP MP Mr Faizal Manap. Mr Faisal spoke about the lack of halal kitchens on Singaporean naval ships. He suggested that this deprived Muslim men from serving in the navy.
That’s an interesting suggestion. Does Mr Faizal think that Muslim men cannot serve in the navy simply because there aren’t halal kitchens on ships? But, if we were to believe Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, there already are Muslims serving on our naval ships. Muslims have been deployed on naval ships as sailors at least since 2015. Even though there aren’t any halal kitchens on board the ships, provisions have been made for Muslim naval servicemen through options such as seafood, chicken and vegetables.
So clearly the lack of halal kitchens on Singaporean naval vessels haven’t deprived Muslim men from serving in the navy. In fact, if we look at Australia, we see that not having a halal kitchen on their naval ships hasn’t stopped a Muslim lady from serving on board Australian naval vessels and rise through the ranks. So what is this about the lack of halal kitchens depriving Muslim men from serving in the navy?
A more interesting issue to raise, I thought, would have been that Malays are disproportionately under-represented in certain parts of SAF and amongst certain ranks. I don’t think the percentage of generals in Singapore who are Muslims is publicly available information. As far as I know, there is only one. In 2009, then-Colonel Ishak bin Ismail was the first Malay in Singapore to earn his first star and be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.
Other than BG Ishak, are there any other Malay generals in SAF? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Given that about 13% of Singapore’s population are Malays, unless about 13% of generals in SAF (or 2 out of 20) are Malays, then Malays are disproportionately under-represented amongst the top tier of SAF leadership. So. Other than BG Ishak, are there any other Malay generals in SAF?
Beyond just the top tier of SAF. Malays also appear to be disproportionately under-represented in other parts of SAF.
Before I got downgraded for a torn ACL during NS, I was undergoing training in a certain Institute in SAF. There wasn’t a single Muslim trainee. My course alone had about 30 trainees. So, by proportion, there should be three Malay/Muslim trainees. But nope. There wasn’t even one. We had an Indian (which is about right, given that about 9% of Singapore’s population is Indian).
And it wasn’t just my course. There was another course running concurrently as mine. About 30 Also no Muslims. I am sure that that was the case for the batches before mine.
Granted. That was about 15 years ago. Has the situation changed? I don’t know.
That’s the most drastic example I know. A less drastic example is to look at the proportion of commissioned officers who are Malays/Muslims. Again, while I don’t have the exact figures, I am fairly confident that less than 13% of our commissioned officers are Malays/Muslims.
Does the disproportionate under-representation of Malays/Muslims in certain formations in SAF and amongst certain ranks prove that SAF is biased against Malays/Muslims?
The classic response by MINDEF and SAF is that promotions and appointments in SAF are based on merit and ability.
If we take that to be true, and given that Malays/Muslims are disproportionately under-represented in certain formations, appointments and ranks in SAF, what is the logical conclusion? That Malays/Muslims are… less capable than other races as military personnel?
So… which is it? Is SAF biased against Malays/Muslims? Or Malays/Muslims are less capable as military personnel? Or perhaps a bit of both? Are there other possible explanations for the apparent disproportionate under-representation of Malays/Muslims in certain appointments and ranks of SAF? What do you think?
[Featured image: BG Ishak bin Ismail. Image from MINDEF.gov.sg]