Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong has cautioned that championing divisive issues publicly to pressure the government and win communal votes will only stir up emotions and damage Singapore’s multi-racial harmony.
The Prime Minister was commenting on the exchange between Worker’s Party Member of Parliament Faisal Manap and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli in Parliament on the issue of Muslim women not being allowed to wear headscarves in uniformed services. The exchange between the two took place during the debate in Parliament on ‘Aspirations of Singapore’s women.’
Lee wrote on Facebook, “Parliament is the forum for serious discussion on important issues. This Parliament has not shied away from discussing difficult or contentious matters – last November we had a vigorous debate on changes to the Elected Presidency.”
He added, “However some sensitive issues of race and religion have no easy or immediate solutions. The best way to make progress on them is quietly, outside the glare of publicity."
Bringing up the issue of headscarves in the debate, MP Faisal initially said, “I hope they would not exclude Singaporean Muslim women who also want to fulfill their career aspirations in line with their religious obligations which is in allowing the wearing of the headscarf in the nursing and uniform vocations such as in the Home Team and armed forces."
However, Minister Masagos labelled Faisal’s approach “worrisome”. The Minister said, “He has used this motion, which is focused on the aspirations of all women in Singapore to raise again the issue of the tudung (headscarves), 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 to inspire them.”