Speech of the day

How to draw strength from our diversity

MS RAHAYU MAHZAM (Jurong GRC)
MS RAHAYU MAHZAM (Jurong GRC)

In her maiden speech, Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) spoke in English and Malay about help for the vulnerable in society as well as about diversity and the hopes of the Malay/Muslim community. Here is an edited extract of her points on diversity and the community:

As we write the next chapters for the next 50 years, we need to look at how, as a mature society, we handle diversity of views.

Diversity can be a strength if ideas can be synergised and used for the good of the people. However, it is also a potential divisive factor. How do we make it our strength and not cause our fall?

There is a need for faith in the maturity of the Singapore people and a realisation that the preservation of our individual identities or practice of our respective religions does not necessarily mean that our common spaces are encroached or that we are distancing ourselves from each other.

MS RAHAYU MAHZAM (Jurong GRC)

I feel that the Prime Minister's announcements yesterday regarding increasing the numbers of NCMPs in Parliament and extending powers of NCMPs are concrete steps towards bringing diversity of views in Parliament.

I, therefore, welcome this proposal as it allows for a respectful discourse on real issues that matter and leads to the shaping of useful and important policies.

I also feel that the approach of encouraging diversity of views should be extended to the masses. However, beyond creating the platforms and spaces, for the exercise not to be merely lip service, I believe there needs to be a push for more open debates and discussions.

For instance, in the light of the increasing wave of terrorist attacks and influence globally, inevitably some attention is now placed on the Muslim community in Singapore.

The Muslim community has expressed concern over the increasing Islamophobia and the observation that some Muslims are growing somewhat more distant from the rest of the Singaporean community. There is a need to have very frank conversations about real issues facing the community.

These conversations may possibly be difficult but this is an effort that should be put in by all in the community, not just the Singaporean Muslims.

Our efforts in encouraging racial and religious harmony can no longer be at a superficial level of attending each other's cultural events.

We should allow for space to talk about our identities, our religious practices such as the burning of incense paper, the wearing of the tudung, the playing of music during Thaipusam, for example.

There is a need for faith in the maturity of the Singapore people and a realisation that the preservation of our individual identities or practice of our respective religions does not necessarily mean that our common spaces are encroached or that we are distancing ourselves from each other.

Perhaps there is a need to redefine the common space. Perhaps there are new norms that Singaporeans can agree upon. We must allow for such discussions to flourish and work towards achieving consensus.

I think it is important for the Government to take steps to encourage open discussions on these issues so that any prejudices and misunderstandings can be eradicated immediately. There should also be reminders to condemn and stop Islamophobia.

One other thing in the minds of our community is the tudung issue. As a woman who wears the tudung, I hope that all women can pursue their career choice and I hope this can be reviewed and flexibility be given where possible so that they can choose their own careers.

However, when we ask for something from the Government, I hope that we as a community can be mature and discuss with respect. We know there are implications on whatever decisions that we wish for in terms of a plural society.

The Malay/Muslim community also has aspirations and hopes to see Malays in all fields, including leadership. PM Lee yesterday spoke about changes to the Singapore Constitution, including having smaller GRCs and the change in criteria for the Elected President.

We would like to see representation from our community but I would like our Malays to be chosen because he or she is the best and not because of his or her race. We do not want this selection to be a symbolic one only.

Over the past few days my colleagues in this House have shared their perspectives and proposals on how to move this country forward. The breadth of issues raised and variety of ideas shared are a testament to the diversity and dynamism of the members. This in turn reflects the diversity of Singaporeans whom the members represent.

We may not all agree with each other but we debate respectfully. I believe this decorum can extend beyond this House because Singaporeans are responsible people who care about the nation.

We do not argue for the sake of argument and always seek consensus, not conflict.

While there is much fear and uncertainty about what the future will bring, I feel a sense of excitement on the possibilities for this Little Red Dot.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'How to draw strength from our diversity'. Print Edition | Subscribe