Give credit to colonial Britain where it is due

Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles along the Singapore River.
Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles along the Singapore River.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Our visionary and pragmatic founding leaders adopted and re-adapted key British institutions for a small and fragile, newly independent, multicultural state, against the wider trend of nationalistic triumphalism in many former colonies.

They were confident enough to give credit to our former colonial masters where it was due (Wrong to suggest giving more credit to colonial Britain, Aug 29). Ultimately, Singapore progressed as a cosmopolitan British colony.

Notwithstanding some vain attempts to portray Singapore as more than a sleepy fishing village in 1819 during the ongoing bicentennial commemoration, Singapore then was a spent force compared with its glory years between the 14th and 16th centuries, and in relation to the globally connected city that it became after 1819.

The Federation of Malaysia that we know today did not exist then.

Instead, the territory was marked by palace intrigue and rivalry among sultanates. Against such a backdrop, Singapore's transformation into a bustling global free port from 1819 as a British Straits Settlement may be deemed fortuitous. It sparked a new wave of immigration, resulting in a hundredfold spike in our population comprising people from all over the world in a span of 50 years.

Singapore, and even Malaysia, would probably wear a very different complexion today had it not been for British colonialism.

This real probability is not meant to exonerate the British of their ills, but simply to establish a fine line between their evils and their overall contributions to this country.

There is no need for Singaporeans to get overly sensitive and vindictive in assessing Singapore's modern history over the last 200 years, including our colonial history.

We have done well enough for ourselves to wear those chips on our shoulders with some grace, dignity and equanimity.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2019, with the headline 'Give credit to colonial Britain where it is due'. Print Edition | Subscribe