Singapore’s ex-Prime Minister and founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, has called Islam a “venomous religion,” according to a recently released Wikileaks cable.
From WikiLeaks website:
Asked by Rep. Rangel how organized terrorists were internationally, MM Lee responded that orthodox Islam was a powerful force capable of recruiting volunteers for terrorist groups. He noted Singapore's experience in 2001 and 2002 in dealing with Jemaah Islamiyah's terrorist plots in Singapore and characterized Islam as a "venomous religion."The problem of Islamic terrorism would not be easily extirpated, observed MM Lee. While Muslims in Southeast Asia were traditionally moderate and tolerant, they had been affected by radicalism emanating from Middle East and the spread of wahhabism from Saudi Arabia. Singapore's Muslim leaders were rational and educated in English and the GOS kept a limit on madrassah-based education. He stressed that moderate Muslims had to be encouraged to stand up and speak out against radicalism. They needed confidence that they could win. We could get to the tipping point, noted MM Lee, but he didn't know how long it would take.
Lee rejected the WikiLeaks cable claim by saying that it’s false. According to Channel News Asia, he reiterated that nowhere does it record him describing Islam as “venomous.” However, he did talk about radical Islamic fundamentalists such as the Jemaah Islamiyah, and reinforced that Singapore Muslim leaders are rational, as “moderate” Muslims are urged to be critical of Muslim “radicals.”
From Lee’s press secretary:
The cable claimed that in my meeting with Senator Clinton, I had “characterized Islam as a ‘venomous religion’. This is false. I looked up MFA’s filenote of the meeting. Nowhere does it record me describing Islam as “venomous”, nor did I say anything which could have given that impression.
I did talk about extremist terrorists like the Jemaah Islamiyah group, and the jihadist preachers who brainwashed them. They are implacable in wanting to put down all who do not agree with them. So their Islam is a perverted version, which the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Singapore do not subscribe to.
I also pointed out that our Muslim leaders are rational, and that the ultimate solution to extremist terrorism was to give moderate Muslims the courage to stand up and speak out against radicals who have hijacked Islam to recruit volunteers for their violent ends.
The media release by Lee’s press secretary appears to fit most of the points released by the WikiLeaks cable, especially on how “moderate” Muslims should be encouraged to be critical of radical Islam and to propagate only “moderate” Islam and not “radical” Islam. The only difference is that the WikiLeaks cable recorded Lee to have characterized Islam as a “venomous religion.”
Here’s my take on the issue: that term, “venomous religion,” has been taken out of context, and has caused an uproar. There is a high probability that Lee was referring to “radical” Islam as a “perverted version” of the religion, and is therefore “venomous”. Though we’re not quite sure sure what “radical” or “moderate” or “perverted” version of Islam means to Lee, we can make a logical inference that Lee is referring to a certain brand of Islam that does not characterize Islam as a whole.
However, instead of justifying the controversial term as something that has been taken out of context, his press secretary goes on to deny that Lee has ever said that, probably to avoid any potential public backlash. This makes the issue all the more contentious, because the evidence given is “MFA’s filenote of the meeting” – which we know is highly unreliable since it is a filenote taken on Lee’s side – and thus, there can be no possible corroboration of evidence.
As a result, the media release looks all the more suspicious because of the almost perfect fit of Lee’s claims, other than the last part on “venomous religion”. Ultimately, to disprove rather than to clarify is probably not the best crisis management move, as this might only raise suspicions and exacerbate the controversy, which is very sensitive for a multiracial country like Singapore.
The author would like to point out that given the difficulty of verifying the authenticity of the Wikileaks cable, the views expressed above are purely inferences, and are her own.