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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        25 January 2011

Singapore founder speaks on social, religious integration

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Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew has urged local Muslims to "be less strict on Islamic observances" to aid integration and the city-state's nation-building process.

Singapore has a predominantly Chinese population, with minority races including Muslim Malays and Indians, and Lee has always stressed the importance of racial harmony.

"I would say today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam," he said in "Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going," a new book containing his typically frank views on the city-state and its future.

"I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration - friends, intermarriages and so on..." he stated.

"I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate," Lee added, calling on the community to "be less strict on Islamic observances."

During the book's launch on Friday, the self-described "pragmatist" warned Singaporeans against complacency, saying the largely ethnic Chinese republic was still a nation in the making.

Describing Singapore in the book as an "80-storey building on marshy land," Lee said it must contend with hostility from larger Muslim neighbors.

"We've got friendly neighbors? Grow up... There is this drive to put us down because we are interlopers," he said, citing alleged Malaysian and Indonesian efforts to undermine Singapore's crucial port business.

Singapore was ejected from the Malaysian federation in 1965 in large part due to Kuala Lumpur's preferential policies for ethnic Malays, and has since built up Southeast Asia's most modern military to deter foreign aggression.

Turning to local politics, Lee said the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), which has been in power since 1959 when Singapore gained political autonomy from colonial ruler Britain, will someday lose its grip on power.

Lee said that despite a survey showing the contrary, he believed Singaporeans were not yet ready for a non-ethnic-Chinese prime minister.

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