Singapore's Lee backtracks on Muslim comments

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 08 2011 05:17 PM | Updated as of Mar 09 2011 01:17 AM

SINGAPORE - Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew has said he stands corrected on remarks that the city-state's Muslims faced difficulties integrating into the population, local media reported Tuesday.

In a statement, Lee said that his controversial view -- espoused in a book "Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going", released in January -- was outdated.

"Hard Truths was a book based on 32 interviews over a period of two years. I made this one comment on the Muslims integrating with other communities probably two or three years ago," he said in the statement reported in local media.

"Ministers and MPs (members of parliament), both Malay and non-Malay, have since told me that Singapore Malays have indeed made special efforts to integrate with the other communities, especially since 9/11, and that my call is out of date," added Lee.

Singapore has a predominantly Chinese population, with minority races including Muslim Malays and Indians.

"I stand corrected. I hope that this trend will continue in the future," said Lee, 87, who remains an influential government adviser with the title of minister mentor.

The statement followed expressions of unhappiness by the local Muslim community over his remarks, amid growing expectations the government will call for general elections within the year.

In the book, Lee argued that Singaporean Muslims faced difficulties in integrating because of their strict adherence to Islamic tenets, and urged them to "be less strict on Islamic observances".

"I would say today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam," he said in the book.

"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 said.