Singapore's Lee denies Islam remark

2011-09-05 14:41

Singapore - Singapore's outspoken former leader Lee Kuan Yew on Monday denied calling Islam a "venomous religion" after leaked US diplomatic cables set off a furore in the multiracial city-state.

One of hundreds of cables from the US embassy in Singapore released last week by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks had Lee as describing Islam as a "venomous religion" in a 2005 meeting with then senator Hillary Clinton.

"This is false," the 87-year-old Lee, Singapore's founding prime minister and elder statesman, said in a statement.

Lee said that he looked up a foreign ministry note of the meeting, and "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 (Southeast Asian) 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," he said.

Organised terrorists

"So their Islam is a perverted version, which the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Singapore do not subscribe to."

During the meeting, another US lawmaker in Clinton's party had asked Lee about "how organised terrorists were internationally", according to the leaked cable signed off by then US ambassador to Singapore Frank Lavin.

It said 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 characterised Islam as a 'venomous religion'."

Singapore has a predominantly Chinese population with minority races including Malays, who are mostly Muslim, making up 13.4% of its population of five million.

Comments sparked furore

The small Southeast Asian nation's closest neighbours geographically are mainly Muslim countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Lee's comments sparked a furore among Singapore's online community, which now plays a large part in shaping public debate in the city-state, where newspapers are perceived to be pro-government.

"LKY (Lee Kuan Yew) should not make general and sweeping statements like that," Lee Rou Xuan, a Singaporean citizen, wrote on the Facebook page of the blog site The Online Citizen.

"He should have taken a greater effort to find out more or maybe his million-dollar-paid ministers should have given him some good advice."

Sonny Pereira, another Facebook user, said the former leader's remarks were seditious.

"This is serious! He ought to (feel) shame in public and the Arab world for what he said. This is sedition!" Pereira wrote.