Saturday, October 07, 2006

Real Knowledge of the Middle East Needed

I’ glad that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew wrote the article “Why the Middle East matters to Singapore,” (St: October 6, 2006 and Forbes October 16, 2006.) Given that the Middle East sits on more than a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and has a young and growing population that shares many cultural values with Singapore, the region has the ability to help Singapore secure its future.
However, I was rather disturbed by some of Mr Lee’s assumptions. In his article, Mr Lee seems to indulge in uninformed prejudice rather than on insightful analysis and the understanding of human nature, the key characteristics that have made him such a great man.

I’ve always admired Mr Lee but I was taken back by the fact that he mentioned that Singapore’s Muslim population was influenced into condemning Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon because of graphic images found on Muslim websites. Does Mr Lee seriously believe that only Muslim based media showed the suffering of innocent people in Lebanon?

While I cannot speak for the media in other parts of the region, I believe that the Singapore media is responsible in reporting the news factually. By watching and reading about the war in Lebanon on the Singapore main stream media, I saw images of wounded and dead civilians, including women and children. I didn’t have to be a Muslim to understand that these deaths could be justified because of the kidnapping of three soldiers.

Mr Lee amazingly fails to understand another of his own success – namely the importance of providing for the people. While Mr Lee is quick to condem Hizbollah for not disarming according to UN Resolution 1701, he fails to point out that the Lebanese people support Hizbollah because the party takes care of their needs – after the bombardment, Hizbollah gave households money to repair the damage caused by the bombing.

The Minister Mentor is a great man who has done well by Singapore. However, Singaporean business people trying to set up in the Middle East should not follow his example and indulge in their prejudices when dealing with the region. Instead, they should make the effort to get to know the people on a people-to-people level. Middle Eastern Companies like Saudi Aramco are trying to help us know their culture, shouldn’t we be willing to get to know them at this level and show them our culture too?

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