Our First Malay BG – What was Said and Not Said


Well, the SAF is trying its best to be progressive and move Malays laterally and upwards in the SAF. The SAF since independence, for deep rooted geopolitical reasons, has been cautious about Malays in the military. They finally have a BG, the Malay community finally has a BG and Mindef can puff out its chest and say that they are opening up quite well in redefining the infamously frank machine-gun dilemma (partly borne out of worry that one day Malaysia might carry out its former PM Tunku Abdul Rahman’s threat to cut water supply and bring Singapore to its knees),

If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who’s very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that’s a very tricky business. We’ve got to know his background.” Lee Kuan Yew

All good that the SAF has made a Malay and fellow Singaporean no less, a BG. But to be the Devils Advocate, besides looking at what was said, we also have to think about what was not said. What is this BG’s portfolio? Is the answer something that will perpetuate the impression that Malays are welcome and yet not welcomed in the SAF?


SAF’s first Malay general

TO HEAR Colonel Ishak Ismail, 46, tell it, his decision to become a regular officer in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was greeted with some incredulity.

He recalled yesterday that someone asked him pointedly: ‘This is your name – you sure you want to sign on?’

He has replied in the affirmative many times in the last 28 years.

Yesterday, his time in the military was capped in historic fashion – he has become the first Malay general in the SAF.

His promotion marks a milestone in Malays’ efforts to be fully accepted in the military, a controversial issue ever since it was disclosed in 1987 that the SAF adopted a cautious approach in placing them in key positions.

Col Ishak was one of five who headed the SAF’s annual promotion list and attained the rank of Brigadier-General or Rear-Admiral (One Star).

The other four were: Colonel (Dr) Benjamin Seet and Colonel Lee Shiang Long from the Army; the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Colonel Tan Wee Beng; and Colonel Kwek Kok Kwong of the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

The five were among 464 from all three arms – both regulars and operationally-ready National Servicemen – presented with their certificates of promotion at a ceremony at Bukit Gombak Camp yesterday.

The promotions will take effect from July 1, which is SAF Day.

For Col Ishak, moving to the rank of Brigadier-General is reward for what he calls a consuming passion: Developing people to their potential.

Calling himself a ‘servant leader’, he said: ‘What gets me up in the morning and gives me the passion every day is the same reason I became a regular officer: Being able to influence people to something that they may not see themselves accomplishing.’

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8 responses

  1. Pingback: The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 29 Jun 2009

  2. BG Ishak is heading the 6th division and it is presumably a front line and sensitive appointment. So on one hand the SAF is assuring the Malay community that a Malay can be trusted to lead a combat unit. However, he is only one man and the extent and depth to which Malays are represented in the SAF is not public.

    Nevertheless, I feel that the winds of change are here and the SAF is slowly becoming matured enough to realise that Malays too can play a role in the military defence of our country.

    June 29, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    • xcessmeine

      malay dilemma have you been in the army?. Like what samantha said.. soon he will our first in the singapore, JB and some say Batam malay general.. it just a gimmick.

      August 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

  3. Samantha

    TODAY reported that Ishak, after the timely promotion when retirement age in SAF was just changed recently from 45 to 50, is appointed Commander of the 12th Singapore Infantry Brigade – the most senior officer in charge of army TRAINING. That’s hardly a frontline appointment, unless the SAF decides to send first in battle recruits for cannon fodder. Note also “the most senior officer” in charge of army training – i.e. before Ishak, they never had to have general in charge of training.

    June 30, 2009 at 8:21 am

  4. Ran

    You should have a read through this:

    Lee Kuan Yew: Race, Culture, Genes – http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/lib/ne/lky/raceculturegenes.pdf

    June 30, 2009 at 10:56 am

  5. Pingback: The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Weekly Roundup: Week 27

  6. Pingback: SilentAssassin’s Archive

  7. armydaze

    No one here obviously has served NS.

    There are THREE infantry divisions – 3Div, 6 Div and 9 Div. And 6Div, which he was the Div Com for, is the least prestigious and least important of the three.

    The other two- one is the largest Infantry Div by overall numbers, the other is the largest in terms active fighting body (as opposed to a bunch of NS men). 6Div is the smallest, tiniest division and the least important when the three are compared and measured.

    Malaydilemma, you don’t know what you are talking about! Not one bit.

    January 10, 2010 at 11:21 pm

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