Facebook post by Zulfikar Shariff:

We often hear that one of the problems of the Malay community is drug addiction.

For years, battling drug addiction has been one of the focus points of the Malay community. It not only is one of our weakness, at times it has become the policy definer of our community.

When Goh Chok Tong as Prime Minister rejected AMP’s proposal for Malay Collective Leadership, he argued the AMP should instead tackle the community’s drug problems.

But how did the Malay community become involved in drug abuse?

We do not have a history of drug use. In fact, prior to and early during the PAP’s reign, the Chinese community was the one that abused drugs.

The Malays did not.

According to Count-van Manen,

“In 1968, the Singapore Commissioner of Police reported 8,000 opium addicts. In addition, there are 2,000 addicts on morphine and 1,500 on ganja.
The habit of opium smoking once reached that of “almost a social custom”

of hospitality, ritual, and elaborate equipment associated with wealth and status of the Chinese male…

Indian hemp (akin to marijuana) is reported to be used primarily by the Indian (often of low socioeconomic status) segment of the population and, to a lesser degree, by the Malay. Officials report surprisingly little use of marijuana or heroin. Considering that other elements of Western culture have been imported, they are at a loss to explain this phenomenon. Possibly the association of opium use with high socioeconomic status of the Chinese and of marijuana with the relatively low status of many Indians helps to account for this lag.”

The main drug abusers were Chinese (opium) and Indian (marijuana).

So how did the Malays become addicts?

The PAP’s policy of excluding Malays from National Service plays a part in the rise of Malay drug addicts.

When the PAP instituted National Service in 1967, Malays were excluded from enlistment. However, they were not notified of the exclusion. And the policy was not made public.

According to Tania Li,

“Since Malays were not officially exempted from National Service, Malay youths were unable to obtain apprenticeships or regular jobs, and many were forced into an extended limbo period of about ten years…

Malay organizations protested against this policy, as it was felt that the irregular life-style forced upon these youths was in part responsible for the high percentage of Malay youths who became involved in heroin drug abuse during the late 1970s.”

The Malays did not have a history of drug abuse prior to the 1970s.

When the PAP forced Malays out of the uniformed services and placed them in limbo, these youths who were unable to find work or receive education for 10 years (because they assumed they would be called up for NS at anytime) filled their time with narcotics and social delinquency.

The PAP’s racist policies changed what was originally a problem of the Chinese and Indian communities to a Malay community problem.

Manen, Gloria Count-Van. “A Deviant Case of Deviance: Singapore.” Law and Society Review (1971): 389-406.

Li, Tania M. Introduction to Malays in Singapore: Culture. Economy and Ideology. Oxford University Press, 1989.

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