Two common themes embedded in the topic of riot outbreaks in Singapore are diverse ways of thinking and conflict. The theme of diverse ways of thinking is demonstrated through the Malay group of Muslims and their religious beliefs compared to the Islamic beliefs during this time. The theme of conflict derives directly from the violent outbreaks between the Chinese and Malay groups. Moreover, the two groups violent exposure created racial tension across Singapore due to the fact that three quarters of the population were of Chinese decent and the rest being a majority of Malays. The conflict of the racial tension grew, resulting in future problems seen today such as the publication of the word “Allah”. Both themes of diverse ways of thinking and conflict reflect crucial problems throughout history that have continued today including racial violence and religious differences through the non-Malay and Malay cultures.

The 1964 Singapore riots involved in the outbreak of two distinct cultural groups, the Malays, or “Malay Muslims” and the non­-Malays, or “Chinese Muslims”. Political and religious differences between the groups in 1964 led to two other violent riots that caused chaos for both the cultures and their futures. Due to the past racial and religious tensions from the 1930s, Malaysia crumbled and the competition for political and ultimate power continues on today. Trough these continuous tensions it is clear that the themes of conflict and diverse ways of thinking are expressed.

Beginning in the 1930s, starting the root of development in Malaysia which was ultimately the start of the tensions, through the late 1960s the now independent Malay was rapidly developing. However, a core issue in their development rested among the population spike. As seen in the image provided from “Trends in demographic indices for Malay, Chinese, and total population of Malay 1947-194,” there is a clear difference between the Chinese and Malay birth rates. “Such a high rate of increase implies an imperative need for a correspondingly high rate of economic growth…”(Wark 329). Due to the population increase, the workforce was naturally pressured to open up more labor positions to accompany all the unemployed people. Even, more labor positions required more education to be provided in order to teach laborers the proper ways. Eventually, the increase created future problems overall politically and economically. The tension between the Chinese and Malay groups rooted heavily in the problem of the development and population spike between the two from the 1930s. Since Singapore’s independence, two five-year “plans” were created in hopes of future development in Malay for the late 1960s. However, the Chinese “numbers” were higher than Malay “numbers” in the late 1950s therefore causing problems within Malaysia itself. Moreover, with two different groups having different viewpoints on religion and government, the “numbers” each culture produced influenced major decisions. The author of the article Riots In Singapore was written by Mohamed Sopier on December 5 in 1950 state how already existing and uprising tensions between the Malay and British administration were “communist driven”. The riots seen in the past October were of no trouble to the British, they saw it as a communist driven incident, ignoring the severity of the uprising issue. However, the Malay Muslims pushed for an understanding with the British to avoid future political problems. Moreover, the Malay communists, willing to rebel, spoke out about their concerns and brought attention to the unfair treatment provided from the British. Overall, Malay’s communicated how the previous outbreaks were horrible and should be avoided at all costs for future references. The article further supports the viewpoints expressed involving the outbreak and racial tensions. Moreover, how the tension led up to riots and eventually arose again in the future.The beginning of the tensions draws back to the population spike in the 1930s and from there the tensions further increased into the 1960s.

Singapore riot outbreak

The tension throughout Singapore in the 1960’s between the non-Malay and Malay groups not only led to a division between the two cultures, but led to two significant  riot outbreaks. In Abshire’s novel The History of Singapore, pages 129-134, the author describes the process of Singapore to its political destiny. After Lee Kwan Yew, a politician for the non-Malay group, agreed to stand out of the elections held in April, he instantly became uneasy with the matter at hand. He feared that the Malaysian Chinese Association, or MCA would shift its support to the BS, or Barisan Sosialis. Therefore, ultimately favoring the PAP, People’s Action Party, which was not only  opposed to the MCA, but favored Malay-dominated groups. After many shaky months, the outbreak of riots emerged and eventually Singapore declared independence from Malaysia. Focusing the matter on the riots itself, Abshire describes the riots as the “worst and longest rioting in Singapore since World War II” (129). Due to the tension between the Malays and Chinese communities violent riots uprooted not only once, but twice. Overall, more than 30 were killed, hundreds injured and thousands were arrested. Due to the increasing issues, the UMNO decided that Singapore had to remove itself from Malaysia. On August 9, 1965, Singapore announced its independence and by September it was accepted by the United Nations. After the riots however, issues between the two Malay cultures still continue today. The more current article, “Malaysia will suffer if Islam is used as a political weapon”, states the obvious tension spreading throughout Malaysia regarding political power between the Malays, or “Malay Muslims” and the non-Malays, or “Chinese Muslims”.  Due to 60 percent of the population being Muslim (Malay Muslim), political views and influence heavily favor the Malay group. These tensions have continued to this year and have grown deeper while the economy is gradually declining as well. In the article, “Malaysia’s ethnic tensions rise as its economy declines” the author Wataru Yoshida describes the “rift between Chinese Malaysians and the ethnic Malay majority”. The two cultures not only are declining financially, but do not blend together.


Chinese Malay and Malay population  1947-1964

The Singapore riot outbreaks in 1964 derived from much built up tension, however, it remained between two different, significant groups, the Non-Malays and Malays. Moreover, the Malays, or “Malay Muslims” and the non-Malays, or “Chinese Muslims” held separate beliefs in their religious views and competed for political power. This historical photo captures the riot in Singapore in the year of 1964. In 1964, the riots were initiated between the Malay Muslim and Chinese Muslim communities due to political favoritism

1964 Riots 2 - scene 2(New)

of the Malay Muslims. Religious tension has increased as well specifically with the publication of the world “Allah” in the catholic church, carrying over today. The two Muslim cultures struggle today as a result of their past tensions in the political and religious aspects.

According to the New York Times of 1966, the Singapore riots later on were a result in the clash hundreds of Chinese and Malay civilians. Ultimately, this riot was a reflection and even backlash of the 1964 outbreak of riots also in Singapore between the same groups. The rioting later on, initiated by the Malays, started due to their perception that they were being “rejected in favor of the Chinese” (New York Times). However, it was determined that a guard had divided the young men applying for training camps into two distinct groups, the Malays and non-Malays. The situation was therefore resolved, and in the end only 15 were left injured. These recurring riots justify the clear tension and mistrust between the two groups. Moreover, how Malaysia would need to ultimately, re-evaluate it’s governments policies and political rule in order to please both groups. According to Rogers, the later 1969 riots were caused by “communal fears” and mistrust between the Malay’s and the government. In 1971, Singapore was working to economically and politically change the national policy and unity of Malaysia. The previous Malay supremacy “amended the constitution to prohibit the questioning  of Malay political dominance..”(Rogers, 168). Therefore, in 1971 “Malaysia returned to a parliamentary democracy” (Rogers, 168),  and reviewed the constitutional amendment concerning the dominance in Malay political control and turning over to the UMNO to implement government policies. As far as the economic development, Malaysia launched the NEP, or “New Economic Policy” therefore thriving to expand its economy with increased job opportunities and redistributing incomes. The new plan was perceived to inevitably affect Malaysia’s economic and socio-economic future.

One very recent, and not surprising, altercation expressed in Malaysia was the publication of the word “Allah” in the Catholic Church. The article, “Malaysia will suffer if Islam is used as a political weapon” is to further explain how tension is spreading throughout Malaysia regarding political power between the groups today. Specifically, the article entails how the court ruled out the usage of the word “Allah” in the Catholic Church’s publication. Due to this seemingly unfair new rule, the government is clearly showing a favoritism to a particular group, the Muslims. As seen through the image provided from “BBC News Asia,” the people are clearly expressing their frustration, and fighting to speak how they feel. Even though the word is established in the non-Malay views, the Islamic government condemns the Christian religion. Although Malaysia is multiracial, 60 percent of the population is  Muslim. Therefore, the non-Malay Catholic groups were not surprised by the ruling. The problem itself correlates directly to the riots in 1964. The two groups involved in the past riots, and in today’s affair are the Malays, or “Malay Muslims” and the non-Malays, or “Chinese Muslims”. Due to those racial riot out breaks, the government created a new plan, “New Economy Policy,” or NEP ultimately favoring the Malay-Muslim group rather than satisfying both groups. For a long time the non-Malay group saw the NEP as a price to pay for peace; however they were clearly considered second class. The Malay ruling of the UMNO or “United Malay National Organization,” saw the NEP as an opportunity to gain wealth. However the non-Malay groups did not support the UMNO group therefore resulting in a weak vote from them in 2013 elections. To “punish” the non-Malay groups for not supporting the UMNO in the election they decided to ban the word “Allah” as a way to regain political power. By banning the publication of the word, it will bring the Maya Muslim vote back to the UMNO and remind the non-Malay group of their lack of power. Overall, there is a clear distinction of continued racial tension; and although there were past tensions that seemed to vanish, the clear government power under the influence of Muslim still resides today therefore creating a clear conflict and divide in their nation and cultures.


Overall, the multiple Singapore riots reflect the continuous tensions seen today. The theme of conflict derives directly from the violent outbreaks between the Chinese and Malay groups over the span of the 1930s to 190s.Starting from the “numbers” demonstrated in the populate in the count in the 2930s leading to the competition for political power in the 1950s and later riots. The significance of the outbreaks is a clear expression of the divided cultures and how those past events transpire today. Moreover, the two groups clear differences and competition for power divided the nation and have caused continuous tensions today.

Works Cited:

Jean E. Abshire, The History of Singapore (California: Greenwood, 2011), 129-134

Marion Wark, “A Review of the Problems and Achievements in the Economic Development of Independent Malaya”  Clark University (2009): 329-335.

Mohamed Sopier, “Riots in Singapore” Times, December 5, 1950.

Nikkei Asian Review “Malaysia’s ethnic tension rise as its economy falls”, last modified February 2, 2014, Wataru Yoshida

Rogers, Marvin. “Malaysia and Singapore: 1971 Developments.” JSTOR. January 1, 1972. Accessed November 13, 2014.

The Daily Star (Lebanon), July 9, 2014 Wednesday, 814 words, James Chin

Illustration Works Cited: 

“Countering Threats.” Countering Threats. Accessed December 1, 2014.

Google. “BBC News Asia,” Last modified 14 October 2013

New York Times, “Communal Rioting Shakes Singapore.” February 2, 1966. Accessed November 13, 2014.

“Trends in demographic indices for Malay, Chinese, and total population of Malay 1947-194”, Last modified February 1966