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Those exercised by the discussion and debates around Singapore's 2019 Bicentennial should know that the question was considered at length nearly 50 years ago, in Syed Hussein Alatas' slim but devastating volume Thomas Stamford Raffles: Schemer or Reformer? While publication of the work failed to spark a wide debate on Raffles' legacy in 1970s Singapore, it was noticed by Edward Said, who later cited Alatas' essay as one example of works "set themselves the revisionist, critical task of dealing frontally with the metropolitan culture, using the techniques, discourses, and weapons of scholarship and criticism once reserved exclusively for the European."
Read nearly 50 years after its original publication, this extended essay on Raffles reads as fresh and relevant. Presented here for a new audience, Schemer or Reformer sets out the key elements of the debate in understanding Raffles' own political philosophy through the record of his actions, not just in Singapore, but in Southeast Asia in the years just before and after Singapore's foundation. A new introduction by Syed Farid Alatas assesses contemporary Singapore's take on Raffles, and how far we have or have not come in thinking through Singapore's colonial legacy.
Syed Farid Alatas is Professor of Sociology at the National University of Singapore.