Diary of a Biro Tatanegara participant
COMMENT I was once a member of a group of government servants forced to attend a Biro Tatanegara (BTN, or National Civics Bureau) “nationhood” course.
This Orwellian department began life as a ‘Youth Research Unit’ in 1974, under the Youth Ministry. It was re-invented as the BTN in the Prime Minister’s Department, under Dr Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister at the time.
Prime Minister Najib Adul Razak’s overfed, flabby department bestowed the BTN with RM74 million of public money in 2009.
BTN has repaid taxpayers with racial slurs. Hamim Husin (left), a deputy director of the Federal Territory office of the BTN, called the Chinese ‘si sepet’ (slanted-eye) and the Indians ‘si botol’ (alcoholics) at an Umno meeting in September 2010. Hamim managed to alienate more than 30 percent of the nation’s population in one breath.
Half a year earlier, in February 2010, Nasir Safar, a “special assistant” to Najib, was forced to resign after expressing his contempt for the non-Malay ‘pendatang’ or immigrants.
At a 1Malaysia event, Nasir called Malaysian Indians “beggars” and Malaysian Chinese “prostitutes”. His half-crazed speech was blamed on brainwashing by the BTN.
BTN officers must have been drinking too much of their own distillate of ethnic hatred.
The BTN took a hammering in the press for its crude attempts at indoctrination. There were calls from the MCA , MIC and NGOs for the BTN to be dismantled, and to be packed away in the same musty drawers as the ‘psy-ops’ experts of China’s Cultural Revolution or Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago.
Since 2010, the BTN has improved somewhat: the widely reported insults against non-Malays as immigrants or ‘pendatang’ have been toned down. Non-Malays are no longer instructed to publicly announce they are ‘pendatang’. Instead, they are invited to state, during group discussions, their dialect group and their ancestral homes in China or India, as a kind of confession of their ‘pendatang’ status.
‘Bersih’ is dirty
The previously routine racist attacks in BTN have largely been replaced by the tepid platitudes of 1Malaysia. But the BTN has not given up its staple diet of championing Malay supremacy, of lauding Umno, and of attacking PAS, PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim and the DAP.
The BTN continues to emphasise the so-called “unchangeable” articles in the federal constitution that protect the “special position” of the Malays (Article 153), the Malay Rulers, Islam as the religion of the nation and Malay as the national language.
Copies of the constitution are handed out, and BTN participants are warned repeatedly never to question these supposedly sacrosanct articles.
We were reminded several times about the constitutional latitude afforded to the government of the day to impose constraints on individual liberties, such as freedom of speech and expression, in the name of “sedition” and “public order and morality”.
‘Bersih’ is a dirty word. We were educated that the meaning of democracy was regular elections, not street rallies. Public demonstrations are clearly seen as a threat to Umno’s monopoly on national power.
Psy ops, BTN style
One evening, we were softened up initially by a lighthearted contest, performing patriotic songs. After the camaraderie and laughter of the competition, we were brought back to earth by a role-playing game, designed to remind us of the evils of colonialism.
We were given strict instructions to remain silent, while being set a seemingly impossible task, trying to match up stones of different sizes.
During the task, BTN facilitators pulled out several participants, apparently at random. These “detainees” had masking tape placed over their lips and strings tied loosely around their wrists, to mimic the senseless injustice of colonial rule. After 20 minutes, a few selected participants were allowed to speak, and then to release the “detainees” on the sidelines.
After this pantomime liberation, we were told to gather in a crowd around one young man and shoulder him aloft, carrying a giant Malaysian flag while singing a happy patriotic song.
Finally, we were treated to a video – essentially a snuff film – aimed at traumatising participants, so that we would feel that Muslims and Malays are victims and therefore Malays must unite against the larger world.
There was a slide show of stomach-turning violence, depicting Iraqi and Palestinian children and women buried alive, bleeding from facial wounds, and butchered by American or Israeli soldiers. One photograph focussed on an American soldier’s T-shirt, bearing the slogan ‘Born to Kill’.
A repulsive video was then played, showing religious violence among Muslim and Christian Malays in Ambon, including a scene of an attacker hacking a defenceless man with a machete, until a piece of his skull was partly detached, while policemen looked on.
These horrific scenes were interspersed with images of unidentified Malay protesters throwing stones and Bersih demonstrators picking up and hurling tear gas canisters.
The final message of Malay unity was driven home using a tearful speech by former prime minister Mahathir, reminding us tremulously that the Malay “struggle” is not over. Several of us were in tears by this stage.
Tomorrow: Can this be the end, BTN?
J BELLAMY (not his real name) knows the Malaysian civil service inside out, and is an occasional contributor to the letters pages of local newspapers.
Friday, December 14, 2012
Can this be the end, BTN?
One tearful young woman in the audience wondered out loud why the government had not held “roadshows” throughout the country to highlight this nugget of history that was “so little known”. The reference to these “traitors” has now been deleted.
I was among a group of government servants ordered to attend a BTN programme. Our course was professionally run, featuring lectures by academicians, “discussions” or indoctrination sessions by retired civil servants, and light-hearted marching activities, helmed by likeable former commandos.
We had comfortable accommodation, which was a vast improvement on previous courses. Participants had traditionally been banished to isolated jungle camps to undergo various bonding activities there, such as sharing baths by scooping out water from a common trough.
The routine of indoctrination
Our day began with compulsory prayers among the Muslims, and a roll call: men in front, women behind. Women were singled out for praise from the male course organisers for being well-dressed, for having a fetching appearance, or for having an attractive way of walking.
Patriotic music preceded each lecture. The catchy ‘Perajurit Tanah Air’ accompanied an amateurish video of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak posing with various phallic objects: missiles, torpedoes and the infamous Scorpene submarines. A Najib quote flashed across the screen: “We know the things we need for the next 5 to 10 years”.
A ‘1Malaysia’ song followed, complete with mandatory waving of small plastic flags. Najib appeared on the screen, riding the LRT or monorail, and in some discomfort, wiping the sweat from his moustache on the sleeve of his 1Malaysia shirt.
In lectures, and in religious classes or ‘madrassah’ reserved for Muslims, the message of Malay solidarity and of the threat against the special position of the Malays by “the others”, was constantly drummed home. We were warned of “militant” Islamists in our midst.
The problems faced by the government, we were told, were caused by “perception”. For instance, we were told Rosmah Mansor, Najib’s wife, had never owned a RM24.4 million diamond ring.
The Welfare Association of Ministers’ Wives (Bakti) had, in fact, used Rosmah’s name (as Bakti president) to import the ring, in order to display it to collect donations for charity.
True meaning of patriotism
The BTN lecturers made it clear that the true meaning of patriotism was to favour the ruling party. We were quizzed, for example, using a multiple-choice question:
“You are the head of a government department, planning a course in professionalism and integrity for your department. Three candidates are short-listed to provide the course, having fulfilled the technical criteria:
i) A foreign company with excellent competence, offering a competitive price;
ii) A local company known to be a strong supporter of the ruling party, but with limited competence; and
iii) A local company known to be a strong supporter of an opposition party, with ample competence, which pledges not to allow politics to interfere with its delivery of the contract.”
Most participants chose (iii). However, the BTN facilitators revealed that the correct answer is (ii), because we must, as civil servants, obey the instructions of the ruling party.
Besides, how else can a local company with “limited competence” improve its expertise, without being given a chance?
However, a little bewilderment ensued over the complications arising when one party is in opposition at state level, but in government at the federal level.
One Malay woman participant argued that we must simply “do our job” to the best of our ability as civil servants, and not as servants of party politics. Her remark was greeted with applause.
Candid views on nationalism
Our lecturers stressed a narrow interpretation of nationalism. This was based on the so-called “social contract” that established citizenship for non-Malays, with an open-ended preservation of the “special position” of the Malays: quotas in education, the civil service, and permits and licences, as outlined in Article 153.
A BTN lecturer, a constitutional lawyer, announced at the outset of her talk that any constitution must be a “living document”. She then proceeded to declare that the articles regarding this “special position” were immutable and fossilised.
In a question-and-answer session, the law lecturer also provided a candid insight into federal-state relations. She described how an unnamed friend, a High Court judge in Sabah, had told her that Sabahans considered themselves lucky that they had joined Malaysia, instead of Indonesia or the Philippines.
She asserted that the name “Malaysia” dated back to the 19th century, and therefore Sabah and Sarawak had “joined” the federation in the same way that Alaska and Hawaii had joined the United States of America.
She gave short shrift to the “20-point” and “18-point” agreements that Sabah and Sarawak had established before Malaysia Day, and added breezily that even Sabahans and Sarawakians themselves do not know the contents of these agreements.
If, as Samuel Johnson said, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, BTN must certainly be one of the last refuges of institutionalised patriotism. But BTN appears to have been compelled, with one eye on public opinion, to moderate its tactics of promoting Malay supremacy.
Perhaps the national sea change in political awareness, the openness highlighted by the “new media”, and the growth of “social bridging”, exemplified by the multi-ethnic Bersih rallies and anti-Lynas movements, is changing our society, and therefore our civil service. When a two-party system eventually takes root, the values of the BTN may well be weeded out.
Could this be the end, BTN?
|9:12AM Dec 15, 2012|
YOURSAY ‘Every vile regime has used re-education of the rakyat as a tool to brainwash the masses that corruption, cronyism, nepotism are good.’
Can this be the end, BTN?
Swipenter: We do not need BTN (Biro Tatanegara) to inculcate patriotism. All you need is a government that practices and defends the principles of equal citizenship, equal opportunity and equal treatment for all under the law. Patriotism will inherently grow in the hearts and minds of every Malaysian.
Now BTN seeks to destroy the 1Malaysia spirit that was once common amongst us before fascism in the guise Mahathirism spread and took root in our nation by deliberate design.
The Malays themselves must wake up to the fact that their culture is also being slowly wiped out by the process of deliberate Arabisation. Culture must be distinguished from religion because religion is religion, and not a form of culture/racial identity.
Fair&Just: As if the NEP (New Economic Policy) is not enough, they have to set up the BTN to drive home their ill intent, which is to suppress the other races forever in the land and become their serfs paying taxes but given no opportunities or just crumbs.
Is this the way of God’s chosen people? Will God be doing justice for the victims?
Ranjit Singh: I remember, after the Hindraf uprising in 2007, one of my Malay friends who worked in a government agency related her experience at one of the BTN courses where they were shown the picture of the Hindraf chairperson and classified him as “musuh negara” (enemy of the country) similar to Osama bin Laden.
BTN needs to be abolished or revamped with participation from all segments of the community if it intends to foster patriotism amongst Malaysians. Go look at their policymakers and the corporate structure, and you will understand what I mean.
Headhunter: Despotic regimes like the Khmer Rouge and Chinese Communist Party during the cultural revolution used exactly the same tactics as the BTN.
And when they failed to convince the populace, the next option was to kill or jail those who were perceived to be in opposition to the regime.
And those impressible and weak subjected to such brainwashing techniques became emotional and started to shed tears and believed their leaders.
The good news is that such regimes ended up losing their power because they could fool most people most of the time, but they could not fool them all of the time.
YF: Every vile regime and despot have used re-education of the rakyat as a tool to brainwash the masses that corruption, cronyism, nepotism are good and is in line with their religion.
For the civil servants, they are in the worst of positions as they have to lie in order to retain their jobs and career in the corrupt civil service. Is this what our forefathers had promised the rakyat?
Blind Freddo: Parents, schools, religious indoctrinators, BTN, National Service, political parties… It doesn’t matter who it is, this whole country is based on lies, half truths and misinterpretations in an attempt to control and manipulate.
In fact, control and manipulation is now so commonplace you take it as the norm.
Thetruth: The BTN is the greatest achievement of the Mahathir era. BTN is the most racist government machine which serves and preserves a racist and corrupt party. It must be swept out of the country if we want to progress in the right direction.
Abasir: “Question: Who should get a government contract? Correct answer: A local company known to be a strong supporter of the ruling party, but with limited competence.”
This is the essence of Mahathir’s vision for Malaysia in which Umno, lording over the incompetent, rules forever.
This also explains why we have so many half-wits, imbeciles and inepts at the top of agencies, GLCs (government-linked companies) and government departments and why the cabinet is always as Mahathir put it, ‘half-past six’.
Giudice: There are so many things wrong with this country that it is difficult to know where to start. While all of us bear some responsibility, some more than others, the bottom line is that the buck stops with BN as the government.
They have failed us, it is indisputable and only the BN apologists will be blind to it. While it is unlikely we can convince the hardcore BN apologists, we must make every effort to convince everyone else, especially the youth and fence sitters, to vote for change.
We must give Pakatan a chance and make it known that we have the power to do so and also, if Pakatan does not perform in the way that we want, we shall exercise our power to vote them out of government.
Anonymous #20926157: I have been to a BTN camp myself as a local university student. To be fair, not all of the instructors are racist bigots, but the problem is the system itself.
The instructors also have their own feelings about the government but the ‘big bosses’ are always watching and keeping an eye on them to make sure they indoctrinate us properly.
To love our country is one thing but what they are teaching is blind obedience and subservience instead of liberal and logical thinking.
Xiao Zhu: I attended the BTN probably 20 years ago because the GLC I was working for had nothing better to do and sent the staff to ‘clean their brain’.
One group failed to get up on time for prayer and the rest of the group that have nothing to do with the prayer were punished, too. How nice.
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