Diary of a Biro Tatanegara participant by J Bellamy
Thursday, December 13, 2012
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.
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
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
previously routine racist attacks in BTN have largely been replaced by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
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.
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.