Biro Tata Negara, BTN, or the National Civics Bureau (so-called), has been hogging the news limelight of late. Although the BTN has been a sore thorn in the side of civil society for a long time, the story really flared up big time sometime in November this year, as a result of the Selangor state government wanting to bar its civil servants from attending “nation-building” courses organized by the bureau.
Like many others, Walski has his own BTN story to tell. He won’t relate it here in its entirety, but suffice it to say, the phrase “mata sepet” (slant-eyes) was used to refer to a certain community in Malaysia that’s not Malay. Needless to say, not in a very nice way.
As in, “Ada tak nampak sapa-sapa yang mata sepet dalam bilik ini?” (‘Do you see any slant-eyed people in this room?’). Back then, there wasn’t much politicking against ‘opposition’ parties, or Malay Supremacy tendencies, only the constant reminder of how Malays must be thankful to the government for scholarships, preferential treatment and other sorts of assistance given.
But racist tendencies? As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha!”
Search around the Internet, though, and you’re bound to find numerous anecdotal accounts of similar (if not worse) overtures. Similarly aplenty are those in support of the BTN programs, particularly pro-BN types. Ministers, even.
The debate on- and offline got so heated that the PM himself stepped in to attempt to put a stop to the brouhaha, saying that he alone will decide the fate of BTN. As a follow up, though, he’s asked that more 1Malaysia content be put into the BTN syllabus (both links via The Malaysian Insider).
Well, it better have – somehow, 1Malaysia and institutionalized racism are two concepts that shouldn’t even appear in the same sentence. Okay, they both just did – which is a good indication that the BTN programs in their current form probably need some tweaking.
Make that a general top-down overhaul.
(BTN sycophantasies, racism, and more, in the full post)
But apparently not everyone agrees that BTN is problematic. Take, for example, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Ahmad Maslan. He, hands down, gave the most sycophantic defense for the bureau – according to him, BTN is the reason why Malaysia has survived for the past 35 years.
The Biro Tatanegara (BTN) course has helped to maintain peace among people of various races and religions for 35 years, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Ahmad Maslan (left) said today.
He said Malaysia would have been destroyed long ago if the BTN course was racist as claimed by the opposition.
“Millions of people had attended the BTN course since 1974. Malaysia would have been destroyed if not for the BTN course. It made the nation good and successful.
“The BTN course modules apply to all groups and aimed at nurturing pure values and the spirit of unity,” he said after presenting a paper titled “Gagasan 1 Malaysia” at the 1 Malaysia Seminar for the Prime Minister’s Department (JPM) staff here.
He said BTN not only organise courses but also other programmes to nurture the spirit of patriotism.
“Those who say that BTN course is racist are afraid of their own shadows,” he added.
(source: The Malaysian Insider)
Now, the BN-led government’s idea of patriotism is probably a tad bit different from how the rest of the normal world understands the meaning of the word to be. BN views patriotism as love not just for the country, but also for the government of the day (BN-led, of course), and the required un-love of any party opposed to it.
Perhaps the best come-back was made by blogger Aisehman, who had this to say, with regards to the bit about the “being afraid of their shadows” in the by Datuk Ahmad Maslan news report.
Well, people who espouse ethnic superiority cast none, the bleeding vampires that they are.
Get it? Or is that too sophisticated for you to wrap your Ketuanan Melayu head around?
(source: Aisehman's blog)
All this while, Walski thought that vampires cast no reflection. Like in mirrors. Oh well, it still was a barrel of laughs and a classic Aisehman kind of comeback.
But perhaps it is time that we looked beyond merely pointing fingers at BTN’s faults, granted there are many. It’s probably better to focus on how we can put the “Civics” back into the bureau’s moniker. And not the Honda kind, either – those are more than abundant on Malaysan roads as it is.
I think many parties have missed the point. This is not about assigning guilt. It really does not matter what DSAI, DrM or anyone had said or done. It is about our future. It is about our kids. Because the BTN targets our kids.
It is about finding out whether something wrong has been done. If so what are they and what are the solutions? Are we going to continue with the wrongs, if indeed there are wrongs. Or are we going to revamp it?
It is about correcting the wrongs, if any, and improving the things which are right.
(source: Art Harun's ARTiculations)
No one doubts – or at least, Walski doesn’t – that BTN was set up with the best of civic intentions. But like many Malaysian government agencies, politics get in the way, and over time, BTN has evolved into somewhat of a brainwashing organization. Which is not to say that it’s totally bereft of any redeeming qualities. It’s just that there’s probably more bad than good.
As the target of the BTN programs is our impressionable young ‘uns, it’s important that partisan politics doesn’t come into the picture. And neither should racism. Playing one race against another somehow doesn’t quite contribute to nation-building in Walski’s book.
Because racism, in a way, is like tartar that can accumulate on your teeth. Once the stuff sets in, the only way to get rid of tartar is by means of professionally executed scaling, by a qualified dentist. And if you’ve ever had your teeth (and the area below the gum line)scaled, you’ll realize that it’s akin to a minor surgical procedure.
But unlike tartar, no surgery in the world can remove racism once it sets in.