Who approved the bitterly toxic and noxious BTN?

By Kua Kia Soong

So, the Pakatan Harapan government has decided to keep the bitterly toxic and noxious BTN (National Civics Bureau). After the much-trumpeted promised reforms by the new Pakatan Harapan Government and the setting up of the Committee for Institutional Reforms, the decision to keep this highly dubious institution is an affront to Malaysians who have hoped for a new Malaysia. It is also a slap in the face of all the supposedly “eminent” members of the Committee for Institutional Reforms unless of course, they themselves had approved the retention of the BTN.

We have been told that BTN is among the 26 departments and agencies (including Jakim) that will continue to be placed under the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD). Since BTN and Jakim were set up during Dr Mahathir’s term in office, what exactly is the PM’s stand on this? How does he see the role of BTN and does he not recognise that BTN has all along been playing a deleterious role as portrayed by his ally Lim Kit Siang?

Lim has roundly condemned “the culmination of years of indoctrination of racism, bigotry, intolerance and extremism by the National Civics Bureau (Biro Tatanegara or BTN) …This is why BTN has no place in our New Malaysia. This reflected the racism, bigotry, intolerance and extremism that have been the staple diet of the BTN, to pit race against race and religion against religion…negative, divisive and anti-national role instead of fostering patriotism, unity, inter-racial and inter-religious understanding and goodwill”. (Mkini 3 July 2018)

This is serious for it shows that even the supremo of the DAP, a major component of the Pakatan Government has no influence in the new government! And what is the stand of all the new ministers in the Cabinet on this issue? Do they also agree that the BTN should be kept? This used to be the standard challenge by the DAP leaders to the BN ministers whenever the previous Government approved any dubious laws or policies.

BTN was the indoctrination camp for the NEP

For years under the NEP, it has been an open secret that Malay students and civil servants have to go through “indoctrination” sessions by the Biro Tata Negara while they are in these state institutions. Through the years, BTN’s programmes have been reported to be explicitly promoting Ketuanan Melayu(Malay dominance) and unabashedly partisan to the Government of the day.

In late 2009, many allegations of racism and political propaganda surfaced in the online press. Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, assemblyman for Seri Setia in the State Legislative Assembly of Selangor, claimed that the BTN camp he attended was “racial and political in nature,” with trainers telling attendees that Malays require affirmative action and criticising the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) as “deviationist”. Amirudin Shari, assemblyman for Batu Caves, claimed that “participants are indoctrinated with propaganda about ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ and external threats”. Another participant claimed he was taught that the Chinese were “the Jews of Asia” and part of a conspiracy to topple the government.

Any denial of allegations against BTN is futile

During the controversy, then Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin came to the defence of BTN, saying its programmes inculcate nationalism and unity among Malaysians in line with Prime Minister Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’ concept. But soon after, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz told the press that the Cabinet had ordered a revamp of BTN courses to eliminate elements inconsistent with 1Malaysia. He criticised the attempt to deny the allegations against BTN, saying that this was futile since “…opposition members who had previously been in government such as Leader of the Opposition Anwar Ibrahim know, so what is there to deny?” He added that BTN had been used to promote certain political leaders.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad decided to enter the fray by defending BTN. However, this soon led to an unprecedented shouting match between two Umno stalwarts in the open. In an attempt to back Prime Minister Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’ caper, Nazri called Mahathir’s statement “bloody racist,” criticising the former Prime Minister and Utusan Malaysia for denying the allegations against BTN:

“Don’t think that people outside do not know about the syllabus based on patriotism for Malays… They know what the syllabus is all about so who are we to say that it did not happen? You want to lie? You make people laugh. I mean there are people who attended the courses who came out very angry. There were many instances of the use of words like Ketuanan Melayu. It is ridiculous… Do they want to say that Malaysia belongs only to the Malays and the government is only a Malay government? Should only the Malays be given the spirit of patriotism? Other races are not patriotic about their country?”

In his response, Mahathir wittingly or unwittingly exposed the racist nature of Umno when he accused Nazri of hypocrisy, saying:

“I must be a racist if Nazri says I am racist. Don’t ever say that I am not. He knows everything. He belongs to a party which is racist… which is Umno … Umno is a party perkauman [racist party] and is meant only for Malays and nobody [else] can join. So, he (Nazri) is in a racist party but says he is against racism. So, he should resign from the party.”

This altercation between two Umno stalwarts has enabled us to document this undeniable fact of racist indoctrination of Malay students and civil servants in BTN. More recently, even the former top Malay civil servants in G25 have condemned BTN of being “ultra-Malay-racist” and have joined the growing chorus demanding the dissolution of the “anti-national” BTN.

Thus, if Prime Minister Mahathir is serious about creating a new Malaysia, racist institutions such as BTN present the most serious obstacle to the nation’s progress and peoples’ solidarity. Minorities should not be derided as “immigrants” by Malay politicians in order to justify the racial discriminatory policies in favour of “Bumiputeras”. Racism and racial discrimination has been a convenient populist method of winning Bumiputera votes even though this is anathema to modern-day standards of multi-ethnic governance. All Malaysians who treasure justice, democracy and human rights must stand up to demand the removal of the bitterly toxic and noxious BTN.

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.