COMMENT It is shocking to see the vain attempts to justify the existence of the National Civics Bureau (BTN) after the expose of its racist indoctrination programmes in 2009. This has been documented for posterity in my latest publication ‘Racism & Racial Discrimination in Malaysia’, Suaram 2015: 261-3.

For years under the New Economic Policy (NEP), Malay students and civil servants have had to go through ‘orientation’ sessions by the BTN, an agency of the Malaysian government under the Prime Minister’s Department).

BTN was established in 1974 with the stated objective of: “To nurture the spirit of patriotism and commitment to excellence among Malaysians, and train leaders and future leaders to support the nation's development efforts”.

It is an open secret that BTN's programmes have been explicitly promoting Ketuanan Melayu (Malay dominance) and are unabashedly partisan to the governing Barisan Nasional. In late 2009, many allegations of racism and political propaganda surfaced in the online press.

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (photo), assemblyperson 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”. (The Malaysian Insider, Nov 21, 2009)

Amirudin Shari, assemblyperson for Batu Caves, claimed that “participants are indoctrinated with propaganda about ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ and external threats”. (ibid) Another participant claimed he was taught that the Chinese were “the Jews of Asia”, and part of a conspiracy to topple the government. (ibid, Nov 27, 2009)

Any denial of allegations against BTN is futile

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin quickly came to the defence of BTN, saying its programmes inculcate nationalism and unity among Malaysians in line with the prime minister’s 1Malaysia concept.

However, 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. (TMI, Dec 1, 2009)

‘Bloody racist’

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad decided to enter the fray by defending BTN as an institution intended to inculcate the values of discipline and hard work in public servants and scholars.

However, this soon led to an unprecedented open shouting match between two Umno stalwarts. In an attempt to back the prime minister’s ‘1Malaysia’ caper, Nazri (photo) 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?” he said. (TMI, Dec 7, 2009)

‘He belongs to a party which is racist...’

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 the state institutions since the seventies and clarified Umno’s role as a racist party.

Eradicate racism and racial discrimination

If the prime minister is serious about creating 1Malaysia, racism and racial discrimination present the most serious obstacle to the nation’s progress and peoples’ solidarity. Minorities continue to be derided as ‘immigrants’ by the ruling party and far-right Malay supremacist groups in order to justify the racial discriminatory policies in favour of ‘bumiputeras’.

Racism and racial discrimination has been a convenient method of winning bumiputera votes even though this is anathema to modern-day standards of governance.

Forge ‘1Malaysia’ through greater democracy

The road toward ‘1Malaysia’ is through a concerted effort for greater democracy not only in the political realm but also in economic, educational, social and cultural policies. The basis of unity rests fundamentally on the recognition of the equality of all nationalities. The imposition of one language and one culture on all the communities will produce only a hollow unity.

The basis for unity among the masses has also to embody a commitment to democracy and policies that will improve the living standards of the workers and farmers and at the same time unite them. These components involve the lifting of restrictions on legitimate political organisation and activity, as well as the encouragement of social and political institutions that ensure genuine popular control.

DR KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.