Racist brainwashing by Biro Tatanegara – GRR

Biro Tatanegara (rough translation: Civics Bureau) is a Government-run agency that organises mandatory “citizenship” workshops for students that have received Government scholarships for tertiary education. Under the guise of “education” and “building a multicultural Malaysian culture”, these workshops are hubs of anti-Chinese/Indian/etc racism and anti-Semitism, shaming non-Malays while claiming Malaysia to be a Malay-only nation.

Education in Malaysia has been compiling stories from students and observers of these workshops. Here’s an excerpt of their experiences:


…Malaysiakini reported that first-year students of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) were told at a seminar organised by BTN that foreign elements which want to see chaos in Malaysia were funding certain student groups. The speakers drew a link between these local student groups, ASA and the National Endowment for Democracy, a non-profit organisation which they said was sponsored by American and Jewish elements.

Indians, blogs, and Christians are evil:

He even said, “Kalau ular dengan India depan mata, ketuk India dulu.” (If a snake and an Indian are in front of you, hit the Indian first.) … He said so many atrocious things that I will list them down in point form.

-Explained how the Malays aren’t racist but others are racist towards us.
-Bangsa Malaysia (The Malaysian race) does not exist, neither does Malaysian Chinese and Indians, only in the strict Malay, Chinese and Indians. (Interestingly, behind a booklet provided to us, one of the objectives of the programme is to produce a -“Bangsa Malaysia”. Obviously, he was ignorant).
-Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language) does not exist, it is Bahasa Melayu (Malay language).
-Nothing wrong with waving the Keris (A traditional ceremonial Malay dagger which some politicians have waved in anti-non-Malay sentiment).
-Bumiputra (Malays and indigenous people) hanya 55% di Malaysia, give birth more people!
-The University and Colleges Act was partly made to ensure a Malay Vice-Chancellor in Universities which should be the way.
-Blogs are “berdosa” or sinful.
-Christians will not like Muslims.

Even the Malays reacted badly:

The instructors blatantly told them that they should not question the rights and privileges of the Malays as the non-Malays should be thankful that they were given citizenship status and a place to stay on their soil. My daughter together with the other non-Malay students was shocked and went back to their dormitories depressed. And to the Malay students, the instructors told them to be aware of this fact and not to mix too freely with the non-Malays.

A Malay friend of my daughter came back crying to the dormitory saying that she could not take the racist position taken by the government authority. My daughter then began questioning the bumiputra policy and was disgusted with such blatant indoctrination. This incident has also made the students harbour anger and resentment. Their fear for the authorities and losing their scholarships made them keep their cool.

When Education in Malaysia blogger and MP Tony Pua queried Biro Tatanegara about these allegations, this was their reply, as roughly translated into English by me (it’s originally in Malay):

Biro Tatanegara is an agency that runs courses based on citizenship and patriotic spirit within the whole of Malaysian society. Participants of these courses come from various cultures and age groups.

BTN also uses information or statistics that are obtained from other government agencies such as the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Statistics Department, the Implementation and Adjustment(?) Unit (ICU), the Ministry of Finance, and other Ministries in presenting facts to the participants, and it is departmental policy to not allow BTN speakers to touch on anything that can disturb the feelings of any race, and if this has happened the Department will drop them from being a BTN speaker.

In relation to your query, BTN realises that it’s on the blogs on the Internet, and based on our investigations, [your] claims (the bit about the snake and the Indian) are false. It is possible that some speakers had explained a few Indian proverbs relating to Indian societal matters that were misunderstood by the listener. Investigations have been undertaken and we have found no recordings that could be used as proof to verify the allegation.

As for your second query, BTN has never received any complaints about the matters that you have mentioned, and as far as we know there has not been any airing of videos like the ones you described (anti-Semitic clips) in our courses as organised by the Department.

According to past scholars that have attended such workshops, all recording devices (including mobile phones) are confiscated upon entry and all materials are carefully counted upon return. Many have said that they are too fearful to speak out as they are threatened with the loss of their scholarship – which, considering that many recipients are from low-income backgrounds and there aren’t many other funding options available, would be a major blow.

This sickens me to the core. I’ve heard plenty of racism in school but was lucky enough to not get a Government scholarship and therefore be indoctrinated into BTN’s faulty logic. Some of those that have been to these workshops have sadly reported on their peers passing on racist messages through social networking sites and being completely influenced by these workshops. If anyone’s threatening national security, it would be these goons!

I would like to see a private scholarship fund started for these students, so that they still have funding options for higher study without being gagged and afraid to speak up. There should be a way to get recordings of these workshops, even if it means James Bond-style spy gear. This menace – which is 100% funded by taxpayer money! – needs to disappear.

(Side note to Mum: I’m sorry for scaring you again. [I participated in a rally against the Clean Feed filter in Brisbane and spoke up about censorship in Malaysia – she saw my words and video and got scared.] I take full responsibility for anything that comes out of this. But unless things are done quickly, more and more young people will be brainwashed and we’ll just have an intolerant nation.)


National Service = Racial Segregation

Ethan’s experiences at his National Service term strongly reveals just how racist the system really is – and how it’s institutionalised:

We were asked several times to line up according to race (Malays here, Chinese here, Indians here, Dan Lain-Lain here) in order to distribute the races equally when it came to sorting us into classes, companies, and dorms. There are Wakil Bangsa (race representative) members for feedback about the food we have in the canteen. We are to see our respective Wakil Bangsa if we have any comments or complaints. The basketball team has a race quota: two Malays, two Chinese, and, if I’m not mistaken, room for one Dan Lain-Lain. The week before we were due to return home for holiday, they picked a representative from each race and announced that if we had any questions regarding the traveling arrangements we could talk to our Wakil Bangsa.

A friend of mine missed roll call one night because he wasn’t well. When the head of his dorm reported it to the trainers, they didn’t even bother to inquire about what he was down with, they only wanted to know his race. The following day he was sent to the medic. He had dengue.

One trainer told us that everyone had a religion. No, he corrected himself, everyone should have a religion. If you didn’t have a religion, you might as well climb up a building and jump. What was the use of living? And so, if you had a religion, you’d better do as your religion dictated. If you’re Buddhist, go to the temple. Hindu, go to the temple. Muslim, go to the surau. Christian, go to church. We nodded. One can’t argue with such logic.

Ethan stood out as a Christian Chinese (and the sole Christian), which caused some problems when he tried to go back for the Hungry Ghost Festival:

The Hungry Ghost Festival is that time of year when Buddhists, or Taoists, or maybe just Chinese, go back home to pay respects to their ancestors. So all the Chinese in camp were given a few days off. I’ve never cared about the Hungry Ghost Festival before, and I can assure you that I had no intention of praying or doing anything for the sake of my long-gone ancestors. My fellow yellow were puzzled when they heard I was planning to take off with the rest of them.

“You’re going back?”

“Sure, if I can go back I’m going to go back.”

“But,” – cue the frown – “but you’re not Buddhist.”

“I’m Chinese. Teacher said all the Chinese could go back.”

“You can’t speak Chinese, you aren’t Buddhist. You’re not Chinese. You’re Christian.”

I had a bit of a problem explaining the difference between race and religion and, of course, no problem whatsoever explaining simple opportunism.

And this is supposed to encourage national unity?

You only get national unity when you stop caring about races and treat everyone as equal. Having “race representatives”, insisting that people follow set boxes (and have no provision for non-boxed people), and only caring about race when emergency issues come up completely go against national unity.

This is a huge reason why I am a strong opponent of National Service. I would at least be empathetic if it was truly national and not segregated.

An open letter to my ex-primary school

I wrote a longer, more detailed version of this letter on my personal journal mainly as a form of catharsis – letting go of my anger and sorrow. Many of my friends were personally touched by the letter and asked me to publish it publicly to make Malaysians aware of the very real effects of racism and bullying in schools, especially from teachers.

The following is an edited version of the original letter. I’ve removed names and some other details. It’s currently under moderation at The Star’s Citizen Blog, and I’m considering posting it to MalaysiaKini and The Sun. I wanted to post it on The Star’s R.AGE Blog but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to post there.

Recently I read the case of Alex Barton, a 5-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who was voted out by his classmates when urged on by their teacher. This case shocked me, not only because it happened at all, but because he is not the only one to have suffered such injustice and humiliation from people in authority – people who should have protected him, who should have known better.

When I was in your school, from December 1991 till late in 1997, I could have been that boy.

My first three years there were all right. My mother used to tell me stories of how I bawled when she tried to take me out to lunch on my first day of school because I thought I was never going to return. I made friends with people of all sorts of names, backgrounds, interests. I did quite well at school, enjoyed learning, and bonded with my English teachers. For those first three years, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my constant answer was “Teacher”.

In Std 4, we were all shifted to the morning session, and placed in classes according to our academic ability. I was placed in the “best class”. While the first year was challenging, with a whole new set of classmates, I managed fine. The next year, however, was trouble.

In 1995, the year I was in Std 5 and turned 11, there were quite a number of Bangladeshi migrants coming to Malaysia to work. It was mainly factory and construction work – hard labour that no one else wanted to do. Around this time, all the major papers would have front page stories of Bangladeshis stealing, raping, kidnapping.

It didn’t matter if they were true; it didn’t matter if they were from another race (because only Bangladeshi and Indonesian criminals would have their races mentioned in the press), it didn’t matter that the criminals were an extremely small percentage of the general Bangladeshi population in Malaysia. Because according to you, teachers of the school, all Bangladeshis were the same – including me.

Every other day, one of you teachers would come up to me and quiz me on some new front page article.

“Hey Tiara, I heard a Bangla robbed a bank this morning. What do you think about that?”
“Hey Tiara, all these Banglas are stealing our women.”
“Hey Tiara, why are you Banglas so disgusting and dirty? Get out of here!”

The students, all 12 or under, never learnt that this was wrong; they saw you do it, so they did it too. If I protested, you would tell me to “get a thicker skin” because you were “only talking”. You even bragged to my elder sister, an alumnus of your school, about what a great joke it was telling me to “go back to your country” (despite me being born & raised in Johor).

There were lots more: the bullies that physically attacked me (in a girls’ school!), the harsh comments on my art skills, the jokes about my character.

You did nothing to make things better. Instead, you encouraged the trouble. You showed the students that it was OK to make fun of someone who was different – especially someone who was different but was doing better than you. Whenever I won a school competition or scored well in exams, instead of being proud, you would ask the others “how can an outsider do better than you?”.

All the hassle and trouble affected my ability to concentrate in school. I couldn’t find the motivation to do schoolwork, and always came home angry. You demoted me two classes down – a class whose head teacher was the biggest racist of the school. I did not know how to treat my new classmates, whom I wasn’t sure I could trust, and ended up being quite messed-up and strange.

At one point I tried to kill myself in the prayer room with a blunt scissor blade on my throat. No one tried to help; all that was said was “you’d go to Hell”. I’m only alive because I chickened out.

Suicide should never be an option for a child!

I couldn’t tell anyone, not my parents, not my foreign-based sister, not my (now) nonexistent friends – who would listen? It would only make things worse.

The last straw was in my final year, when you decided to hold an award for Best English Skills. Everyone in the school knew that I was the best in English hands down. I aced every exam, every spelling test, every English competition. But I didn’t even make the Top 10 of your list, because I was not in the right class – or was that because I was not of the right race?

I am still working past the issues I faced in your hell. I am still dealing with my dysfunctional attitudes towards trust, relationships, friendships. It was not until very recently that I began to accept the idea of having friends, and now I have at least three that I would call my best friends. I am still accepting my artistic interests, trying not to be like the demonic critic you were when you coldly told me (more than once) that my art was worthless. I am trying to reconcile my childhood dreams of educating with the harsh realities, concentrating on supporting student welfare.

But I am healing. And I refuse to let a terrible situation stop me from growing.

Because I was mocked, disrespected, and harassed for my race, I now make it a point to be accepting of people from all backgrounds – standing up against racism and discrimination, advocating for diversity and multiculturalism, bringing people together.

Because I saw first-hand how student welfare went out of the window in your school in your quest to remain the “premier” primary school in the state, I work endlessly to ensure that students are respected and cared for in schools nowadays, and give them support when no one else will.

Because I saw how terrible educators can be, I am working on being a better educator, even if not directly as a teacher.

I only wish that I had learnt all of those positive things directly from your actions, instead of in spite of them.

I have long forgiven my friends, and myself, for the mistakes we made in the past. They did not have many positive role models and did not know better. For you though? I’m not sure I can ever forgive you.

I shudder to think of how your current students must be faring. My supportive teachers are no longer in your faculty list, and neither is my biggest tormentor. But many other teachers that allowed this to happen, joined in the prejudice, joined in the neglect, are still there – including the headmistress.

Have you learnt anything at all from this debacle? Do you care about your students at all? Are you more tolerant?

Have things changed? Or have they just stayed the same?

Tiara Shafiq