KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 — When Hafidz Baharom, a freelance writer, entered a public university in 2002, he was sent with his classmates to a government camp for a week.
It was the usual jungle trekking and other team-building activities, but interspersed with these were lectures. Some of the content was disturbing, he said.
“We were taught a song with lyrics like ‘the land that you walk upon is owned by others. Lecturers told us the Malays were forced to depend on the Chinese for support after 1998 because some Malays had betrayed their own race,” he recalled.
The segment on Malay betrayal was in reference to the 1998 sacking of deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim which caused many Malays to vote for the opposition in the general election a year later. “It was brainwashing propaganda,” Hafidz, 26, told The Straits Times.
These courses have been running for years, and are intended to instil nationalistic values and patriotism. Conducted by the National Civics Bureau — better known as BTN (Biro Tatanegara) — the courses are for university students on public scholarships and civil servants. BTN is under the Prime Minister’s Department.
Last week, seven young Pakatan Rakyat Selangor assemblymen handed over a letter to the Selangor government, urging it to stop allowing students of state- owned universities and colleges to attend these courses.
The Selangor government, which is now controlled by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, owns three universities and colleges.
“We wrote to the Menteri Besar and executive councillor for education,” said Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, a state assemblyman for Seri Setia, and also special officer to the mentri besar.
Nik Nazmi said one of the colleges had already stopped sending students to the camps. He told The Straits Times that he too had first-hand experience with a BTN programme when he attended a five-day camp before being sent to university in London in 2003. The lectures, he said, focused on emphasising that the Malays were left behind and still needed affirmative action.
“It was racial and political in nature,” Nik Nazmi said, recalling that Anwar was vilified for being too close to Western powers, and that the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia was labelled as deviationist.
Batu Caves assemblyman Amirudin Shari, who also signed the letter, was quoted by news website Malaysiakini as saying that feedback showed that much of the BTN programme had nothing to do with nation-building.
“Participants are indoctrinated with propaganda about ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay supremacy) and external threats,” he said.
It was reported that the government is now considering revamping the BTN as part of the initiative to promote Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia policy, which aims to resolve the racial polarisation that has become one of the country’s greatest worries.