DR M sees nothing wrong with BTN courses ?
Mahathir said he too had given talks at courses organised by the BTN and among the subjects touched on were Malaysian history.
"Sometimes, people cannot understand the underlying value of BTN courses. I do not see anything bad about it, it explains the nation's history," he said.
BTN: Divisive, racist, politically- motivated
For me, the seeds of poison were planted decades ago.
Just before I went overseas to study, I was sent for 'orientation' at a Mara hostel to ostensibly prepare myself for life abroad.
That weekend was a blur, and I recall four things:
1) Blocked toilets and flooded communal bathrooms.
2) Basic food, thus a friend's sister dropped off much needed rations of chocolates and 'kacang'.
3) How to wash your 'smalls' (underwear) in a cold country and have them dry by the next morning.
4) We assembled in small groups for out-of-door talks, in the school grounds. We were told that the Malays were the most supreme race in the world, we were God's chosen few, that the others were insignificant. We were warned about certain elements in our society and abroad, determined to undermine Malay excellence.
It was never meant to be a question-and-answer session and the lecturer omitted to qualify his contentious and contemptuous statements.
Just like my peers, my mind was focused on going overseas. In essence, we simply 'switched off'. Moreover, we hardly experienced any racial issues at our convent school.
Did I come out of that orientation a better person? Did I pick up new skills and ideas? Of the four things, the first two are just facets of Malaysian life; the third has been extremely practical, whilst the fourth left me disturbed and has lain fallow, until now.
After reading about the BTN (Biro Tatanegara or National Civics Bureau), I fear that much venom has been perpetuated. I may also have unwittingly experienced the inception of the BTN.
Ties have eroded
I am reminded by my grandparents and parents that after the last of the midnight chimes had heralded the arrival of Aug 31, 1957, everyone was ecstatic. It was a stirring moment.
Malays grasped the hands of Chinese, Indians embraced Malays. With 'Merdeka', Malaysians felt energised.
Fast forward to present-day Malaysia and the scene is stupefying. Malays eye the non-Malays with contempt and derision, whilst the non-Malays are consumed with frustration and resentment. A never-ending nightmare.
The ties that cemented us 52 years ago have eroded. Instead of acting as one, our differences have been emphasised; our similarities have all but diminished.
The new slogan, 1Malaysia, is a vain attempt to patch-up our differences. There is little point in using this sticking plaster to mend a wound that is deep and suppurating.
If we are instructed to be 'one', then something is wrong. If we are drilled to behave in a particular way, to be seen to be united, then this is a veiled and tacit acknowledgment that all is not well.
Somewhere after independence, we lost our focus. We took our eye off the ball.
We allowed ourselves to be massaged and manipulated into submissiveness by those who purported to lead us, but who have done us much damage - physically, spiritually, morally, financially, emotionally.
We are now a bunch of apathetic people who have to be led by the nose, who grumble only in private but hide any dissent in public. We are cowed into inactivity, resigned to our fate.
Why do we allow racism, corruption or inequality, practices which are unacceptable in the wider world, to prosper here? Why do we accept that when something goes wrong, no one is made accountable? Why is there a poor system of checks and balances? What happened to leadership by example?
The silent majority
The BTN is alleged to be divisive, racist and politically-motivated. The public is outraged; but politicians seem blind to these facts.
The deputy prime minister and the women, family and community development minister both deny the allegations. But what do ministers from the other component parties of BN say? Their silence speaks volumes.
Some ministers claim that the courses instil patriotism and are harmless. In their view, segregating participants into specific groups of race and ethnicity, followed by humiliation, is considered not divisive. They may need to reassess their values.
Others say that the BTN is being revamped. Or upgraded. Or changed. Whatever. The truth is, the BTN runs counter to the ideals of a united Malaysia. It is time we dispensed with our politicians' knee-jerk reactions in their pathetic efforts to ameliorate the breakdown in public confidence.
How can the Umno information chief assume the role of BTN programme head? This is a conflict of interest. How does he isolate his political affiliations? He cannot possibly assume neutrality.
I have not experienced the BTN programme and hope that I never will.
When questions with political and religious undertones are incorporated, that is reason enough for the BTN to cease to operate and function.
When non-Malay Malaysians are chastised for their 'immigrant' status and are condescendingly told to be grateful to the Malays, that is wrong.
When only the contributions of the Malays are recognised for bringing peace and prosperity to the nation, that is positively abhorrent.
When Malays are warned not to mingle with non-Malays, when only Muslims are to be respected, that is despicable.
It is a mockery that 1Malaysia has boiled down to mean 'belonging to only one race'. And the shocking thing is that many Western-educated middle class Malays believe it.
Like the vines of our jungles, the BTN is strangling the ideals, aspirations and uniqueness of all Malaysian peoples.
I have been accused of being a traitor to my race, and religion just because I state what is obviously unfair, undemocratic and lacking in morals and principles.
I suspect they disapprove of me, mostly because I am a woman and a Malay, and dare to speak up about prickly issues. But I admire these people. At least, they are willing to express their views, however vile they may be. Unlike, the silent majority.
For these are the ones I appeal to, and who I wish would make a stand and do more to champion change, if only for the good and love and future of our nation.
In the final analysis, '1' more person, might make all the difference.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In 'real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.