Civics bureau: from attendee to slideshow feature

Lyana Khairuddin
The Malaysian Insider
22 June 2015

I was amused to find a picture of me, particularly the one used for the profile of this column, on one of the slides sourced by the National Civics Bureau and recently released online. The slide cited the online petition I founded, I am #26, my age and affiliation. Upon sourcing for the whole slide deck and reading through them, I could only roll my eyes at the sheer audacity and idiocy of it all.

For someone who was (un)fortunate enough to have attended three “Kem Bina Negara” courses organised by the bureau, I am thankful that I ended up being the liberal, rational-minded person that I think I am today.

Syukur Alhamdulillah, the brainwashing did not work on me.

In all honesty, the first course that I attended when I was still in secondary school was not too bad. It felt more like summer camp. The day would begin as early as 5am and end as late as 3am. I remembered there were many breaks for food: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper.

The schedule also made allowances for all the 5 prayer times, but on the whole it was packed with talks, group assignments and many tazkirah (religious talks) sessions. There was also a whole day or night allotted for an adventure session – this could either be activities like hiking through the jungle or performing adventure sports such as the flying fox and abseiling.

One adventure session that we girls looked forward to with mixed feelings was the “Night Owl”. The trainers would bring everyone in a single file into the woods, leave us one by one at designated spots that ensured we were alone and then allow the night to do its thing. This session was supposed to be a mix of meditation and empowerment of the spirit through scaring the hell out of some of us.

It was preceded by stories of jungle spirits and how “keras” a particular camp was, interspersed with warnings that if any of us girls were menstruating “to be careful”, and stories of people who went missing. The one time that I had to go through this session, the trainers played an audio recording beforehand that staged the interrogation and torture by the Angels Munkar and Nankir on a Muslim’s life and sins.

Suffice to say, fear is a very powerful tool to psychologically control any human being. Personally, I think the trainers did a very good job of instilling fear, and not much else.

I attended my second bureau course during my undergraduate studies at a local public university, and the most recent one before I left to further my studies overseas on a government scholarship.

The content did not wary much over the years, but the talks and the assignment questions handed out, at least at the last one I attended and could remember, were offensive to racial unity, didactic and sexist. It conveniently forgot that Malaysia is a multiethnic country, and careless of the sensitivities of non-Malay, non-Muslim attendees of such courses.

It demeaned the hard work we attendees put towards securing a scholarship, and emphasised the need for us to be thankful to the government for having had policies that allowed for public scholarships. I am grateful that such policies exist, for it allows those who can’t afford to study overseas like yours truly a golden opportunity. But I also think that serving the nation means much more than baying blind obedience towards the current government.

After all, aren’t we citizens of Malaysia all building this nation together? Was that not the purpose of a camp whose literal meaning from Malay means “nation building”?

I couldn’t ignore some of the things mentioned and the authoritative way things were carried out, so I stood up and spoke against what was being said and done. I ended up being bullied by a few of the trainers throughout the course and my time at the last bureau-organised programme did not feel like summer camp anymore.

There were many who called for the abolishment of such courses and the bureau itself following the expose of the PowerPoint slides last week. Personally, I believe that such programmes had good intentions of nation building in the beginning, but like many things in our country, we seem to have lost our way over the years and struggle with the implementation of it all.

Any programme carried out in the spirit of nation building should promote integration, allowing intermingling of citizens from different genders, economic classes and ethnicities. The programme should include interfaith dialogues to further understand the many religions practised in our country, and an appreciation of our heritage and history. The facilitation of discussions with regard to current issues should allow participants a safe space to discuss ideas critically and analytically for the betterment of the nation.

Perhaps it would be better for the bureau to organise their manpower towards the redevelopment of natural disaster-affected areas such as post-floods Kelantan or post-earthquake Sabah rather than forcing would-be civil servants and academics attached with public universities to spend a week in a jungle undergoing a programme that clearly does little towards nation building in its current format.

Promote camaraderie, understanding differences and the spirit of working together, rather than instilling fear and hatred by painting a picture of the movers and shakers in the country as socialist-educated rebels. Personnel working with the bureau should stop this climate of fear and misleading information, and instead promote understanding and compassion towards a better nation.

And for the love of God, learn how to use the Google search engine. – June 22, 2015.

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