June 13, 2016
COMMENT: I quote President Theodore Roosevelt (below) to remind all of us that patriotism is simply love for one’s country. It does not mean to stand by our Prime Minister who has shown us that he cannot be trusted, or any other Malaysian political leader or political party. It is love of Malaysia.
Unfortunately, in our country, Malaysians in general have been taught to think that it is unpatriotic to be critical of the Prime Minister and UMNO. Biro Tata Negara (BTN) has been responsible for developing this mind set. We must also thank Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad since it was he as Prime Minister for 22+years who ensured that country, government and party are the one and the same.
So, in my view, BTN does not teach patriotism. It is a propaganda machine for UMNO to propagate extreme Malay nationalism with racial overtones and promote exclusivist Islam. It is too late in the day for Azalina Othman Said, of all people, to repair BTN’s image and credibility.
But I hope the teachers who are now going trained by BTN are mature, sensible and intelligent people who are not be easily taken in by BTN lecturers. Otherwise, may God save our country and our children.–Din Merican
BTN’s “Patriotism”for Malaysian Teachers
“Patriotism” is a tricky word. Used one way, it unites people under a flag. Used another way, it divides them.
Dictionaries often define the word too broadly. For example, the Cambridge online dictionary defines it as “the feeling of loving your country more than any others and being proud of it”. You can see that it can be interpreted to suit almost anyone’s political ideology or emotional bent.
Even fascistic nationalists can package their ideology as patriotism. A good example of this can be found in the rhetoric of ultra conservatives in the Republican Party of the United States. Disagreement with their values is often branded as “unAmerican” or any of its variants.
If patriotism is defined as loving your country more than others, then our outrage at a food site’s mislabelling of Malaysian food as Singaporean is also patriotism.
It is because patriotism can apply to both serious and frivolous aspects of life that it can be so easily manipulated to tailor a certain kind of message to a certain kind of person.
This brings us to the National Civics Bureau, or BTN, and its recent announcement of a programme to train 20,000 teachers in patriotism and nation building. It is well and good to instil a love for the country and its history. After all, every good government would want citizens to remain loyal to their country and help it prosper. But what is worrying is that we’re not sure how BTN defines patriotism.
In recent times, he has been rather aggressive
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman (above) has claimed this programme is also aimed at clearing BTNs’ name, which has been marred by allegations that the bureau spreads racism instead of national unity.
BTN’s track record certainly leaves much to be desired, and now that it is tasked to train teachers in patriotism, a lot of eyes will be watching it. Many of those eyes belong to people who are aware that “patriotism” is a word that has been used to justify a lot of racism by a lot of people in a lot of countries.
That being said, BTN does have a chance to begin rehabilitating its image, and much like a crisp Hugo Boss suit, image trumps history in our era of short attention spans. If it defines patriotism as love for the country, and not necessarily the government or the ruling party, then perhaps we can have a civil conversation on what that love entails.