The Federal Bureau of Indoctrination

“We were told, in the Biro Tatanegara camp, over and over, the source of all the world’s problems… the war in Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, the global financial crisis, even the results of last year’s Malaysian elections,” said Jo, a young friend working as a professional in the Malaysian civil service.

“Hmm,” I said, looking up from my mound of rice and curry. “And what’s the cause? Isn’t money the root of all evil?”

“You may be surprised to learn,” Jo explained, grinning, “that the Jews are responsible.”

“All Jews? Or just American Jews?” I asked. “Zionists? Israelis? Aren’t there African and Indian Jews too?”

“Don’t be difficult,” my friend replied.

“Look Jo,” I said, with my mouth full, “How do you define a Jew in the first place? Is it a race or a religion?

“Jewishness is matrilineal. That is, if your mother is Jewish, you’re automatically Jewish too. It doesn’t work that way if only your father is Jewish.

“You can’t join the Jewish religion, not like you can take up membership in some gym, or country club. And what if you’re born to a Jewish mother, but you don’t practice the religion – are you still Jewish?

“Besides, Jo, there are lots of different kinds of Jews – orthodox Jews, conservatives, lefties, you name it.”

“I don’t know what a Jew is,” Jo sighed. “But I’m telling you, that’s what we heard, day after day, from all the BTN facilitators. Jews are the cause of all the world’s suffering. We were lectured on this. We were made to watch endless videos of Palestinian and Iraqi children in pain. They kept telling us it was the fault of the Jews.

“The speakers said the Jews had created SARS and H1N1, and spread these viruses around the world, to try to get rid of competitors in Islamic countries and China. They said America’s top government and business people are all Jews.”

“You mean Obama is Jewish, as well as black?” I shook my head.

“No, not Obama, but almost everybody else,” Jo said, “the Secretary of Defence, the Vice-President, you know.”

“Well, I guess there are lots of talented Jews,” I said.

“We were told Jews control everything,” Jo insisted. “They even told us Anwar Ibrahim was influenced by Jews. He spent a lot of time in the United States, and he had some links with these American Jews, when he was in the youth movement, so it seems.”

“But Anwar was Umno’s Number Two. Doesn’t that mean Umno was influenced by Jews? You had to sit through this? Why couldn’t you just run away?” I asked.

“No, we were locked away, they told us we couldn’t leave for five days, for any reason. We woke up at half past five every morning. Talks and group work went on till midnight. We were stuck in this crowded place, fifteen to twenty of us to a dorm. We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by jungle, like the heart of darkness. It was like Khidmat Negara, National Service, boot camp, you know?

“Who are these BTN crowd, anyway?” I asked angrily.

“BTN is some division of the PM’s department…it promotes nationalism, I think. The BTN course is compulsory for all of us government professionals: engineers, teachers, artists, doctors, academics, scientists, accountants, from different ministries and from Petronas.

“Some of the BTN courses are run for non-professionals, the lower ranking officials. The BTN confiscate their handphones in those camps, for the whole stay. At least we could keep our phones during our course.”

“But surely you professional lot wouldn’t swallow all this rubbish?” I asked, astonished.

“We had no choice. Some of the professionals have Masters or PhD degrees. But we all need the BTN course for our promotions. Some groups had to go for the BTN course before they were given scholarships to go abroad. The BTN are terrified that civil servants will be influenced by foreigners, like they say Anwar was.”

“You mean they’re scared they’ll learn to think for themselves? They must be desperate,” I said.

“The BTN seem to be worried about Malays listening to Anwar. They kept saying Anwar is a pawn of the Jews. They didn’t seem to be too concerned about the handful of Chinese and Indian participants. They kept repeating that Chinese and Indians are pendatang asing, or foreign immigrants. Under the Constitution, this is Tanah Melayu, or land of the Malays, they said.