BTN slaps bull’s-eye on Malay counterculture for anti-establishment bent

Screen capture shows a slide of the BTN’s Research and Publication Department that listed indie book publishers that it labelled as ‘anti-establishment’.
Screen capture shows a slide of the BTN’s Research and Publication Department that listed indie book publishers that it labelled as ‘anti-establishment’.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 — Malay independent (indie) book publishers have been tarred by the National Civics Bureau (BTN) as masterminds of an “anti-establishment” movement to influence youths voting in the 14th general election.

According to presentations slides made available on BTN’s website on March 11 that are now circulating on social media, the government agency suggested that politicians approach the publishers to understand “their aspirations” and ban their books for having “explicit and free” content.

In the slides, BTN’s Research and Publication Department listed six publishers whom they claimed are the “main players” of the movement, naming Sinaganaga of independent group Sindiket Sol-Jah and publishing house Studio Anai-Anai as the “chief”.

Others named include Amir Muhammad who heads alternative publishing house Buku Fixi, Aloy Paradoks of Selut Press and Sang Freud Press, Aisa Linglung of Lejen Press, Mutalib Othman of Dubook Press, and Faisal Mustaffa of Merpati Jingga.

The slide also claimed that Faisal is a PKR Youth executive councillor, while the rest except Sinaganaga and Aloy are opposition supporters.

BTN also listed DAP member Melati Rahim as one of the icons of the young generation who are bringing “ideas of freedom and extremism”, accusing her of “writing pornographic stories” despite her “Muslim woman image”.

Another “icon” listed was outspoken writer Benz Ali, whom it claimed was spreading the ideology of socialism while rejecting the monarchy and religious institutions.

Two others listed as “icons” were pro-opposition activist Adam Adli Abdul Halim and Zikri Rahman of independent public library movement Buku Jalanan.

BTN further alleged that the “indie gang” has a lot of silent followers and will bring negative impact to the government as they are currently moving freely without being monitored by the authorities.

The slides did not explain how it arrived at these conclusions or cite examples of behaviour that it deemed to be “anti-establishment”.

Critics continually allege that BTN, which runs courses for undergraduates and civil servants, promotes racial views and spreads political propaganda for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

Despite denials by the government and the agency, sporadic leaks of closed-door events conducted by the BTN or featuring its staff have continued to entrench suspicions that the bureau was a hotbed of racism and “brainwashing”.

A senior BTN official caused an uproar back in 2010 when word leaked that he had used the terms “si mata sepet” and “si botol” at a closed-door Puteri Umno gathering to describe the Chinese and Indians respectively.

The terms are considered derogatory with “si mata sepet” meaning slit-eyed and “si botol”, alcoholic, in Malay.

US daily New York Times (NYT) reported last month that an independent, irreverent publishing industry has sprung up over the past four years, tapping into a desire for escapism among younger Malaysians as the country has become more socially conservative.

Aisa, whose real name is Aisamuddin Asri, also told NYT that officers from the Home Ministry had come by several times to Lejen’s shop in Kuala Lumpur, following up on public complaints.