Terengganu’s Camp

Sixty-six teenage Muslim schoolboys in Terengganu, a Malaysian state, have been attending a 4-day camp at which they have been given religious and physical education, and motivational lessons.  At first sight there would be nothing unusual about such a camp. However, this case has attracted not only attention, but also criticism. For the purpose of the camp is to guide the boys back “to a proper path in life”, to discourage these boys from becoming homosexual.

Rationale For The Camp

The boys were selected for the camp because their teachers perceived them to be effeminate. What criteria they based their selection is not clear. State officials say that, if left unchecked, the boys could end up homosexual or transsexual. The state’s education director, Razali Daud, said that “As educators, we have to do something about it before the young ones misunderstand people and reach the point of no return”. He also said that the boys were invited, not compelled, to join the camp. Terengganu is a conservative state that has been holding programs aimed at promoting Muslim morality.

Homosexual sex is illegal in Malaysia, and homosexuals face discrimination in government policies. Yet Dalam Botol, Malaysia’s first gay-themed movie that was released last month was a box-office hit.

Criticism Of The Camp

The camp violates the Child Act and should be abolished, said Malaysia’s women minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. The Child Act protects children without prejudice. The minister also said that that singling out these children on the basis of their perceived feminine mannerisms was traumatizing and harmful to their mental health.

The camp has also been criticized by gay-rights groups, which say that it promotes homophobia.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality also said that it violates the rights of people who are perceived to be different, and “should be strongly opposed and challenged as it promotes homophobia and prejudice”. Its statement added that “We should send a clear message to institutions that they have no business meddling with an individual’s identity and personal preference”.

A campaigner for sexual rights, Pang Khee Teik, co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka, said, “All the students will learn from these camps is that they are expected to behave in a certain way”. He added, “And in order to avoid further ridicule, perhaps they will learn to pretend better. In the end, we are only teaching them how to be a hypocrite”.

Think About It

Is there a sound basis for Terengganu’s camp for those teenagers? How sound were the teachers’ assessments of the boys’ mannerisms? Is the state doing the boys more harm than good? Should that camp be the very last of its kind that Terengganu holds? If the boys were indeed effeminate, how else could masculine behavior be inculcated?

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